Shredding Haiti's Constitution: UN Betrayal in Port au Prince

April 10, 2005

The following is excerpted from an article by Sasha Kramer published on April 5, 2005 by HaitiAction.net.

On Tuesday March 29 thousands gathered in Bel Air [Haiti] to peacefully commemorate the signing of their constitution and to demand that the international community respect that constitution, starting with the return of the duly elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. Prior to the march organizers negotiated the route with MINUSTAH [the UN armed forces in Haiti]. Then on the morning of the demonstration MINUSTAH soldiers distributed flyers in Bel Air saying that the government had declared the march illegal. Despite these warnings thousands of people gathered in Bel Air to demand their constitutional right to protest on the 18th anniversary of the constitution.

What follows is an account of Radio Ginen's footage of Tuesday's events ---- Apparently, things broke down when Gen. Heleno claimed that MINUSTAH's demonstration permit was not valid because the demonstrators had not simultaneously informed BOTH MINUSTAH and the PNH with the necessary advance notice. MINUSTAH alone does not suffice.

The demonstration's organizers then made the argument that they cannot be filing the permit request with the PNH when it is the same PNH that is gunning demonstrators down at demonstrations.

The argument became heated and high-volume, with choice words exchanged, after which Heleno declared "It's your country, not mine. I'm not the legal authority here, the PNH is. You must recognize their authority," and the crowd chanting "MINUSTAH must go" before Heleno retreated to his vehicle. The demonstration continued, but MINUSTAH blocked off the planned demonstration pathway, and the crowd could not get to the Palace area. Chaos ensued, shooting, several people injured with gunshot wounds, apparently from MINUSTAH.

A demonstrator said MINUSTAH completely dispersed the demo. People are frustrated, MINUSTAH didn't let people demonstrate. Juan Gabriel Valdes gave the assurance allowing the people to demonstrate, and it's not being respected. There is a "kouri" (free-for-all). MINUSTAH's spokesperson assured us security along the route we planned with MINUSTAH. That was our program, to demand that the constitution be respected. MINUSTAH shot tear gas and crushed the demonstration. Shooting is occurring. MINUSTAH is firing on us. Latortue asked us for 48 hour notice. We gave them 72. Why are they shooting us?

The constitution is 18 years old. Today, all Haitians are celebrating the 18th year, but it's desolation and insecurity. The occupiers and the sell-outs are holding the country hostage. Journalists, police, students are dying, no one has security, any way Latortue and Boniface are giving the country away to United States, Canada, and France, but the final victory will be for the people in struggle.

Just last week Father Jean Juste said "As long as MINUSTAH's position supports the enjoyment of our human rights, we'll walk along. If they return to their oppressive attitude, we'll reject them like we did for the killer policemen."

Why this return to an oppressive attitude? This reversal of tactic on the part of MINUSTAH is doubly egregious. They directly participated in human rights abuses, including the severe beating of a 12 year old boy, and they mislead and betrayed the organizers, making false promises regarding security provisions.

These past weeks marked a critical moment for the MINUSTAH mission in Haiti. UN officials were faced with a choice between two conflicting components of their mandate: to back an illegitimate government and a violent police force infiltrated by the former military or to protect human rights.

In the first year following the overthrow of the democratically elected government UN troops primarily focused on fulfilling the first part of their mandate to the detriment of human rights, and numerous lives were lost as a result of this duplicitous and politically repressive policy. On January 5 UN troops arrested Jimmy Charles, a Lavalas organizer. Community members begged them not to turn him over to the police, fearing for his life. Ignoring these demands the UN turned him over to the police and on January 15 his body was found in the morgue with 6 bullets. The people of Haiti, particularly the families of those that died, have not forgotten this incident, nor have they forgotten that it was the UN that trained the police and continues to prop up an illegitimate government in direct violation of their OAS obligations....