“The freedom to demonstrate and freedom of expression are rights guaranteed by international conventions, enshrined in the Haitian constitution and supported by the law,” Sandra Honoré, the head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), said last month following a week of protests across the country, which resulted in a number of reported deaths. Honoré added that the Haitian government must ensure that “offenders are prosecuted.” But Honoré may have an opportunity to lead by example after videos from Haitian media surfaced over the weekend showing a U.N. soldier firing a handgun in the direction of protesters. The video shows him discharge his weapon multiple times, then aggressively try to prevent a cameraman from filming him.
In a statement today, Amnesty International condemns this episode as well as injuries suffered the day before by protesters allegedly at the hands of the Haitian National Police. Protests calling for the resignation of both the president and prime minister have been occurring nationwide over the last month in response to the government’s failure to hold elections — now more than three years overdue. In an attempt to quell the unrest, Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe resigned Saturday night, after President Martelly signaled Friday that he would accept the recommendations of a presidential advisory committee, which had called for Lamothe’s ouster. U.S. State Department officials Thomas Shannon and Tom Adams were in Haiti last week, apparently helping pave the way for the resignation.
“The political climate in Haiti is getting tenser and tenser. It is imperative that the Haitian National Police and the MINUSTAH are able to cope with the situation in a way that ensure protection of human rights. People must be allowed to exercise their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, without fear of being shot at,” said Chiara Liguori, Caribbean researcher at Amnesty International.
MINUSTAH spokesperson Sophie Boutaud de la Combe did not respond to an e-mail request for comment, but in a statement released Friday, the U.N. stated they had “immediately opened an investigation to establish the facts,” and took the “allegation very seriously.” However, in past cases of abuse by MINUSTAH personnel, the body has failed to act swiftly or publicly in administering justice. During a press conference today, Inner City Press’ Matthew Russell Lee asked about the status of the investigation. The spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric, responded that they were “continuing to look into it,” and that he did not want to “prejudge what the investigation shows.” He added that they would have to look into if the U.N. troop “felt threatened.” In its previous press statement, MINUSTAH had characterized the demonstrators as "violent."
In October, when the U.N. Security Council extended MINUSTAH’s mandate by one year, the representative from Argentina, which contributes about 8 percent of the mission’s personnel, warned that U.N. troops could again be called out to repress demonstrations. The Argentine representative warned that given the lack of elections, tense political environment and the lack of capability from the Haitian National Police in keeping public order, that it:
could have unintended consequences and could force the international community to have to face an even more difficult and complex situation. In such circumstances Argentine troops could be called upon to perform duties beyond deterrence that are prohibited by law in our country. Therefore, my delegation believes it important to reiterate that the Argentine armed forces do not, and will not, perform repression activities, neither in Argentina nor abroad. They will therefore not carry out functions of that kind in Haiti.
Amnesty points out that over the last two years they have experienced an increasing number of complains of unnecessary or excessive use of force to disperse protests. “In a context in which demonstrations are likely to continue, both Haitian authorities and the MINUSTAH must show that they are committed to hold officers accountable for human rights violations and to prevent future abuses. A failure to do so would be reneging on the human rights obligations of the Haitian authorities and the MINUSTAH”, said Amnesty’s Chiara Liguori.