Amnesty International Verifies Excessive Force Used Against Protestors

  • Posted on: 1 November 2019
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Amnesty International Verifies Evidence of Excessive Use of Force against Protesters

By Duncan Tucker

October 31 2019

Authorities in Haiti must end the unlawful use of force against protesters and guarantee their right to life, Amnesty International said today, after verifying multiple instances of police using excessive force during six weeks of anti-government protests in which at least 35 people were killed, with national police implicated in many of the deaths.  “The images that we have verified shed light on human rights violations by the Haitian authorities. The security forces under the command of President Jovenel Moïse have used excessive force. Such incidents must be investigated promptly, thoroughly and effectively,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.  The images that we have verified shed light on human rights violations by the Haitian authorities. The security forces under the command of President Jovenel Moïse have used excessive force. Such incidents must be investigated promptly, thoroughly and effectively  “President Moïse must take urgent measures to ensure people protesting against his government can do so safely, without putting their lives at risk. The police must stop using firearms carrying live ammunition in the context of protests and take particular measures to guarantee the safety of journalists covering the political and human rights situation in Haiti.” 

Amnesty International’s researchers and Digital Verification Corps have verified videos of several incidents of police using less lethal weapons indiscriminately and unlawfully, including launching tear gas out of a moving police vehicle amidst peaceful protesters, firing on protesters with less-lethal ammunition at extremely close-range, and beating a protester.   Amnesty International has also verified instances in which police, armed with semi-automatic rifles, fired live ammunition during protests, in violation of international human rights law and standards on the use of force.  Between 16 September and 17 October, the Haitian NGO, the National Human Rights Defence Network (Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains, RNDDH), documented at least 35 deaths in the context of protests, including at least nine at the hands of the police. In the same period, they reported that more than 200 people were injured, including at least eight journalists.  

Problem 1: Indiscriminate use of less-lethal weapons 

According to international human rights law and standards, the use of less lethal weapons - such as tear gas, water cannon, or rubber bullets - should be limited to specific situations after careful consideration and only when it is necessary and proportionate to a legitimate police objective, as they can cause serious injury or death. 

Example 1: Moving police car launches suspected tear gas at peaceful protesters  

On 11 October, around Route de Delmas, Port-au-Prince, a moving police car recklessly launched suspected tear gas towards peaceful protesters, causing them to scatter. 

Example 2: Police open fire against two men at close range 

On 4 October, in the context of protests in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, law enforcement officials holding shotguns opened fire carelessly with suspected rubber bullets towards two men while they ran away and scaled a fence. 

Example 3: A police officer beats a protester running away from water cannons 

On 11 October, around Route de Kenscoff, Port-au-Prince, an officer beat a protester in the stomach, as he ran away from water cannons.  

Problem 2:  Live ammunition used in the context of protests 

International law and standards require that live ammunition is only used as a last resort and when strictly necessary to protect against an imminent threat to life or serious injury.   Firearms loaded with live ammunition are not appropriate for use during public demonstrations or other assemblies. If the use of force is required to disperse violent public assemblies, it must conform to the principles of strict necessity and proportionality.   

Example 1: Security Unit of the Presidential Palace use military weapons during protests 

On 16 October, at Jean-Jacques Dessalines Place, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, members of the General Security Unit of the National Palace (Unité de sécurité générale du Palais national), a specialized unit of the Haitian National Police, charged with ensuring the safety of the President and the National Palace, interrupted a funeral being held for an individual allegedly killed in the context of the protests. (According to news reports, similar funerals were held that day across the country). 

Carrying modern Israeli Galil ACE rifles, a weapon appropriate for combat operations and not policing mass demonstrations, one police officer shot live ammunition into the air near the location of protesters.   Two people were injured during the incident according to RNDDH. Amnesty International was unable to verify how they were injured. 

Example 2: Police officer fires live ammunition towards fleeing protesters  

On 11 October, at least one law enforcement official fired live ammunition from a handgun towards protesters running away in Petion-Ville, when there was no evident or immediate risk to the officer, which would be the only legitimate and proportionate justification of such force. Another video from the area suggests the protests were peaceful.  

Background 

Protests have been ongoing throughout the year in Haiti, principally sparked by allegations that senior officials, including President Jovenel Moïse, could be implicated in the diversion of up to US$2 billion in proceeds from oil that Venezuela provided to Haiti on favorable terms. 

In February, 41 people died and 100 were injured in the context of similar protests, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights. 

In September, the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the shooting of journalist Chery-Dieu-Nalio, who was injured after a senator fired a shot in the air near the senate building. 

On 10 October, Néhémie Joseph, a reporter with Radio Méga, was found shot dead in his car.  

