Time for Apologies
The Brazilian Military and Human Rights in Haiti
By Natalia Viana
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
April 13, 2005
At the end of March the international GNO Global Justice Center and the Human Rights Program of Harvard University released a report that shook the trust of the international community in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), commanded by Brazilian troops. The report not only claims that the peace forces are not fulfilling the mandate, but also actually accuses them of violating human rights. “The time for excuses if over,” says the report (PDF). Global Justice president James Cavallaro teaches law at Harvard and has been denouncing the human rights situation in Brazil for many years. He was in the country twice, in December 2004 and February of this year, together with other researchers, to talk to and gather information about the work of the troops. He gave Narco News the following interview:
Narco News: What have been the repercussions of the report Keeping the Peace in Haiti?
James Cavallaro: The response from the media, from those who follow the situation in that country has been extremely positive. There has been a number or reports in newspapers, radio, and television about our study and about our critique of the MINUSTAH mission, and so it really has generated an important debate. Our ultimate objective is to promote that kind of debate in order to try to bring about changes at the MINUSTAH mission, for it to fulfill its obligations and promote security of human rights in Haiti. Unfortunately the response from the authorities in Brazil was less receptive, less open and self-critical then what we had hoped. We found that the Brazilian authorities unfortunately tended to take the critique quite personally and not to demonstrate the capacity to recognize the different roles in a free society that non-government organizations and civil society have vis-à-vis the government. But eventually we did meet with the minister for human rights, we met with authorities from the Ministry of Justice, and I think we had a positive dialogue and we managed to reach two points of consensus on changes.
Narco News: Which changes?
James Cavallaro: There is a question of security in hospitals, with a huge number of denunciations regarding the forced removal of persons from the hospitals – presumably by members of the Haitian national police – and their subsequent disappearance or execution. We had requested while we were in Haiti, to both the military contingent of the MINUSTAH mission and to the civil police contingent called CivPol, that either or both of these provide security so that hospitals could be entirely safe, and so people could feel that they could freely seek medical treatment if they had been inured by guns. We documented a number of cases in which victims of gunfire by the Haitian national police failed to seek medical treatment because they feared the police would removed them from hospitals when they found out how they had been injured, and that they would be forcibly disappeared. It’s something so grotesque that we thought that our raising that issue would provoke an immediate change, but it didn’t while we were in Haiti. But the Brazilian human rights minister, Nilmário Miranda, promised that he would consider reexamining this issue with the UN forces, so we are pressing him and we hope that it does happen.
The second issue involves the human rights monitoring of the MINUSTAH mission, which has been extremely week. The minister promised to organize a mission with civil society to go to Haiti , to research and produce a report on the human rights situation. That is something that is badly needed.
Narco News: In your report you bring up evidence of serious human rights abuses committed or supported by the MINUSTAH. How was the evidence collected?
James Cavallaro: The main allegation in terms of violent abuses is that the MINUSTAH troops have provided cover and logistical support to the Haitian national police for committing gross violations. Executions, mass arrests of twenty, forty, eighty people without warrant, and (the national police) have been able to do that because they could count on the support of the UN troops! That is the thrust of our critique in terms of human rights violations. Also, there are some cases in which our information demonstrates at least the serious possibility of the direct involvement in gross violations. We bring up two concrete cases.
One case involves a small child named Herlens Henri, of less than 3 years of age, who was shot and killed by what was probably a stray bullet. We don’t allege that the UN forces targeted at the small child to kill him, but the UN most likely fired the bullet. They say they did not fire, that a gun battle between rival gangs was responsible for the child’s death. Again, we have information from witnesses and family members. We went to Cite du Soleil, where it occurred, we spoke to people, we spoke with the UN forces, we asked them the time of the operations, and they gave us contradictory information, meaning that the mission started at 5 am, and the killing had occurred at 3:30 and so they could not be responsible. But they also told us the operations enter as early as midnight for a mission that begins at 5 am. So the facts are not entirely clear.
