Human rights defenders in Haiti are reporting new death threats, and seem to be openly persecuted by powerful individuals and groups, as Mark Snyder and Other Worlds describe today. In an article posted on Huffington Post, Snyder profiles the case of attorney Patrice Florvilus and the Haitian human rights organization Defenders of the Oppressed. Snyder writes:
"Those before you were strong. Now they're all dead. Stop what you are doing, or the same will happen to you."
Those were the words delivered to Frena Florvilus, Director of Education and Advocacy of the Haitian human rights organization Defenders of the Oppressed (DOP), early on the morning of August 11 by one of four unidentified men who attempted to enter DOP's office. The threat echoed numerous others that have been leveled against the DOP office and its staff since they took on the case of a young man who died in police custody within hours of his April 15 arrest, his body left covered with bruises and wounds inflicted by a severe beating. DOP has also been targeted for its work to support displaced peoples who face violent eviction from their camps, by the government and private landowners who are determined to rid the country of camps.
Among the latter may be former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier himself, as
Reynald Georges, a lawyer representing Haiti's ex-dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, has brought formal accusations of arson and "association with wrongdoers" (conspiracy) against DOP's founder and director, Patrice Florvilus, and five others. The accused received criminal court summons for Monday, August 19. Their lawyers filed an objection and request that the charges be dropped, but the prosecutor's office has reissued the summons for Thursday, August 22.
On Monday, hundreds from the displacement camps and community organizations in Port-au-Prince marched to the courthouse together to show their support. A second march will occur Thursday.
Snyder goes on to place the threats and charges against Florvilus in the context of other human rights defenders, such as Bureau des Avocats Internationaux director Mario Joseph, who have also experienced threats and harassment from both unknown sources and Haitian authorities. Along with Joseph, Florvilus has stood up for some of the most vulnerable members of post-earthquake Haitian society – internally displaced persons (IDP’s). Like Joseph, Florvilus has also found himself confronted by attorney Reynold Georges, “best known,” Snyder writes, “for representing the recently returned ex-dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, who faces charges of crimes against humanity.” As with Joseph, the threats against Florvilus have prompted international alarm from Amnesty International, among others.
In this case, however, there appears to be a more direct connection between Georges – and Duvalier – and forced eviction and other rights violations against IDP’s. The incident in question is an April arson attempt against IDP Camp Acra, the site of multiple such attacks aimed at forcing residents to leave. According to Snyder:
The latest wave of threats relate to a chain of events that started on April 13th, when some 1,500 families living in a camp known as Camp Acra, came under threat of eviction from lawyer Reynald Georges. …Witnesses have stated that Georges entered Camp Acra brandishing a firearm, guarded by five Haitian officers and accompanied by a justice of the peace. He threatened to remove people from the land by "any means necessary." Claiming at the time that the land belonged to his client, Duvalier, Georges is reported to have told the crowd that heavy equipment was on its way to raze the camp.
At 2:00 a.m. that morning, unknown assailants attempted to burn down the camp. Arson attacks have been used repeatedly to illegally evict displaced earthquake survivors still stuck in the camps. Families in Camp Acra activated to contain the fire to the several tarp shelters upon which ignited gasoline-soaked rags had been thrown. No physical injuries were reported.
Snyder reports how following inaction by the Haitian National Police, camp residents protested. It was then that the police acted, “randomly” arresting two men from the crowd of protesters: Méris Civil and Darlin Lexima. It was Civil who died in police custody hours after his arrest; Florvilus and DOP were able to secure Lexima’s release. Lexima says he was tortured by police. Florvilus took on Lexima and the Civil family as clients, and following that – as has happened to Joseph, he started to get followed by the police.
According to the DOP, however, this time the harassment and intimidation has come not just from Duvalierists and the police, but also from MINUSTAH:
On August 15, a patrol vehicle of heavily armed UN soldiers parked in front of DOP's office. When one of the DOP team asked about their intentions, the soldiers responded that they were "simply following orders."
Under its mandate, MINUSTAH is supposed to “to 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,” as well as “protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.” But as we have described before, aside from MINUSTAH soldiers’ own shootings and killings of civilians and other crimes, the UN troops have often supported HNP in their actions even when those actions have resulted in killings, forced evictions, and other severe human rights violations.
While U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is proposing “reducing MINUSTAH's military strength from 6,270 to 5,021 by June 2014” and is reportedly considering “replacing …MINUSTAH, ‘with a smaller, more focused assistance mission by 2016,’” such a time table far exceeds Haitians’ patience for the U.N. mission. Due in part to MINUSTAH perpetration of human rights abuses, and its having caused the cholera epidemic through reckless waste disposal near the Artibonite River, 72.2 percent of Port-au-Prince residents who were polled in August 2011 had wanted MINUSTAH out of the country either right away, within six months or within a year.