For more information or to arrange an interview, contact Duncan Tucker: duncan.tucker@amnesty.org 

Photo Credit: Amnesty International

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By Amelie BARON

Tens of thousands of dollars of work reduced to ash: a devastating fire at a handicrafts company in Port-au-Prince illustrates the struggles faced by Haiti's private sector as the country's political crisis has spiralled into social unrest. Caribbean Craft produces home decor items, many of them in papier mache: brightly colored animals, vases, end tables. It has supplied items to large US chains such as West Elm, HomeGoods and Restoration Hardware.  The origin of last week's blaze is still unknown but is certainly suspicious. It started on the property next door, a parking lot for the car rental company Avis. Several cars went up in flames before Caribbean Craft's factory was hit. Much of its stock was ruined. "We couldn't save anything: orders, materials, even the building," said Mario Denestant, the 35-year-old production manager who has worked at the company since 2010. "It's like my life went up in flames," he added, dissolving into tears.

"We had orders that should have been shipped out more than three weeks ago, but because of the country's problems, the containers were not here." Those "problems" include a fuel shortage that led to the total paralysis of the country's economic activities from mid-August to mid-September.

Haiti, which subsidizes the cost of fuel, was unable to pay several million dollars in debt to oil companies, which then did not have the cash to supply the nation's gas stations.

The shortage angered the public, already up in arms for more than a year about alleged government corruption, as numerous scandals have rocked Haitian political life. Haiti's roads, deserted because of the fuel shortage, were overrun by sometimes violent protests. Opposition activists demanding the resignation of President Jovenel Moise set up barricades at will.

Along with the protests, looting and fires mounted. Business owners were left without recourse -- and sometimes, without their livelihood.

Very few are insured: losses due to political unrest are generally not covered, and many couldn't afford policies even if it were. Caribbean Craft, founded in 2006, employs 150 people year-round, plus another 50 seasonal workers, and maintains a network of 250 artisans. The facility has even welcomed famous visitors over the years, including American TV stars Oprah Winfrey and Conan O'Brien.

After the fire, dozens of employees gathered in the courtyard in front of the blackened shell of their company's headquarters, dark circles under their eyes and full of concern about the future. "We're in a country where there really aren't jobs," said Mona Surpris, calling her work her "stability in an unstable country." Surpris recalls the year when Haiti was struck by a massive earthquake that left more than 200,000 people dead and damaged the business. "In 2010, we weren't even hit so badly," she said. "We had to change buildings, yes, but this is harder than the earthquake because we have truly lost everything."

Adverse business climate: Magalie Dresse, who owns Caribbean Craft, feels close to her employees and wants them to know that they won't be abandoned -- but she doesn't want to sugarcoat the reality of the situation. "It's a failed Christmas season, our biggest season for orders, especially since we just renewed the contract with HomeGoods," Dresse lamented. "We had worked on our first order for them in six years, for 561 stores, and it's all up in smoke," the 44-year-old said. "A $89,000 order... the numbers hurt."

Dresse refuses to give in, though -- she has already called suppliers and is trying to figure out how to salvage what she can from the ashes. She says she hopes the plight that she and othe business owners are facing will draw authorities' attention to the need to improve the economic climate. "For years, we've talked about the country being 'open for business,' we've talked about foreign investments, but as long as we don't have our own house in order, nobody is going to sell here," she chided. "I'm going to stay hopeful: I know how to sell my country, I know how to sell the work of talented people, Haitian artisans... It's unfortunate that my government does not know what that represents," Dresse said.

It is unclear how much the disaster will cost Caribbean Craft in the long run, or if the company can recoup any money over the damage. "It is normal to complain," Bocchit Edmond, Haiti's foreign minister and also the tourism minister, said this week, referring to protesters. "It is not normal to destroy businesses that promote the image of the country."

New York Times

October 2019

By Kirk Semple

Photographs by Meridith Kohut

LÉOGÂNE, Haiti — The small hospital was down to a single day’s supply of oxygen and had to decide who would get it: the adults recovering from strokes and other ailments, or the newborns clinging to life in the neonatal ward. Haiti’s political crisis had forced this awful dilemma — one drama of countless in a nation driven to the brink of collapse. A struggle between President Jovenel Moïse and a surging opposition movement demanding his ouster has led to violent demonstrations and barricaded streets across the country, rendering roads impassable and creating a sprawling emergency.

Caught in the national paralysis, officials at Sainte Croix Hospital were forced to choose who might live and who might die. Fortunately, a truck carrying 40 fresh tanks of oxygen made it through at the last minute, giving the hospital a reprieve. “It was scary, really scary,” said Archdeacon Abiade Lozama of the Episcopal Church of Haiti, which owns the hospital. “Every day, things become more difficult, day after day.”

Though the country has been trapped for years in cycles of political and economic dysfunction, many Haitians say the current crisis is worse than anything they have ever experienced. Lives that were already extremely difficult, here in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, have become even more so.

