The campaign for the return of the FRAPH/FADH documents by Brian ConcannonBureau des Avocats Internationaux, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
The people of Haiti suffered under a brutal military dictatorship from 1991 to 1994. The Haitian Armed Forces (FADH) and the paramilitary Revolutionary Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH) were the principal organisations behind a reign of terror against unarmed civilians that included at least 3,000 murders, 300,000 internal refugees, 40,000 boat people, 7,000 homes destroyed, and countless tortures, rapes, thefts, and beatings.
Since the return of democracy in 1994, the Haitian people have struggled to rebuild from this disaster. Among the most urgent needs articulated by the Haitian people is the need for justice for the victims of the coup years. The people of Haiti have not, for one moment, abandoned their struggle for justice. As other countries that have made the transition from dictatorship to democracy have discovered, it is always difficult to punish those responsible for human rights violations, and it is most difficult to punish those most responsible, those who gave the orders. In Haiti, although there are the usual difficulties, the persistence of the population’s struggle for justice has created unusual successes: over thirty people accused of major human rights violations are imprisoned awaiting trial, and more are arrested every month. Those arrested include not just low level soldiers or thugs, but army officers and wealthy landowners as well. Warrants have been issued even against the military high command, although the generals are all in exile.
Although the US military was a factor in ending the dictatorship, the links between the dictatorship’s criminals and US military, diplomatic and intelligence communities are both deep and widespread, as has been widely reported by the press, and acknowledged by both US officials and the criminals themselves. US troops arrived in Haiti in 1994, as part of the multinational force that ended the 3 year military dictatorship. They immediately and systematically gathered documents from the offices of military and paramilitary organisations, especially FADH and FRAPH. Approximately 160,000 pages of documents, as well as photographs, videocassettes and audiocassettes, were collected, and transported to the US. This was done without the knowledge or consent of Haiti, even though the documents were the property of Haiti under Haitian, international, and US law.
According to interviews with soldiers involved in the seizure, the documents included membership information, operational details, and photographs and videos of human rights violations. The Haitian government has a right to the return of the documents, and the victims have a right to the information contained in the documents. The documents are essential to Haiti’s quest to establish the truth about what happened during the military regime. They would also be useful in prosecuting those responsible for the regime’s human rights violations. In fact, they would be most useful where the most help is needed, establishing cases against the FRAPH and FADH leadership.
The government of Haiti has, since 1995, repeatedly requested the documents return. It has been joined by an impressive array of supporters: 68 members of the US Congress in 1995 and 1996, most major human rights organisations, numerous religious and solidarity groups in the US and abroad, at least three Nobel Peace Prize winners, the UN Human Rights Commission’s Special Expert on Haiti, and MICIVIH, the UN/OAS human rights mission to Haiti.
The response of the US has been to stonewall. For several months the government claimed that it could not find the documents. Then the US State Department proffered a series of reasons why it could not return the documents, none of them able to withstand scrutiny. In late 1995, the US, under pressure, announced it would return the documents to Haiti, and reportedly flew them down to its embassy in Port-au-Prince. Soon, however, the State Department demonstrated its intention to not return the documents, by placing conditions on the return that no sovereign nation would accept: the US would delete certain materials, according to its own whim, and Haiti would have to agree to use the documents only for specified purposes (that did not, for example, include exploring the already public links between US intelligence agents and the coup criminals).
Most recently, on April 4,1999, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright announced at a press conference in Haiti that “All the documents have been returned to Haiti and offered to the Haitian government.” I called the US Embassy on April 6 to confirm this, and was told that in fact all the documents were not in Haiti: originals of documents containing references to US citizens were still in Washington, and were not being offered to Haiti.
Any conditions on the documents’ return, or the deletion of any parts of the documents, are unacceptable to Haiti, as they would be to any sovereign nation. The documents belong to Haiti, and Haiti is legally entitled to have all of the documents without exception or delay. The Haitian government has the right to do with them what it thinks best, without any conditions imposed by an outside power. The US has only one legal and moral option: to return all of the documents immediately, in their original state, without conditions.
The current justification for the conditions is that the US is protecting its citizens by deleting certain information. The obvious response to that is that murderers, rapists and torturers should not be protected by our government, even if they are citizens. A second response is that the US is not even serious about protecting “our criminals”: in speaking to a delegation from the US in January, a senior embassy official conceded that they were not sure that the people “protected” by the deletions were actually citizens, because they did not check: they deleted information relative to “people with American sounding names.”
Madeleine Albright and others in the State Department have been outspoken lately on the need to prosecute those guilty of massive human rights violations. President Clinton recently created the post of War Crimes Ambassador, to underscore the administration’s support for prosecutions like those going on in Haiti. President Clinton explicitly justified the 1994 military invention by the need to find justice for the people of Haiti, and in the years since the U.S. has spent tens of millions of dollars to support the development of Haiti’s justice and law enforcement capability. It is about time that the US policy matches its rhetoric with respect to justice in Haiti.
Justice for human rights victims is one of the top priorities of the Haitian people. The failure of the US to return the documents is one of the largest obstacles to that priority, and is a further violation of the victims’ human rights. Until they are returned in their entirety and without conditions, no one in Haiti will believe there has been justice, and no one in any country familiar with the situation will take seriously the US rhetoric on justice, democracy, or civil society.
The Campaign For the Return of the FRAPH/FADH Documents was launched by several Haitian human rights, victims’, religious and women’s groups in April, 1998. The Campaign has prepared a Petition, which has been translated into French, English, Spanish and Dutch, and signed by over 10,000 people world-wide. A broad network of organisations and individuals throughout the world have supported the Haitian groups in their initiative. The supporters in Haiti, the US, and the rest of the world are committed to persevering until the documents are returned.