Military Violence Said to Increase Amid Haiti's Leadership Void

AS a four-wheel drive vehicle leaves the parking lot of a prominent hotel in this island capital shortly after dark, its headlights expose an armed soldier standing in the middle of an otherwise coal black street.

Startled, the soldier bolts, running full speed down the middle of the highway. His companion, driving a motorcycle, swoops by and picks him up. The two race off, disappearing into the darkness of a city cloaked in perpetual black-outs.

The body of a young man is found, several hours later, where the soldier was originally standing. He is one of a rising number of victims of extrajudicial executions taking place in the capital.

According to the United Nations Civilian Mission, which is monitoring human rights violations here, the military and their civilian allies, particularly members of the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH), are responsible for many of the arbitrary executions occurring in Port-au-Prince.

As political negotiations drag on and prospects for the return of exiled-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide seem less and less likely, the military junta of Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras and his attaches is becoming more and more brazen. Violence in the first few months of this year surpasses any period in 1993.

``Things that were unheard of, even under the worst days of the Duvalier [dictatorship], are occurring on a daily basis,'' says United States Sen. Christopher Dodd (D) of Connecticut, chairman of the Committee on Western Hemisphere Affairs, on a visit to Haiti last week. ``The disfigurement of victims of violence, kidnapping of children, [and] raping of women, and in significant numbers - these things never happened before in this country,'' he emphasized. ``Human rights were always a problem but never this bad.''

Since the military ousted President Aristide in a bloody coup dtat two and a half years ago, more than 3,000 people have died, according to human rights organizations. In an attempt to curb the violence, the United Nations deployed more than 200 human rights monitors throughout Haiti in February 1993.

Amid increased political violence, they withdrew in mid-October, shortly before the deadline of an internationally brokered agreement that would have allowed Aristide, the country's first freely elected leader, to return Oct. 30.

A small UN observer group returned in January. The mission recorded 58 extrajudicial executions or suspected deaths in the capital in February. A total of 51 were recorded in March; 31 of these took place in Haiti's impoverished slum, Cite Soleil. The majority of victims were members of unions or political organizations that support Aristide's return. Several remain unidentified due to recent practices of cutting victims' faces beyond recognition.

Haitian women have historically been spared the brutalities inflicted on their male counterparts. This is no longer the case. Today, women suffer beatings, mutilations, and gang rapes. If they are not targeted for their political activity, they become victims in the absence of a targeted husband, son, or father. The UN mission has recorded 15 rape cases since the end of January, though many more go unreported.

In recent interviews conducted by LaShawn Jefferson of the Washington-based Women's Rights Project, every rape victim said her attacker was armed. Since only a tiny percentage of civilians have registered guns, the rest can be linked to the military or their attaches. No victims reported their cases to the authorities.

``The de facto government is not only unable to protect women against political and nonpolitical violations, it actually promotes and creates a perfect environment for it to happen,'' said Ms. Jefferson after her 10-day study. ``Few people know the crimes even happen because the victims have no faith they will receive justice under the current legal system. They also fear reprisal.''

Thousands of victims have taken to the high seas to escape the pervasive repression. Following President Bush's Executive Order in May 1992 returning all refugees to Haiti without an interview for asylum, the mass exodus stopped. Since the beginning of February, however, US Coast Guard cutters have repatriated 610 refugees.

``One can't be sure there's a trend,'' says a US refugee official. ``But no doubt this means there's a greater sense of desperation.

``It corresponds to the increased profile of FRAPH, the defined nature of violence, the feeling of hopelessness,'' the official explains. ``There's not a single force that can control the behavior of the military authorities.''

The military is also openly hostile to foreigners. On two separate occasions a military authority and an attache beat a repatriated refugee in the presence of a US official. Armed FRAPH demonstrators roughed up members of the Civilian Mission in the Central Plateau last month as the military looked on. Two foreign journalists were held overnight in the military barracks of a small town in the south for not carrying proper identification.

The military high command's strategy of accountability is to avoid meeting with human rights groups and the press. But the secretary-general of FRAPH, Emmanuel Constant, responds to the allegations, saying: ``There's nobody else to accuse.''

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.