'Baby Doc' Duvalier Update

As we reported earlier this week, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, who has been accused of presiding over numerous human rights violations during his rule from 1971 to 1986, was detained after being questioned by police on Tuesday, January 18th. It is not yet clear what charges he will face. Amnesty’s Haiti researcher Gerardo Ducos gives a brief interview and analysis on the latest developments:

"Baby Doc" Duvalier Must Face Justice for Haiti Rights Violations

Update:  In response to the arrest of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier in Haiti, Amnesty International’s Senior Advisor and Haiti expert, Javier Zuñiga, said:

“The arrest of Jean-Claude Duvalier is a positive step but it is not enough to charge him only with corruption. If true justice is to be done in Haiti, the Haitian authorities need to open a criminal investigation into Duvalier’s responsibility for the multitude of human rights abuses that were committed under his rule including torture, arbitrary detentions, rape, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.”

Former Haitian president, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, returned suddenly to Haiti this past weekend after living in exile for nearly 25 years in France.  We are calling on Haiti to use this opportunity to bring Duvalier to justice for human rights abuses committed during his regime in the 1970s and 80s.

Jean-Claude Duvalier was president of Haiti for 15 years, between 1971 and 1986 © AP GraphicsBank

The widespread and systematic human rights violations committed in Haiti during Duvalier’s rule amount to crimes against humanity. Haiti is under the obligation to prosecute him and anyone else responsible for such crimes.

Duvalier returned to Haiti expectantly on January 16th. He fled Haiti in 1986 after a popular uprising which was violently repressed by the former Haitian Armed Forces and a local militia known as the “tonton macoutes”.

Throughout his 15 years in power (1971-1986) systematic torture and other ill-treatment were widespread across Haiti.

Hundreds of people “disappeared” or were executed. Members of Haiti’s armed forces and the militia National Security Volunteers – also known as the “tonton macoutes” — played a primary role in repressing pro-democracy and human rights activists. The “tonton macoutes” were disbanded in 1986 after Jean-Claude Duvalier went into exile.

Media reports today have indicated that Duvalier will be questioned by Haitian police.  We’ll be monitoring the situation as it unfolds.

The Haitian authorities must break the cycle of impunity that prevailed for decades in Haiti. Failing to bring to justice those responsible will only lead to further human rights abuses.

Abandoned and betrayed – why Haiti’s displaced people feel neglected by the state

By Chiara Liguori, Caribbean researcher for Amnesty International (Originally posted on Livewire)

Where is the state in Haiti? In the week we have spent here so far, we have been hearing this question again and again. Displaced people living in makeshift camps haven’t seen any improvement in their living conditions in the six months since the earthquake, and in some cases their situation has been deteriorating. They wonder if they still have authorities to address and if they will ever get any help. They feel abandoned and betrayed.

Dozens of people living in makeshift camps erected on private land are facing the threat of forced expulsion. © Amnesty International.

In most cases, the presence of the state is visible only through unpopular decisions. Since early April, the government announced the end of food distribution because it found that aid was creating dependency and blocking the national economy. Since then, more and more people have reported difficulties in acquiring adequate food. Reports of malnutrition are increasing and more and more girls are being forced into sexual exploitation in order to eat. Many parents face a hard choice between feeding their children or sending them to school.

The governmental decision to interrupt distribution of food aid has been widely publicized on radio. However, little or no information seems to have been available concerning state plans for relocation and resettlement of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people. Probably because a plan still does not exist. The large majority of displaced people continue to occupy public squares, football pitches and school yards without knowing if something (and what) is being prepared for them by the authorities.

What is clear to them is that their life will become even more dire if nothing is done. Dozens of people living in makeshift camps erected on private land are facing the threat of forced expulsion by the land owners, who are claiming back their land, or at least some form of compensation for loss of profit. In some cases, people have already been evicted or have fled following intimidation. A displaced woman confirmed: “The state needs to prepare a plan for people on private lands. If the state has no plan, people will end up in the streets once again.”


Sexual violence in Haitian camps of the displaced

This is the third and final post in our “on-the-ground in Haiti” series

By Chiara Liguori, Caribbean researcher for Amnesty International

So what is happening we asked ourselves. Have we got it wrong? Have we over-estimated the risks? Or, is it that women are too scared to report? Are we talking to the right people?

