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Canada in Haiti

Does the Canadian-promoted “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine include murder rape, and threats of violence?

That’s the question we should be asking Canadian officials after a study in the prestigious Lancet medical journal released at the end of August revealed there were 8,000 murders, 35,000 rapes and thousands of incidents of armed threats in the 22 months after the overthrow of the elected government in Haiti.

In September 2000, Canada launched the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. The commission’s final report, The Responsibility to Protect, was presented to the UN in December 2001 and at the 2005 World Summit, Canada advocated that world leaders endorse the new doctrine. It asserts that where gross human rights abuses are occurring, it is the duty of the international community to intervene, over and above considerations of state sovereignty.

In January 2003, the Canadian government organized the “Ottawa Initiative” where U.S., Canadian and French government officials who met at Meech Lake decided that Haiti’s elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide should be removed from office. The intervention was justified, they reasoned, by the Responsibility to Protect doctrine.

In due course, Aristide was forced from office. And Canada’s intervention in Haiti has exacerbated, rather than improved, Haiti’s human rights situation.
Confirming numerous prior human rights investigations, the Lancet study estimates that 8,000 people in Port-au-Prince were killed in the 22 months after the toppling of Aristide’s government. The Lancet study gives an idea of the scale of the persecution of those close to Aristide’s Lavalas movement.

Of the estimated 8,000 people murdered–12 people a day–in the greater Port-au-Prince area, nearly half (47.7%) were killed by governmental or anti-Aristide forces. 21.7% of the killings were attributed to members of the Haitian National Police (HNP), 13.0% to demobilized soldiers (many of whom participated in the coup) and 13.0% to anti-Aristide gangs (none were attributed to Aristide supporters).

Canada commands the 1,600-member United Nations police contingent mandated to train, assist and oversee the Haitian National Police. Yet while Canadian police have been supporting them, the Haitian police have been attacking peaceful demonstrations and carrying out massacres, often with the help of anti-Aristide gangs. While UN police have announced investigations in a few particularly egregious cases, not one report from such investigations has ever been released.

The Lancet study also uncovered some evidence that Canadian forces in Haiti were more than mere silent accomplices. Athena Kolbe, co-author of the study, recounts an interview with one family in the Delmas district of Port-au-Prince:

“Canadian troops came to their house, and they said they were looking for (pro-Aristide) Lavalas chimeres, and threatened to kill the head of household, who was the father, if he didn’t name names of people in their neighbourhood who were Lavalas chimeres or Lavalas supporters.”

Canada took command of “reforming” Haiti’s judicial system, yet by all accounts huge numbers of political prisoners, including the former prime minister, languished in prolonged and arbitrary detention. The Lancet found an huge number of unconstitutional detentions.

The study also found a “shocking” level of sexual violence committed since the coup, with an estimated 35,000 women raped in Port-au- Prince, more than half of the victims under eighteen. In a harrowing account the co-author, Athena Kolbe, discussed interviewing a mother who had been raped with a metal bar, which destroyed her cervix. Gravely ill, the woman was transported by Kolbe’s crew to the general hospital, where they offered to pay for medical costs. On discovering that a uniformed police officer was implicated, the hospital refused medical treatment. The victim eventually received medical attention at another facility, but ultimately succumbing to her injuries. Kolbe then paid for relocation of the traumatized family. (This necessitated not including the rape in the Lancet survey data.)

Throughout the period investigated by the researchers from Wayne State University in Michigan Canada was heavily involved in Haitian affairs. After withholding aid to Aristide’s elected government, Canada gave nearly $200 million to the imposed Gerard Latortue regime. Nearly five hundred Canadian troops with six CH-146 Griffon helicopters were on the ground until August of 2004. And the imposed Prime Minister was feted in Ottawa on a number of occasions.

On April 13, 2006, in Washington, U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice praised “Canada’s very important role in Haiti.”

We suspect that anyone who has read the Lancet study does not share her praise.

Nik Barry-Shaw is a member of Haiti Action Montreal

Yves Engler is the author of two books: Canada in Haiti: Waging War on the Poor Majority (with Anthony Fenton) and Playing Left Wing: From Rink Rat to Student Radical.

 

 

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