UN troops in Haiti aid repression, critics charge

On July 6, 350 soldiers from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (Minustah) stormed the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Cite Soleil, one of the capital’s poorest districts and a hotbed of support for ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

“The foreign soldiers came with helicopters and their war machines and started shooting at everything that moved,” said Rene Momplaisir, a neighborhood activist. “They killed 40 people who carried no weapons.”

Among the victims were 22-year-old Sonia Romelus, who was killed by the same bullet that passed through the body of her 1-year-old son Nelson, who also died. Found next to their bodies was Sonia’s 4-year-old son Stanley, killed by a single shot to the head.

Doctors Without Borders reported receiving 27 patients with gunshot wounds after the incident, three-quarters of them women and children.

Minustah commander Lt. Gen. Augusto Heleno Ribeiro initially claimed the attack was an attempt to “curb violence” in the neighborhood, alleging that no civilians died and that soldiers shot out of self-defense. However, after outraged protesters held demonstrations across the U.S., Canada, France and Brazil, Minustah issued an apology for its actions and promised to investigate.

As a result of this incident and others, critics charge that Minustah is not protecting human rights in Haiti. Instead, they say, it is aiding the coup-installed government’s campaign of repression against Aristide’s supporters.

Journalist and filmmaker Kevin Pina, producer of the documentary “Haiti: the Untold Revolution,” told the World in an e-mail interview from Haiti that UN forces have been involved in other massacres besides the one on July 6.

“Ordinary Haitians who continue to support Lavalas and Aristide are frightened and angry by their [Minustah’s] presence,” he said. They sometimes find themselves “verging on helplessness, especially when the UN continues to support armed incursions in their neighborhoods by the Haitian National Police (HNP). They [Minustah] are always in the background of these deadly raids.”

According to Brian Concannon Jr. of the Oregon-based Center for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, “Minustah has been involved in a lot of killings and is most certainly supporting police in murderous raids in poor neighborhoods.”

Pina’s and Concannon’s statements are supported by two recent studies.

“Keeping the Peace in Haiti?” by Harvard University Law School and the Brazil-based Global Justice Center, accuses Minustah of violating its own mandate. The report, published last March, points out that Security Council Resolution 1542 requires that Minustah help with monitoring and reforming the HNP.

Instead, “Minustah’s most visible efforts have involved providing logistical support to police operations … implicated in human rights abuses such as arbitrary arrests and detentions and extrajudicial killings.”

A University of Miami Law School report issued last November and titled “Haiti: Human Rights Investigation” says that the HNP routinely launches “guerilla attacks” against poor neighborhoods, carrying out illegal killings with Minustah’s backing.

Journalist Ben Terral, who recently visited Haiti, said that he watched a video recording of an HNP-Minustah operation made by a Haitian journalist in downtown Port-au-Prince. “It included images of a Bel Air resident named William Perry who was in a wheelchair in the courtyard of his residence when UN troops burst through the gate and blew the top of his head off. William’s sister testified on camera that Brazilian UN troops fired gas and came into courtyard with no provocation. … The survivors testified that UN soldiers were shooting ‘without any control.’”

Concannon said that ordinary Haitians sometimes welcome Minustah into their neighborhoods because “they are less brutal than the police or armed groups that they displace.”

“But Haitians would prefer that Minustah protect them without having to shoot them as well,” he said.

tpelzer @ shaw.ca