UN’s feeble response encourages ex-soldiers. UN opens the door to reborn Army – Haiti Support Group press release, 6 September 2004
The Haiti Support Group once again sounds the alarm about the grave threat to human rights and democracy in Haiti posed by the increasingly bold campaign currently waged by armed groups demanding the return of the Haitian Army.
According to local media reports, groups composed of former members of the Haitian Armed Forces – an entity disbanded in 1995 – have assembled and set up bases in Petit-Goave, Grand-Goave, Jacmel, Belladere, and Gonaives. In many cases, they have chased away the police, occupied the police headquarters and painted the buildings mustard yellow – the traditional colour of Haitian Army barracks and outposts. It should be noted that in some parts of the country – notably in Cap-Haitien and Hinche – the former soldiers have been ever present since February when they took over towns as part of their armed insurrection against the government.
These irregular – and illegal – armed groups are now pressing the interim government to recognise the existence of re-born Haitian Army, and to grant ten years of back-pay to all members dismissed in 1995. Their spokespeople ridicule suggestions that they be disarmed, and are issuing a series of deadlines for their demands to be met.
All the while, the US-led multinational force and now the Brazil-led United Nations force has been treating them with ‘kid gloves’, preferring to negotiate and establish the grounds for co-existence, rather than making it clear that they cannot continue as a parallel armed law and order force.
The latest example of the UN’s approach are the words of Custodio Adilio, the officer in charge of the UN civilian police, who appeared to justify the irregulars’ open use and display of their weaponry, when he explained to the Sun Sentinel newspaper that “The problem is that Sgt. Ravix [the armed irregular’s spokesman and lead negotiator] feels threatened and that’s why he brings his men and has them armed all the time.”
This attititude may be politically expedient for the UN but allowing the former soldiers to assert their power will constitute a grave set-back for human rights and democracy in Haiti for years to come.
As for various statements by members of the interim government refuting a return of the Army before next year’s general elections, these words lack credibility in the context of the close relations between the Minister of the Interior and former members of the Army high command, and between the Minister of Justice and former FRAPH leader, Louis-Jodel Chamblain.
It should be remembered that FRAPH was a front created by the Haitian Army high command and the US Central Intelligence Agency in 1993, and that Chamblain led former soldiers in the armed insurgency in February 2004.
The myriad human rights abuses carried out by the Haitian Army in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and in 1993-4 by FRAPH, have been exhaustively detailed and recorded by human rights organisations. The list of military coups d’etats carried out in the same period is also well-known. While the international community and the international media turn a blind eye, the clock of Haiti’s history is being turned back to some of the country’s darkest days.