It was Malya, one of the co-founders of KOFAVIV, a women’s grassroots organization dealing with the medical and psychological needs of rape victims, who started to clarify the issue. Malya’s house and office were destroyed in the earthquake, together with Eramithe, also a KOFAVIV co-founder, she is living in Champ de Mars, one of the biggest makeshift camps in Port-au-Prince.

haiti-blog3-300Even though they have lost all their belongings, they have not lost their will to fight sexual violence against women and girls. In two months, 19 women and girls living in their section of the camp have reported cases of rape and sexual assault. Even though they encouraged women to lodge complaints with the police, none of them would. They were too afraid, either because the attackers were living in the camp, or in nearby areas, or because they had no other place to go. Not trusting the police to protect them and knowing that the justice system is paralysed since the earthquake, they preferred to keep quiet. Those who have relatives in other parts of the country chose to quit. The victims are fleeing while the perpetrators are still around, probably looking for the next victim.

In the absence of a centralized system for recording cases of sexual violence, grassroots organizations working in the camps are the only source of information. Living alongside women and girls in the camps, they are able to identify who needs help.

Margaret, a social worker for the organization Zanmi Timoun (Friends of children) has reached out to dozens of girls living in camps who have been victims of rape and incest either before or after the quake. We interviewed 5 of them.

The sadness of these girls, their low voices, their pains and their fears speak clearer and louder than any data or number. One of them is pregnant, another is afraid of being pregnant, some are terrified of being killed by their attackers. They look resigned and submissive. When we asked them what they want most in life, all of them assertively said they wanted to continue to go to school. One of them gave us a message to pass to the authorities: “You need to protect the girls, because I don’t want anybody to suffer what I have been going through”.

Editors Note: Living free from violence is a human right. Yet millions of women and girls around the world encounter rape, domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence. Join Amnesty in calling for passage of the International Violence Against Women Act, the first comprehensive piece of legislation in the U.S. aimed at ending violence against women and girls around the world.

A day in the life in Haiti

This is the second post in our “on-the-ground in Haiti” series

By Amnesty International delegates on mission in Haiti

It might be one of the most common dishes in Haiti but for the 5,000 persons camped on a football pitch in Jacmel, white rice and beans has been their only daily meal since the earthquake, complaints about the quality or lack of nutrients are rife. Despite the crunching feeling of an empty stomach, many decided not to queue under scorching sun for the three-spoons dished up in a bowl, a jug, even a plastic bag. However, the 34 vats of food were emptied in less than an hour. The distribution of meals attracted camp neighbours, mostly children.

The makeshift camps on Champ-de-Mars are home to more than 10,000 people © Amnesty International

The makeshift camps on Champ-de-Mars are home to more than 10,000 people © Amnesty International

Dozens of women and men were involved in the camp cooking site. The food items were delivered to the camp by the World Food Programme. One of the camp committees decided that instead of distributing food rations to every family, they would cook it and share it amongst everyone.

Some pregnant women we met said they would not eat camp food because they feared being sick due to the poor quality water used for cooking. Taking vitamin pills they received from international doctors operating a basic clinic in the camp on week days caused them stomach aches without any food. Signs of malnutrition were apparent among them.

Scarcity and shortages of potable water are a big concern and all the persons we interviewed pointed out that “water is health, health is life”.

When we visited the camp, the two water bladders provided by one international aid agency were totally flat. The water had run out four days earlier and since then, the delivery truck did not come. A UNPOL officer present during the distribution of meals told us that one of the few trucks delivering water in Jacmel had broken down and it was most probably the same truck that normally delivered water to this camp. Until the water supply is re-established, the camp inhabitants will have to walk a long distance to fetch non-potable water. This was a task traditionally carried out by women and children but given the needs of the camp population, men got involved and agreed that it demanded a strenuous effort.

Not even rice and beans

For others eating rice and beans would be something.

Like many other communities not affected by the earthquake, the village of Las Cahobas, located 70km from Port-au-Prince in the Plateau Central, has welcomed hundreds of displaced people. Most of them live with host families; those who have no family links in the village are reassembled in makeshifts camps and depend on the generosity of local residents. In both cases, they feel forgotten by the State and the international community. Humanitarian aid almost never reaches Las Cahobas.