Weeks of unrest around Haiti, coupled with rampant corruption and economic malaise, have led to soaring prices, a disintegration of public services and a galloping sense of insecurity and lawlessness. At least 30 people have been killed in the demonstrations in the past few weeks, including 15 by police officers, according to the United Nations. “There is no hope in this country,” said Stamène Molière, 27, an unemployed secretary in the southern coastal town of Les Cayes. “There’s no life anymore.”

Gas shortages are worsening by the day. Hospitals have cut services or closed entirely. Public transportation has ground to a halt. Businesses have shuttered. Most schools have been closed since early September, leaving millions of children idle. Widespread layoffs have compounded chronic poverty and hunger. Uncertainty hangs over everything. Many Haitians with the means to flee have left or are planning to, while most who remain are simply trying to figure out where they are going to get their next meals.

Haiti was once a strategic ally for the United States, which often played a crucial role here. During the Cold War, American governments supported — albeit at times grudgingly — the authoritarian governments of François Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude Duvalier, because of  their anti-Communist stance.

In 1994, the Clinton administration sent troops to restore Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power after his ouster as president, but 10 years later, intense pressure from the United States helped push Mr. Aristide out again. Now, protesters are criticizing the United States for continuing to stand by Mr. Moïse. The Trump administration has urged respect for the democratic process, but has said little about the unrest in Haiti. “If you look at Haitian history, governments are overthrown when the United States turns on them,” said Jake Johnston, a research associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The current crisis is a culmination of more than a year of violent protests, and the product, in part, of political acrimony that has seized the nation since Mr. Moïse, a businessman, took office in February 2017 following an electoral process that was marred by delays, allegations of voter fraud and an abysmal voter turnout.

Outrage over allegations that the government misappropriated billions of dollars meant for social development projects provided the initial impetus for the protests. But opposition leaders have sought to harness the anger to force his ouster, calling for his resignation and the formation of a transitional government. The protests intensified in early September, at times turning violent and bringing the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other cities and towns around the country to a standstill.

 

Confronting security forces in Port-au-Prince this month. Opposition leaders have sought to harness Haitians’ anger to force the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse. “We’re not living,” Destine Wisdeladens, 24, a motorcycle-taxi driver, said at a protest march in Port-au-Prince this month. “There is no security in the country. There’s no food. There’s no hospitals. There’s no school.”

Mr. Moïse has been defiant, saying in public comments last week that it would be “irresponsible” for him to resign. He has named a commission of politicians to explore solutions to the crisis. Amid the current turmoil, daily routines, never a sure thing in this vulnerable country, have been thrown even more deeply into doubt. With public transportation having ground to a halt, Alexis Fritzner, 41, a security guard making about $4 per day, walks about 10 miles each way to work at a clothing factory in Port-au-Prince. He has not been paid for more than a month, he said, yet he still goes to work for fear of being fired. “It’s because there are no other options,” he said.

The mounting problems at Sainte Croix Hospital here in Léogâne are emblematic of the crisis. Though the town is only about 20 miles from Port-au-Prince, near-daily barricades have impeded traffic. Suppliers in the capital have been forced to close or have had trouble receiving imports, making medicine hard to get. At least one patient at the hospital died in recent days because of a lack of crucial medicine, said the Rev. Jean Michelin St.-Louis, the hospital’s general manager.

It has been hard to wrangle fuel to run the hospital’s generators, its only power supply, he said. At times, ambulances have been blocked from crossing the barricades despite promises from protest leaders to the contrary. Some of the hospital’s staff members, including the chief surgeon, have not always been able to make it to work because of the protests. “It’s the first time I’ve been through such a difficult experience,” Father St.-Louis, 41, said.

The crisis is particularly stark in Les Cayes, the most populous city in southern Haiti, which has effectively been cut off from the capital by barricades on the main road. The city endured a total blackout for nearly two months. The power company started to mete out electricity again earlier this month, though in tiny increments — a few hours on one day, a few more on another.

The city’s public hospital shut down recently when protesters, angry over the death of one of their comrades, smashed its windows and destroyed cars in its parking lot. After the attack, the staff fled, said Herard Marc Rocky, 37, the hospital’s head of logistics.  Even before the riot, the hospital was barely functioning. For three weeks, it had been without power after running out of fuel for its generators.

Archdeacon Lozama, 39, who oversees an Episcopal parish in Les Cayes, said demonstrators forbid him from holding services on two recent Sundays. “We couldn’t open the doors,” he said. “People would burn the church.” Thieves have stolen the batteries from solar panels that provide electricity to the parish school. The keyboardist in the church music ensemble was recently wounded by a stray bullet. And protesters manning a barricade took food that Archdeacon Lozama was delivering by truck on behalf of an international charity. “There’s no one you can call,” he lamented. “There’s no one in charge.”

