Haiti’s Human Rights Abuses and its War on Journalists

Timothy Alexander Guzman, Silent Crow News - The United Nations Human Rights monitor Michel Forst who recently resigned from his position due to “difficulties” he faced with the Martelly government according to the Director of the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights, Pierre Esperance.  Forst sent a letter to the Haitian Press criticizing the Haitian government of Michel Martelly for its illegal arrests of citizen’s, its influence on the judicial system and for threatening journalists.  Recently, the Associated Press reported “In an open letter that was sent to the Haitian press and obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday, Michel Forst criticized the government for the continuation of arbitrary and illegal arrests, its interference in the justice system and for threatening journalists.  In the letter, Forst said that “When I leave my office, I do not want to hide my concerns and disappointment in the developments in the field of rule of law and human rights.”  François “Papa Doc” and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier had the same policies during their presidencies.  In the case of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s Dictatorship from 1971 to 1986, Haiti witnessed human rights abuses with the arrests of hundreds of political prisoners that were held in prisons known as the “triangle of death.” Journalists were beaten, tortured and jailed for long periods of time.  Many died from brutal torture methods and many others were victims of extrajudicial killings. Many journalists were also exiled.  Duvalier’s government also closed independent newspapers and radio stations because they were considered threats.  Human Rights Watch stated in 2011 that: “In one case examined by Human Rights Watch, over 100 Haitian journalists and activists were arrested on November 28, 1980. Several were tortured and many were expelled from Haiti.” President Martelly is following the same footsteps of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.   The Associated Press reported:  

The letter also expresses concerns over political intervention in the legal system, citing the case of Calixte Valentin, a presidential adviser who was locked up on charges of killing a young farmer. Valentin was let go six months later “by a judge specially appointed for this purpose by the current Minister of Justice,” Forst wrote.

And he points to threats that were made by the Minister of Communication against journalists along with reports that journalists would not be allowed to participate in official events because their publications are suspected of supporting the opposition.

With Haiti’s fragile situation, Martelly’s government might take measures to conceal the dire situation politically, economically and socially.  Can a war on journalists develop?  With US, Canadian and French backing, President Martelly can arrest journalists who oppose his government.  According to a Haiti Liberte article written by Jeb Sprague Michel Martelly, Stealth Duvalierist’ summed it up:

Martelly, known at the time to have many friends throughout the military, explained to the Miami New Times: “I didn’t accept [the request to play] because I was Michel François’s friend, I did not accept because it was the Army. I went because I did not want Aristide back.” Most shockingly, Father Jean- Marie Vincent (who was killed by a coup death-squad on Aug. 28, 1994) accused Martelly of accompanying the Haitian police on deadly night-time raids to track down suspected Lavalas resistance leaders. “We have information that Michel Martelly has been traveling with death squads from the police when they go out at night to hunt and kill Lavalas leaders,” Vincent told filmmaker Pina in a videotaped interview.

Unfortunately, President Martelly’s government is starting to resemble the same human rights abuses of the past Duvalier governments.  But with the silent war on his political opponents and independent journalists, Martelly seems to be more subtle.  The future of Haiti will become mired in political chaos due to government corruption as Haiti’s political and economic situation continues to deteriorate despite international support.  The Haitian people will continue to see President Martelly follow the same policies as “Baby Doc” Duvalier.  Can President Martelly enforce state repression against the Haitian people? Yes, but under international observers and other human rights organizations that monitor Haiti’s progress, it would make it difficult for the time being.  However, with threats against journalists, President Martelly is on the same path as his predecessors, despite world opinion.

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