Amnesty on the ground: The daily struggle in Haiti’s camps

By Gerardo Ducos, Amnesty International delegate on mission in Port-au-Prince Haiti

Two months after the earthquake, thousands in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere still await a first glimpse of humanitarian aid. In the four makeshift camps we visited during our first days in Haiti, life is a daily struggle and conditions are dire to say the least. People are without water, food, sanitation or shelter. Resilience and solidarity with each other are the only things these camp-dwellers can rely on.

A canal clogged with garbage in the Cité Soleil camp

A canal clogged with garbage in the Cité Soleil camp

There are camps everywhere. Every single open space, on public or private land, is occupied by hundreds or thousands of people. They are sheltered mostly under sheets and towels, in tents, under tarpaulins or, for the most industrious, in structures of recycled wood and tin.

In the camps we visited in Cité Soleil, Delmas and Champ-de-Mars, local committees have been created, improvising and taking charge of basic camp management tasks: coordination, security during the night, registration of families, activities for children, digging latrines or demarcation of common space. However, women’s participation and representation in the committees is limited.

That said, most women are out and about in the streets of Port-au-Prince selling goods and trying to earn what they can to feed their families. At some distribution points, other women are patiently forming orderly queues to receive rice or other items from humanitarian organizations under the watchful eye of the heavily armed US soldiers or UN blue helmets.

The destruction in the city is vast and most of the government institutions have collapsed or are damaged beyond use. The authorities, like thousands of other Haitians, are literally camping and working off the road.

The Port-au-Prince police station is located a few hundred meters from what was the Presidential Palace and overlooks Champ-de-Mars, one of the city’s open spaces – now occupied by more than 12,000 people.

This police station hosts one of the few units set up to respond to violence against women. It so now reduced to a dusty table on the pavement and is manned during the day only. Since the earthquake, several pages of a log book have been filled with complaints of sexual abuse and violence from women and girls, while in the camp on Champ-de-Mars, just across the road.

The day we visited the police station, a male officer on duty at the table unwillingly counted for us the number of cases registered in the log book: 52 cases of physical and sexual violence since the earthquake.

He said that many victims were minors, aged between 11 and 16, and that most of the assaults took place at night. Although he knew where to refer victims for medical attention after a sexual assault, he was unable to explain why, on the previous night, a mother seeking police assistance in the attempted rape of her 17-year-old daughter by four young men, was told that the police could not do anything and that the security in the camps was the responsibility of the President of the Republic. Quite a blow for the population’s confidence in the police…

Life begins among the rubble
Wilson, a baby boy, was born the night before our second visit to Cité Soleil, a makeshift camp of 272 families. The mother gave birth in the most unsanitary conditions imaginable: on the dirt, a few metres away from a canal of stagnant and putrid water, clogged with garbage and covered with flies and mosquitoes.

Another woman from the camp assisted Wilson’s mother in what was described to us as a difficult delivery, without clean water, towels or sterile tools to cut the cord.

The one-day-old Wilson rested calmly in his mother’s arms, unperturbed by our presence and the swarm of mosquitoes that invaded the space under bedsheets tied up with strings. That’s the home where he was born. This improvised shelter provided little more than some shade, with no protection at all against other hazards. It leaves three children and their widowed mother exposed to the rain and the recurrent flooding in Cité Soleil and vulnerable to infectious diseases.

The rainy season looms and all the people we talked to fear the worst. Shelter is what they need and what they ask for. That is their priority.

This month is the time to talk about human rights in Haiti!

The earthquake in Haiti was incredibly devastating, but now, as Haitian and other world leaders are discussing aid administration and how to best rebuild Haiti, I really hope that they incorporate a human rights framework into the plan that they finalize.

Haitian President Rene Preval is heading to Washington today, to discuss what is needed to rebuild his country the day after International Violence Against Women Day, so what perfect timing to advocate the need to ensure that women’s and girls’ rights, as are the rights of all other vulnerable populations, are included in the discussions with other top policy makers. This week he is meeting with Secretary of State Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder, and the head of USAID.

