Atrocities Ripping Out Heart And Soul Of Haiti Observers Are Gone. Abuse Has Free Rein.

Posted: August 01, 1994

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Bodies appear overnight at the side of dirt roads. Decapitated heads are dumped in slum neighborhoods. Young men are arrested and never heard from again. Young women are gang-raped for sport.

Three weeks after 92 U.N. human-rights observers were kicked out of Haiti by the military government, uncounted atrocities abound, but few are officially recorded and fewer still are investigated.

"Now that the observers are gone, it's like the abuse is being done in secret. There are fewer eyewitnesses and less information is being disseminated about the types of abuse taking place," said Necker Dessables, executive secretary of the Commission for Justice and Peace, a nonpartisan human-rights organization with seven regional offices.

"Now the victims are afraid to report the crimes or to go to the hospital for help because they are afraid they will be tracked down by their persecutors and killed," Dessables said.

"The international observers had more backing; they had an umbrella of protection from the U.N. We don't have that."

Civilians blame the Haitian authorities for the recent spate of killings. They say the police, the military and members of a paramilitary force known as Attaches carry out the gruesome attacks to intimidate their opponents and deter organized revolt.

Military leaders blame opposition activists for waging a campaign of misinformation. The military says the activists, sympathetic to ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, buy bodies from local morgues for $50 each, and then shoot, stab or hack the corpses to make them seem victims of vicious attacks and then dump them on the streets. The opposition does this, the military says, in desperation to buoy waning support for Aristide.

The activists say this explanation is the most creative yet of the ruling junta's explanations for the deaths of an estimated 5,000 people since it seized power in 1991.

The U.S. Embassy agrees.

"That's ridiculous," spokesman Stan Schrager said of the military's position. "We have no reason to believe that's true. It's clear from our research and information we've gathered that the military and its allies are responsible for the large majority of human-rights abuse in this country."

Opposition members say that while it is true the poor are weary of the international trade embargo and economic sanctions imposed on Haiti, they are wearier of the military's repressive tactics.

Stories are repeated throughout the city and in remote villages of arbitrary arrests, beatings, kidnappings and extortion by a network of section chiefs that had been disbanded by Aristide but that is making a comeback.

"Every day it gets worse," said a 37-year-old man who asked that he be identified only as Meleus R. "The police attack us in the city, so we flee to the countryside, where the section chiefs come after us."

Meleus, who is from the town of Archaie, an hour north of the capital, is in hiding in Port-au-Prince, where few people know him. He was arrested 11 months ago, but then released, apparently because of an error - his name wasn't on a list of those to be picked up.

But, Meleus said, it was only a matter of time before the authorities returned for him. He was considered a troublemaker. He had worked on Aristide's presidential campaign, was involved in a literacy program for peasants, and had taught farmers how to better work their land to become self- sufficient.

Last week, he said, his 10-year-old son was kidnapped. He has sent his wife and six other children to live with relatives in the provinces.

"Here in Haiti there's no such thing as rights," said a parish priest

from a fishing village near Archaie. "People can't talk; they can't protest. They arrest people without cause, without warrants. They beat them and they demand money in order for them to be released."

Many Haitians, including the Archaie priest, believe the United States should get much of the blame for the current situation. They say the United States did little two years ago when international organizations were reporting an escalation in human-rights violations.

"What will hurt their (Americans') credibility even more is the threat of invasion," said a director of a Port-au-Prince orphanage that has been harassed repeatedly. "They're imposing it on us as the only solution even though they have the power to resolve the crisis without an invasion."

Following the departure of the human-rights monitors, the U.S. Embassy has increased its monitoring and is coordinating with human-rights organizations here, according to embassy spokesman Schrager.

Nonetheless, many Haitians believe that until monitors can do more than document human-rights abuses, little will change.

"They (the U.N. monitors) had no power to intervene, or to change things, only to see what is going on," said the priest from Archaie. "People just disappear. We don't know if they are dead, because we never find their bodies, or if they are in some faraway jail, or if their bodies were dumped in some other city."

The priest has been arrested and had to go in hiding for several months last year. Still, the repression in his village doesn't compare with what goes on in Port-au-Prince and other big cities, he said.

"They don't kill much here," he said, "because the people outnumber the military representatives and Attaches, and they know that. But they harass and intimidate. They chase you out of town. They beat you or your family. Whenever they want to do something to you, they accuse you of being Lavalas to justify it."

Lavalas is the Creole word for a torrential rain. It was often invoked by Aristide to symbolize the "washing away" of corrupt politicians. Aristide supporters call themselves Lavalas or Lavalasians and are considered enemies of the de facto government and those who support it.

Since the coup, however, many people who aren't Aristide supporters but who support democratic reform in Haiti have also been called Lavalas and singled out for abuse.

"You have to hear the stories the people here tell me," the priest said. ''They tell me how they hid deep inside the rows of banana plants at night with bugs crawling on them and biting them while they heard soldiers' footsteps passing them by. . . .

"This is what we must live under," the priest said. "And people can't talk about it or denounce it. The military does whatever it wants. They tell us that after God comes the army. He rules the heavens, but they rule the land."

Dessables, the human-rights activist, sums up life in Haiti after the human-rights monitors left:

"Nobody refers to justice in Haiti now. Injustice is normal. You can be the victim of different kinds of abuses, but there is nowhere to go to complain. There is no hope of getting legal remedy or justice. It repulses the human consciousness."

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