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24908: Hermantin(News)From police state to state of disarray (fwd)
From: leonie hermantin <email@example.com>
Posted on Thu, Apr. 28, 2005
>From police state to state of disarray
U.N. efforts to reform Haiti's police force - decimated by a revolt last
year and now underequipped, underpaid and accused of corruption -- face an
BY JOE MOZINGO
HINCHE, Haiti - The men sleeping on a dirty concrete floor in a back room of
the makeshift police station are not prisoners. They are police -- scared to
go home because someone might kill them.
The United Nations advisors here to help them can only sigh in dismay.
''The police officers right now, they can't do anything,'' said Amadou
Mbaye, an advisor from the U.N. Civilian Police (CIVPOL) at the Hinche
station. ``They are afraid.''
The armed insurgency that helped oust President Jean-Bertrand Aristide last
year decimated an already feeble force. Now, only 4,000 underequipped,
underpaid officers patrol a volatile nation of 7.6 million people. And the
U.N. mission trying to rebuild the corrupted institution faces a tragicomedy
Anti-riot officers see nothing wrong with using shotguns for crowd control.
Police chiefs dabble in cocaine trafficking. Rural officers lack the most
basic tools of their trade -- vehicles, radios, guns, telephones, even pens
Police in the coastal city of Petit Goave couldn't even get into their
headquarters until last month, when U.N. peacekeepers cleared out the
illegal militia that occupied it.
At least 19 officers have been killed since September by gunmen of every
political bent -- from pro-Aristide armed gangs in urban slums to former
army soldiers who fought against the president last year.
With Haiti scheduled to go to the polls in just six months, the notion that
this small tottering force can create the sense of stability needed for free
and fair elections lies somewhere between optimistic and farcical.
Ironically, this situation comes less than a decade after the U.S.
government and CIVPOL -- and to a lesser extent, Canada and France -- spent
at least $140 million to create the Haitian National Police.
Replacing the infamous Haitian army, the new police force was seen as a key
component in establishing democracy in a nation constantly upended by
But by the time CIVPOL left in 2000, the police were already widely accused
of summary executions, politically motivated attacks and cocaine
And it only got worse after that.
''From 2000 on, there were no attempts by the government to sustain and
embrace the growth and promotion of a democratic police force,'' said Daniel
Moskaluk, spokesman for CIVPOL in Haiti.
Since CIVPOL arrived alongside U.N. military peacekeepers in June, they have
been trying to reclaim lost ground -- recruiting, vetting and training new
officers, and retraining old ones. But the process is agonizingly slow.
Recruiting is tough when officers make only between $215 and $285 a month.
Weeding out the bad ones is hard with no criminal database, few records and
a dysfunctional judiciary. And training the good ones is difficult without
''It's like: let's all take notes in our imaginary notebooks, call the
complainant on our imaginary phone and go to the crime scene in our
imaginary car,'' said Moskaluk. ``The lack of material really hinders
The U.S. government donated 2,600 guns last year, taking advantage of
exemptions in a long-standing arms embargo. And U.S. companies plan to sell
the police at least 3,000 more this year, mostly .38-caliber sidearms,
according to the U.S. Embassy.
But given the police force's predatory history, these moves have caused deep
concerns among human rights observers and Aristide partisans, who fear the
guns could be used against them.
U.S. Ambassador James Foley said CIVPOL will keep tight inventory on the
weapons and rigorously check the officers who use them.
''We understand the concerns, given the police record over the years,'' said
Foley. ``We know police reform is a work in progress. But the police are
massively outgunned by the gangs in terms of numbers of weapons and caliber.
``Aristide armed the gangs to the teeth.''
So far, 750 new recruits have graduated from the police academy since the
revolt last February. At that rate it would take at least 10 years to reach
the 12,000 officers the U.N. says the country needs. New York City, with a
similar population, has 30,000.
And many of the officers Haiti does have are simply collecting a paycheck.
In places like the town of Hinche in the Central Plateau, officers don't
carry their guns because they fear they'll be stolen. They won't step
outside in their uniforms unless they are protected by U.N. peacekeepers.
''The police commissioner, he lives in Port-au-Prince and comes up here for
two or three days a month, just to pick up his check,'' said Mbaye, the
CIVPOL regional commander.
And even if the officers wanted to work, they don't have a single working
vehicle to patrol a beat of hundreds of square miles.
''If there was an incident five kilometers away, they would go on foot,''
said Mbaye. ``We have to take them in our cars to do checkpoints.''
Human rights groups have criticized the United Nations for not stepping in
to fill the law enforcement vacuum.
As their mandate is written, CIVPOL advisors are not allowed to make arrests
or enforce the law, which results in some absurd situations.
Here in Hinche, Joseph Jean-Baptiste, a rebel accused of murdering the
former police commissioner, openly walks the streets brandishing the
murdered commissioner's submachine gun. Occasionally, he shows up in front
of the station and starts shooting.
CIVPOL and peacekeepers just stand by, and the police are too scared to
''We civilian police cannot fire,'' Mbaye said.
Refugees International, a Washington-based nonprofit that monitors
peacekeeping around the world, said the U.N. mission in Haiti needs to be
given the authority to enforce the law, whether against gangs or bad cops,
as it had on its last assignment here.
''This would allow CIVPOL to do more than passively advise and mentor an
essentially dysfunctional institution,'' the group wrote in March.
In Port-au-Prince, CIVPOL faces an even more complicated dynamic. Police
there claim they are outgunned by the slum gangs. But they are seen all
around town with rifles poking every which way out of pickup trucks and
high-end SUVs. And residents in the slums regularly accuse them of shooting
and arbitrarily arresting people, while peacekeepers look on.
Foreign journalists witnessed such an incident on Feb. 28 when anti-riot
police opened fire into a crowd of peaceful protesters and killed two
people. The blue helmets did nothing to stop the police.
The event was a significant setback for the peacekeepers trying to gain
trust in pro-Aristide areas where they are viewed as an occupying army.
Claude Bennett, a CIVPOL officer from Naples, Fla., hopes he can help
prevent such a fiasco from happening again. On a sweltering afternoon
earlier this month, he was training a group of 33 officers for Haiti's SWAT
team. Most were very young, new recruits who hadn't worked a day as a police
Candio Clauvel, 28, said he wants to be a new breed of cop. He is educated,
speaks English and says demonstrations are good for democracy.
''I would like to do something to protect someone else,'' he said.
Dressed in black and carrying rubber versions of shotguns and pistols,
Clauvel and the others lined up at an empty trailer and practiced forced
entries, bursting through a door in pairs -- and then earnestly looked to
Bennett to see if they did it right.
''They're all in good shape,'' said Bennett. ``They just don't have the
Bennett views the police violence as a consequence of fear, poor training
and bad habits that date back to the brutal military.
''The other day, I was talking about shotguns and various ammunitions, like
buckshot and birdshot and what not,'' he recounted. 'They heard about
birdshot and said, `Oh, for demonstrations.' I said, 'No, no, no!' ''