Violence against women and girls is pervasive and widespread in Haiti, and certainly isn’t a new issue post-earthquake. There was a growing women’s rights movement in Haiti prior to the earthquake, and it is important that the steps that had been taken and the progress that had been made before the earthquake are not forgotten.

In light of President Preval visiting DC today, and in light of the international donor’s conference on March 31 in NYC where Haiti will be presenting a vision of their future and how the international community can assist, now is the opportunity for the Haitian government, various civil society organizations, and the international donor community to address human rights issues in Haiti, including how to protect the rights of women and girls (and other vulnerable populations) in Haiti.

More in-depth information about these two important meetings will posted soon, so please stay tuned.

Update on Haiti and yesterday's conference in Canada

The earthquake in Haiti caused unimaginable destruction and grief for a country that was already the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. The Obama Administration has responded to the crisis with a strong expression of support to the Haitian government, and to Haitian people residing both in the US and in Haiti. This was demonstrated by the grant of temporary protected status (TPS) to Haitians in the US on January 15th. As a follow-up to this, we’re asking everyone to join us in calling on the US government to suspend the current US interdiction at sea policy, also known as the “shout test,” because it is not an effective method of identifying individuals at risk of persecution or trafficking. Under refugee and international human rights law and standards, all individuals have the right to seek protection from persecution and other human rights abuses. When boats are interdicted at sea, the US can ensure compliance with its obligations by conducting meaningful individualized review of requests for protection in a place of safety.

Yesterday, Secretary of State Clinton participated in a 1-day meeting in Montreal, Canada along with representatives of the NGO-community, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Haitian Prime Minister Jean Max-Bellerive, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, representatives from the UN, the IMF, the World Bank, the European Union, and many others to start talking about the development of a strategy to re-build Haiti.

This one-day meeting is a first-step toward a much larger reconstruction conference on Haiti, which will be taking place in the coming months. The US confirmed that they will host a conference to discuss Haitian aid in early March at the United Nations.

We strongly urge that a human rights framework be incorporated into all plans and during all phases of the relief effort and the reconstruction of Haiti including:

  • Suspension of the US government’s current interdiction at sea policy, to be replaced by a procedure that ensures an effective method of identifying individuals at risk of persecution or other human rights abuses;
  • Protection of children from abuse, exploitation and trafficking;
  • Protection of the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs);
  • Protection of women and girls from gender-based violence, including sexual violence;
  • Ensure that the Haitian authorities are able to the rule of law and establish adequate security including the establishment of a functional justice system ;
  • Clarify the role of international forces in Haiti, and establish transparent accountability measures for these forces; and
  • Cancel Haiti’s foreign debt absent any conditions that would have a negative human rights impact.

Mourning the loss of Haitian Women's Rights Leaders

The reports from Haiti are more tragic everyday.  The loss, the devastation, the aftershock, the grief and the suffering.  Today, there are reports of losses to the women’s human rights movement– Myriam Merlet, Magalie Marcelin and Anne Marie Coriolan are Haitian women’s human rights defenders who were victims of the earthquake.  This tragic loss will be mourned throughout the global women’s rights community but the impact will be felt deeply as Haiti rebuilds.

Women’s rights and gender equality must be promoted during the humanitarian relief process but also during the rebuilding process.  On the Dianne Rehm show yesterday, academics and relief organizations spoke about the importance of recognizing the risk of gender based violence in refugee camps and the threat of violence against displaced women. 

Amnesty recently reported on sexual violence against school girls in Haiti. The women’s rights leaders who lost their lives spoke out against the issue of gender violence in Haiti before the earthquake.   The people of Haiti, and all of us, relied on human rights defenders like these to take a stand.  My thoughts go out to the families of them and all of the victims of this disaster.

President Obama Extends TPS to Haitians

This afternoon Janet Napolitano, Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, announced that the administration will extend temporary protected status to Haitians in the US. Providing work authorization through a TPS designation empowers Haitians to share responsibility for the relief and rebuilding of their own country, and it enables the US to meet its human rights obligations under international law and standards. AIUSA commends the administration for its generous and prompt humanitarian response to the disaster that is unfolding in Haiti. Haitians fleeing persecution or other serious human rights violations have a right to seek protection in the US. Accordingly, we hope that in the coming days the administration will also suspend the policy on interdiction during this time of crisis.