Haiti

Amnesty International to Haiti president: End excessive force against protesters

Amnesty International is calling on Haitian President Jovenel Moïse to guarantee the rights of Haitians who are taking to the streets to protest against his government, and to put an end to the use of excessive force by his security forces.

The human rights organization said Thursday that it has verified multiple instances of “security forces under the command of President Jovenel Moïse” using unlawful and excessive force, and it must end.

Amnesty said it verified the abuses by the 15,051-member Haiti National Police by reviewing videos of several incidents of police using weapons “indiscriminately and unlawfully, including launching tear gas out of a moving police vehicle ... firing on protesters with less-lethal ammunition at extremely close-range, and beating a protester.”

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Amnesty said it also verified instances in which police, armed with semiautomatic rifles, fired live ammunition during protests, in violation of international human rights law and standards on the use of force.

While some of the protests have been peaceful, they’ve also turned violent, with protesters throwing rocks at motorists and Molotov cocktails at foreign embassies and government buildings, and blocked ambulances from crossing barricades.

The sustained anti-government protests demanding the resignation of Moïse are now in their seventh week. At least 35 people have been killed since Sept. 16, with the Haiti National Police implicated in many of the deaths, according to a report by the National Human Rights Defense Network (Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains). More than 200 people have been injured, including at least eight journalists, between Sept. 16 and Oct. 17, the human rights network said.

“Such incidents must be investigated promptly, thoroughly and effectively,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International. “President Moïse must take urgent measures to ensure people protesting against his government can do so safely, without putting their lives at risk. The police must stop using firearms carrying live ammunition in the context of protests and take particular measures to guarantee the safety of journalists covering the political and human rights situation in Haiti.”

Amnesty’s report echoes those of the National Human Rights Defense Network and other human rights defenders in Haiti who have accused Haitian authorities of launching tear gas into crowds and violating protesters’ rights. They also accused the government of using security forces that drive around in unmarked vehicles and hide their faces when quelling protests.

Hours after Amnesty’s report was released, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who told the Miami Herald last month that the U.S. should interfere with Haiti’s deepening political crisis, tweeted a warning to Moïse.

“Govt leaders in #Haiti should not confuse an unwillingness to interfere in their internal politics with tolerance for violence against protestors & journalists. They have an obligation to uphold the rule of law & will face consequences if responsible for human rights abuses,” Rubio said.

Haiti police did not immediately respond to questions for comments.

Last week during a hearing of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs on aid to the Caribbean and Latin America, Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., raised the issue of human rights abuses by the Haiti National Police, which has had some of its stations and vehicles set ablaze during protests and some of its own members marching against the government due to subpar working conditions.

Citing a recent Miami Herald article on human rights abuses and activists’ calls for investigation into excessive use of force, Levin asked Michael Kozak, the acting assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere at the State Department, if the agency had raised human rights concerns with the Haitian government.

Kozak said the State Department “generally” raises human rights concerns but its experience is that the Haiti National Police is one of the few institutions that “has been performing reasonably well.”

“It’s gone from being a very small organization that was really incapable of policing the place to now having the capability,” Kozak said about the force, which has been trained by the United Nations and is partly financed by the U.S. and other nations.

“Are there abuses committed from time to time? Yes,“ Kozak said. But he added the U.S. has been helping the police carry out internal investigations when allegations of abuse are made.

“We’re urging them to use those mechanisms to deal with the abuses when they occur,” he added. “It’s actually been doing a pretty good job of trying to control the unrest without committing [abuses].”

Levin, raising police handling and implication in the massacre that happened in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of La Saline last November, told Kozak he did not “share your sunny view.”

On Thursday, Port-au-Prince and other major cities remained paralyzed with barricades erected on roads and the opposition remaining firm in its position that Moïse needs to resign and it’s too late to hold a dialogue. It has been joined by other groups in society, including human rights activists, the Catholic Church, students and health professionals, all of whom are calling on the president to step down.

Haiti’s Office of the Secretary of State for Communication said Thursday that it was deeply concerned about the difficulties being encountered by many journalists and press workers.

“The Office of the Secretary of State for Communication denounces with the utmost severity all attacks against journalists and workers of the free press in a tumultuous situation,” it said in a statement.

Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.
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