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Date: Thu, 5 Jan 1995 14:08:24 CST
From: Haiti Commission (haiticom@nyxfer.blythe.org)
Subject: This Week in Haiti 12:41
To: Multiple recipients of list ACTIV-L (ACTIV-L@MIZZOU1.missouri.edu)

Truth Commission Buried in Secrecy

From This Week in Haiti,
Vol. 12, no. 41, 4-10 January 1995

US and Haitian government officials have spent the last four months trying to find excuses for denying justice to the Haitian people. Now they're trying to bury the one concession they had apparently made - the formation of a Truth Commission to investigate the crimes of the military dictatorship and their paramilitary allies during the three years of the coup d' tat. According to the Dec. 31 Miami Herald, President Aristide signed a decree forming a seven-member commission on Dec. 20. But the signing, which should have been accompanied by at least some kind of public announcement given the importance of the issue, went untrumpetted, and the decree was not even published in the government's official register. Moreover, no documents describing the commission's job have been published, nor have all the commissioners been named, according to The Herald.

The commission will be headed by Francoise Boucard, a sociologist married to Health Minister Jean Moliere. She and other commission members will have six months to gather information and make a report. Minister of Justice Ernst Mallebranche can extend the period for three more months but has shown little interest in justice or the truth commission. It was Francois somebody, Mallebranche responded when asked by The Herald who was heading the body. He has also said that prosecuting state criminals is not my role. Mallebranche recently enraged the population of Jeremie when he met at length with the local commissaire or prosecutor, Willy Jean Felix, to discuss justice matters.

Felix also happens to be president of the local chapter of the Front for the Advancement and Progres of Haiti (FRAPH), the country's principal death-squad organization. When asked why Felix wasn't fired, Mallebranche responded: With whom could I replace him?

The attitude of Aristide's Justice Minister suggests why the Haitian government has been unwilling to pursue justice, and does not augur well for any Truth Commission worthy of the name. It is still not clear whether the commission will even name individuals responsible for crimes, much less demand their prosecution.

The question is: will this be a Truth Commission to unearth the truth, or to bury it? What will be the depth and breadth of the investigation? Will the commission investigate the US Central Intelligence Agency and other arms of the US government which played a key role in the Sept. 1991 coup and the reign of terror that followed? Will members of the bourgeoisie and army - who are now being embraced in reconciliation - be exposed and tried? Or will it be a whitewash with a few scapegoats?

The active push by the Clinton administration and the Aristide government for reconciliation, as well as their active defense of the putschists and the Haitian army, contrasts with the rhetoric they once used to justify US military intervention in Haiti. Haitian dreams of democracy became a nightmare of bloodshed, noted President Clinton in his nationally televised address Sept. 15, shortly before the US intervention. The dictators launched a horrible campaign of rape, torture and mutilation. People starved. Children died... Cedras and his armed thugs have conducted a reign of terror, executing children, raping women, killing priests. Likewise, the exiled government of President Aristide also raised the atrocities of the Haitian army to justify US military intervention, shamelessly pushing mutilation victims into the public eye while at the same time striking deals for reconciliation and inclusion of torturers into the big Haitian family.

Despite the rhetoric, the United States has no interest in bringing to justice those responsible for the atrocities. On the contrary, the United States government, as recent revelations in the press have documented, organized the coup, employed the military junta that directed it, and created the death squads of the FRAPH. Indeed, if a serious Truth Commission was established most of the Haitian bourgeoisie, most of the Haitian officer corps, many US Embassy officers, many Pentagon officials, and many US State Department bureaucrats, would be indicted.

Thus, the US officials and their allies talk up reconciliation and downplay, or make excuses about, justice. I think honestly we don't have the conditions of justice, Port-au-Prince Mayor Evans Paul told The Miami Herald this week, echoing the same pretexts used by US officials. We don't have the capacity to guarantee true justice.

Contributing to this problem, some human rights activists have facilitated the US government's justice and human rights charade. Necker Dessables, executive secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission, accepted a human rights award Dec. 19 from US Ambassador William Swing and US Agency for International Development (AID) Administrator Brian Atwood. The award is part of an effort by the US Embassy to posture as a champion of human rights. The US government, which spawned the FRAPH death squads, is now giving awards to their victims. Dessables' acceptance, instead of refusal, of the prize is a great affront to the prestige of Justice and Peace, whose field chapters have issued many important reports recently outlining the role of the US occupation in protecting coup criminals and in violating human rights. The act is akin to the head of a Jewish organization accepting a human rights award from the Nazi government.

As for the broad-based Haitian government, it appears to be following in the footsteps of other post-genocide administrations. As author Christopher Simpson notes in The Splendid Blond Beast: Money, Law and Genocide in the Twentieth Century, the tendency of these governments will be to forget, to compromise, and to walk away from injustice.

Nor will the statutes of the vaunted international community be of great help to the Haitian people in their quest for justice. International law typically provided protection for the powerful and ruthless rather than for their victims, notes Simpson. The reason is simple: the principal perpetrators of genocide, of human rights abuses, are themselves the authors of international human rights conventions. Thus, at one point, anti-colonial struggle was considered to be a violation of international law.

Yet popular struggle forced some concessions from imperial rulers. During World War II, when the United States had to use human rights to mobilize people to fight Nazism, the Allied powers defined crimes against humanity as including murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, rape, or other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population. But in a capitalist society, where such things are the norm, justice cannot be done, and the United States and Great Britain fought hard to prevent the prosecution of the majority of Nazi war criminals, despite the crumbs thrown at Nuremburg. Indeed, the post-World War II treaties and legal framework supporting human rights remain notoriously weak, in the words of Simpson, and a crock, in the words of US State Department officials cited by Simpson.

Nevertheless, the lack of justice in Haiti continued to cause some severe problems for the US occupation force this week. Following the Dec. 26 shoot-out at Haitian army headquarters, where four soldiers protesting lay-offs were killed, thousands of people took to the streets of Port-au-Prince demanding the abolition of the army. But for US Embassy spokesperson Stanley Schrager, the concern was for the murderous army, not their victims. We understand the unhappiness of the Haitian armed forces personnel, he said, noting that an assembly industry jobs program for 2,000 demobilized soldiers was well under way.