One big issue in that case, as in others, is that there is no system of transparent investigation for allegations of abuses committed by UN forces. Another case in which General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira effectively recognizes UN responsibility involves a young man named Carlo Pierre, who was shot at a demonstration. The information we received from an eyewitness is that one of the UN armed vehicle tanks pointed its weapons at Carlo Pierre and fired him because he was about to throw a rock at the tank. And in response to our report, General Augusto Heleno wrote, “well, throwing rocks at the UN troops is not a democratic activity and we need to respond”. In that way he effectively admitted that UN troops fired and killed a young man who was about to throw a rock in them. But again there has been no investigation, no attempt to clarify which responsibility the UN might have had. That may be a bigger issue than the violation committed by the UN itself: there is no system to oversee the UN, we don’t even know what is happening. We get information and other statements from witnesses but it really doesn’t allow us to get a full picture. If the UN has a meaningful oversight role of its own abuses we could have better data and we would also de able to control UN forces more effectively.
Narco News: Is this the major gap between the mandate and what is actually happen in the mission in Haiti?
James Cavallaro: There are three core elements of the mandate. The first element is about disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (of the armed paramilitary groups), known as DDR. The second aspect is constitutional strengthening, which involves police reform and political reform. The third major aspect is protection of human rights and protection of civilians. In each of those three there has been an enormous gap between what the mandate requires and the practice of UN. So, for instance, with the disarmament, after 8 months in Haiti the MINUSTAH mission has not developed so much as a plan for disarmament. Still today there are areas in Haiti that are controlled by former military. There is basic, clear, straightforward language in the mandate, in the resolution 1542, that requires the UN to demobilize armed forces and armed persons in Haiti. They haven’t done that. They say the mandate requires them to work together with the Haitian authorities and provide assistance. But that’s standard language in UN mandates on disarmament – it’s the same standard language that was present in the UN mandate in Sierra Leone and in Liberia. Those were countries coming out of full-fledged civil war, and in both cases the UN disarmed thousands of combatants. So the mandate is quite strong, quite clear, and it’s not being followed.
Now let me jump to the third aspect, where the UN is required to protect civilians. What that means is that if the Haitian national police are engaged in activity that is likely to compromise the physical integrity of civilians, the UN is not only required not to fold its arms and watch, it is required to engage. And that may have happened once or twice in exceptional situations more recently, but it happened quite late in terms of operations of MINUSTAH. And the second issue is that they are required directly to monitor and report on the human rights situation. Although there have been some reports that the UN has released through other bodies, the MINUSTAH mission itself hasn’t released a single human rights report. They are not monitoring. I hate to use such terms, but they are asleep at the wheel! And that is absolutely in direct contradiction with the mandate.
Narco News: You’ve been working in Brazil for a long time, so you know the tradition Brazilian army’s tradition of violating human rights in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, for instance. Do you think the Brazilian army is unprepared to respect human rights and to lead a peacekeeping force?
James Cavallaro: I actually think the problem is different. It has to do with the orders that the Brazilian army is receiving. Generally, most soldiers in most places, regardless of the potential they may have to commit and act of violence beyond their orders and beyond international legality, follow orders. That’s what they do. You can see that if you look at the Abu Ghraib scandal: you have military men following orders to soften up prisoners, to beat them, to torture the or to abuse them. That is the problem in Haiti. I don’t think anyone is ordering troops to brutalize Haitians, but I think what they are being ordered to do is to stand by and provide logistical support for the Haitian national police without checking what this police are doing.
Narco News: And who is giving these orders?
James Cavallaro: That would require speculation and I prefer not to speculate. What we can say clearly is that the orders that they should be getting are different from the orders they have been getting, and the orders they are receiving are to oversee the actions of the Haitian national police. Very clearly they ought to be present and stop Haitian national police if they are about to engage in acts of violence, they ought to be more active in providing security in different parts of the country, and they ought also to disarm the former military who are in effective control of entire regions. That’s a matter of orders! No military group should go into one of the police district that is presently controlled by the former Haitian military and disarm them without a clear order, clear strategy and clear operational design. That’s what has to happen. So we see the issue is much more than the nature of interpretation of the mandate and the nature of the mission. We think that MINUSTAH is doing a very bad job in accomplishing the mandate.
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