Gas shortages have worsened daily, one of many persistent problems hobbling already harsh lives.
People, he said, are desperate. “As they have nothing, they can destroy everything. They have nothing to lose.” Intersections throughout Les Cayes are scarred with the remains of burned barricades made with wood, tires and other debris, vestiges of near-daily protests “I’m hiding out here, I’m hunkering down, I’m not even on my porch,” said Marie Prephanie Pauldor Delicat, 67, the retired headmistress of a kindergarten in Les Cayes. “I’m scared of the people.”

Shop owners say sales have plummeted. Violent demonstrations have forced them to curtail their hours, and it has become harder to restock merchandise. Several regional opposition leaders, in an interview at a dormant nightclub in Les Cayes, blamed infiltrators sympathetic to the government for the violence. But they defended the roadblocks, saying they helped thwart the movement of security forces accused of aggressions against residents. “We get the support of the population despite it all, because all the population has the same demand: the departure of Jovenel Moïse,” said Anthony Cyrion, a lawyer.

A wellspring of opposition in Les Cayes is La Savane, one of its most forlorn neighborhoods, where simple, rough-hewed homes line unpaved roads and the stench of open sewers commingles with the salty perfume of the Caribbean Sea. On a visit this month, reporters from The New York Times were surrounded by crowds of desperate and angry residents, each with a list of grievances against the government and accounts of utter despair.

One young man opened his shirt to reveal a bullet wound in his shoulder. Another showed where a bullet had hit his leg. They blamed the police. “We are all victims in many ways!” shouted Lys Isguinue, 48. “We are victims under the sticks of the police! We are victims of tear gas! We are victims because we cannot eat! We are victims because we cannot sleep!”

Venise Jules fights complete despair, and the hope that propelled her to vote for Mr. Moïse has vanished. “He said everything would change,” she recalled. “We would have food on our plates, we would have electricity 24/7, we would have jobs for our children and salaries would increase.” Venise Jules, 55, a cleaning woman at a grade school and the mother of Ms. Molière, the unemployed secretary, said her entire family had voted for Mr. Moïse. “He said everything would change,” she recalled. “We would have food on our plates, we would have electricity 24/7, we would have jobs for our children and salaries would increase.”

Ms. Jules, three of her five children and a cousin live in a narrow house in La Savane made from mud and stone. The corrugated metal roof leaks when it rains. The bathroom is an outhouse with a hole in the ground. With no running water, the family has to fill buckets at a public tap several blocks away.

They cook over coal — when they have something to cook. “I didn’t put anything on the fire today,” Ms. Jules said. It had been a full day since she had eaten anything. With the schools closed, Ms. Jules had been without work — or an income — for weeks. Even when she worked, earning $47 per month, she had not been able to amass any savings. Now she sends her children to eat at the homes of friends with something to spare.

Her despair, she said, has driven her to consider suicide. On a recent evening, she sat with Ms. Molière, her daughter, in their house as it sank into the shadows of the night. Ms. Molière began to cry softly. Seeing her tears, Ms. Jules began to cry as well. “It’s not only that we’re hungry for bread and water,” Ms. Molière said. “We’re hungry for the development of Haiti.” “Haiti is very fragile,” she said.

Harold Isaac and Meridith Kohut contributed reporting.

Kirk Semple is a correspondent covering Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. He is based in Mexico City. @KirkSemple

A version of this article appears in print on Oct. 21, 2019, Section A, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: All but Poverty and Despair Is at a Halt in Haiti. 

BY JACQUELINE CHARLES AND

NORA GÁMEZ TORRES

NOVEMBER 01, 2019

Miami Herald

The U.S. Agency for International Development will distribute 2,000 metric tons of emergency food — rice, green peas and cooking oil — in Haiti, where two months of sustained anti-government protests, sporadic violence and political gridlock have led to increased hunger and made it difficult to deliver humanitarian aid.

“Given recent developments there, we recognize that this is a largely political crisis but it has had a humanitarian impact,” a USAID official told the Miami Herald. “We made a determination in recent days that ... there are some significant impacts as a result of the current crisis, which warrant us providing some additional assistance.”

Last month, Haiti’s Foreign Minister Bocchit Edmond wrote to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking for urgent humanitarian assistance and logistics support to deliver it. The logistics support was interpreted as U.S. soldiers delivering the food as the U.S. has done in times of natural disaster.

But there will be no U.S. soldiers handing out food rations, said the USAID official, noting that distributions will be made by the United Nations’ World Food Program. Also, he said the decision to provide the emergency food, which was made Wednesday, was not in response to the Haitian government’s request but based on information from early warning systems and a new Haitian government report showing that 35 percent of Haitians — 3.67 million — are facing either a crisis or emergency when it comes to getting food.

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