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25652: Brianhaiti: (news) Throwing Gasoline on Haiti's Fires (fwd)
Bush Plan: More Guns for Thugs - Throwing Gasoline on Haiti's Fires
By BRIAN CONCANNON, Jr.
Published on Counter Punch, http://counterpunch.com/concannon07092005.html
July 9 / 10, 2005; and
Boston Haitian Reporter, July, 2005
On June 23, the U.S. State Department briefed members of Congress on
its plan to distribute thousands of handguns to the Haitian National
Police, continuing a program that sent 2,657 weapons to Haiti for the
police last year, despite an embargo.
Haiti's citizens, especially the poor majority, are suffering under
an epidemic of armed violence. Kidnappings and gun battles, between
gangs, police and UN Peacekeepers have replaced the daily and nightly
routine in downtown Port-au-Prince and many neighborhoods. In some
areas, residents cannot leave the area for days, and spend nights
praying that the bullets outside do not come through their thin
walls. Almost everyone in the capitol alters their patterns- of work,
school, travel or sleep, to avoid either shooting or kidnapping.
Arming police to help them fight crime may seem like a sensible
approach to the insecurity. But although many HNP officers are
fighting crime- at great personal risk- the force as a whole is a
cause of the violence, not a solution.
The day of the Congressional briefing, the Inter-American Commission
on Human Rights issued a press release decrying the killing of
innocent civilians during police fights with gangs. On April 27,
Amnesty International denounced a police attack on a demonstration
that killed five. In March the UN Peacekeepers started placing
themselves between police and demonstrators because police had fired
on a peaceful protest, in front of the UN and the media, on February
28. Amnesty's report noted that the "repression of this peaceful
demonstration is not an isolated case," and denounced several police
killings that have never been investigated.
For the past sixteen months, documentation of police abuses has
stacked up like the bodies in Port-au-Prince's morgue. Human rights
investigations have shown over and over that police routinely execute
people suspected of supporting Haiti's ousted elected government, or
being involved in crime, or being an adolescent male from the wrong
neighborhood. This is not the work of a few rogue police officers,
but a concerted policy from the top down. The police leadership
encourages the violence by failing to discipline the perpetrators or
even investigate the abuse. They actively cover up the crimes by
routinely denying reports from journalists, human rights groups and
the UN that the killings even happened. When confronted with bodies,
the police claim that everyone killed was a "bandit."
Police officials have also integrated hundreds of members of Haiti's
former army into the ranks, often into leadership positions,
bypassing the rules for recruitment and promotion. Many of these
former soldiers are themselves involved in killing and kidnapping,
but they also sell or give weapons to their former comrades, who have
illegally reconstituted the army.
Police officials also encourage irresponsible and illegal shooting by
failing to control ammunition. In most countries, as in Haiti under
the democratic governments, police officers are required to file a
report each time they fire their weapons. Today's HNP does not
require firearms discharge reports. Some officers report criticism
from supervisors for not shooting enough- going through ammunition
too slowly indicates the officer is "soft on crime", or on political
Most police stations, especially in urban areas, have a corps of
attaches, men outside of the formal police hierarchy who do the
killing that the regular units do not want to do. They are out of
uniform, but obvious to any visitor.
The State Department acknowledges that the police force is involved
in killings, but insists that guns will only be given to properly
vetted and supervised officers, and that they will be accounted for.
But experience provides little reason to believe that an
undisciplined force will become disciplined by getting more guns. The
HNP will not provide adequate supervision, because its whole
structure- from the former soldiers to the attaches to the
"see-no-evil" top brass- is designed to avoid the kind of
accountability that control of weapons requires.
Discipline is unlikely to arrive from outside either. The UN Security
Council did strengthen the UN Peacekeepers' authority over the police
in June, but the increase was slight. Moreover, over the sixteen
months that the UN and U.S. Marines have been watching over the HNP,
the force has become less accountable, not more. The UN did announce
investigations following some of the worst police massacres-
including one in the Fort National neighborhood in October, and a
prison massacre in December. But no report has been released for
either incident. If the foreign police and soldiers did not stop the
HNP from misusing the guns they have now, it is hard to see how they
will effectively monitor several thousand more weapons.
The House of Representatives realized that sending the PNH more
weapons is like dousing a fire with gasoline. Its response to the
State Department plan was an amendment to a spending bill blocking
the weapons transfer. The amendment made so much sense that it was
passed only five days after the State Department briefing, and by a
voice vote, meaning there was so little opposition that it was not
worth counting the votes. The amendment's sponsor, Rep. Barbara Lee,
declared that the HNP "are intimidating, murdering, and executing the
poor and political opposition with weapons transferred free of charge
from the United States to the Government of Haiti, and this is simply
It is now up to the Senate to show the same common sense by passing
the House's amendment and making it official policy that fueling
Haiti's killings is "simply unacceptable."
Brian Concannon Jr. directs the Institute for Justice & Democracy in
Haiti*. He can be reached at: Brianhaiti@aol.com
* [ http://ijdh.org/ ]
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