October 18, 2010
As we noted on Saturday, MINUSTAH, whose mandate is “to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence,” and “support …Haitian human rights institutions and groups in their efforts to promote and protect human rights; and to monitor and report on the human rights situation in the country,” among other responsibilities, attacked a group of peaceful demonstrators Friday who were criticizing the UN’s decision to renew MINUSTAH’s mandate for another year. Following the decision, “a coalition of grassroots and political opposition groups took to the streets to call for the end of what they say is an occupying force costing millions but doing little to ensure the security of the general population,” independent reporter Isabeau Doucet writes.
Among the threats MINUSTAH soldiers engaged with at the protest were foreign journalists, as “A reckless UN vehicle pushed a hand full of journalists, including myself and Al Jazeera’s correspondent, into a trash-filled ditch,” Doucet states. Another independent journalist, Ansel Herz, was threatened at gunpoint (click the link to see a photo).
Herz reports that “The protesters were peaceful, except for one bottle thrown at the end.” Nevertheless, as Other Worlds Program Coordinator Beverly Bell describes:
On October 15, according to video footage and to witness Melinda Miles of Let Haiti Live, about 200 people were marching in front of the U.N. logistics base when MINUSTAH forces fired two bullets in the air and leveled their guns at demonstrators. A MINUSTAH vehicle and a second UN car pushed three foreign journalists and at least two Haitian demonstrators into a ditch. Haitian police then began striking demonstrators and journalists, including foreigners Sebastien Davis-VanGelder and Federico Matias, with the butts of their rifles. A policeman bashed his rifle into the mouth of a demonstrator from the Kanarin camp, knocking out his front teeth.
“There was no provocation at all. The Haitian police and the private UN security guards were so aggressive. They were just looking to do violence,” said Miles.
Friday’s incident was most notable, perhaps, in that more journalists were present to witness and record the events, in contrast to many past incidents in which MINUSTAH has attacked Haitian demonstrators, or supported the Haitian police as they fired live rounds into crowds. And, as noted previously, these are not MINUSTAH’s worst crimes since its mandate in 2004 began, as documentation of killings of children and other civilians can attest.
That Friday’s attack on peaceful protesters and journalists seems to be part of a pattern of criminalization of dissent, [PDF] even in a new post-January 12 context in which the protesters may be people who have lost their homes, whose lives are now regularly threatened by rains, floods, and disease, and who may have little hope for change as the Haitian government – aided by the U.S. and the international community – continues to move forward with a blatantly undemocratic electoral process, it is all the more disturbing that there is so little debate about MINUSTAH’s track-record. Worse yet is the absence of accountability for MINUSTAH’s actions.