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24816: Chamberlain (news) Arms sales to Haiti
Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
(Sunday Independent, UK, 17 April 05)
Bush administration ’broke its own embargo to sell arms to Haiti police’
The Bush administration has been accused of ignoring its own arms embargo
and overseeing the sale of $7m-worth (£3.7m) of weapons to the Haitian
government to equip its police force.
Human rights groups say the police carry out routine executions of
dissidents and weapons are often illegally funnelled to armed militia.
Robert Muggah of the Swiss-based Small Arms Survey, a non-profit group,
said that last year the US effected the sale of thousands of weapons to the
interim government headed by Gerard Latortue, despite a 13-year arms
embargo. "They are meant to brace up a shaky security force, but the
reality is they could actually undermine security by jeopardising an
innovative disarmament effort just getting under way," said Mr Muggah, who
has spent several months in Haiti interviewing diplomats and UN officials
for a report.
The embargo was established after a coup that ousted the elected president
Jean-Betrand Aristide, who was forced into exile for a second time last
year. Washington, which had long under- mined his presidency, refused to
help him. The weapons embargo remains in place.
Mr Latortue, installed following negotiations involving the US, France and
Canada, complained the ban prevented him equipping the police.
But according to Mr Muggah, despite Mr Latortue’s public protestations, a
number of arms sales have gone ahead. His report says 5,435 "military-style
weapons", including M-14 and other semi-automatic guns and 4,433 handguns
worth $6.95m, were provided from the US.
Haiti is already awash with guns and violence. Human rights groups say
supporters of Mr Aristide’s political party, Lavalas, have been subjected
to violence and oppression. The Haitian National Police (HNP) is also
accused of carrying out a campaign of violence in the slums of the capital,
Brian Concannon, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in
Haiti (IJDH), which has links to the former government, said : "It is
well-documented that the Haitian police routinely execute political
dissidents and suspected criminals, so with them the guns are already in
the wrong hands.
"But many officers - especially those illegally integrated from the rebel
army - funnel arms to paramilitary groups that are even more brutal."
A recent report by the human rights programme at Harvard Law School said
HNP members were "perceived variously as crooked, politicised, ineffective
and violators of human rights".
It added that the UN stabilisation mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) was not only
complicit in HNP abuses, but that there were "credible allegations of human
rights abuses perpetrated by MINUSTAH itself".
Media reports have identified several Haitian Americans allegedly involved
in an arms sale, raising suggestions that the deal was privately organised
and sanctioned by the US, rather than an official sale of weapons by
One of these, Joel Deeb, a self-styled "freedom fighter", told The
Independent on Sunday he had been approached by Mr Latortue’s nephew,
Youri, and given $500,000 to buy arms.
"I was given half a million dollars in the form of a letter of credit," he
said. "But there is an embargo. There has not been any deal yet. The money
is frozen. Everybody is saying I have done something with the money, but it
is still there."
A State Department spokesman said restrictions on arms sales remained. He
said the US would not sell arms to Haiti but would consider lifting the
embargo on a case-by-case basis to allow third parties to make the sales
"to be helpful" to the interim government.