Amnesty International’s Track Record in Haiti since 2004

The coup that ousted Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide on February 29, 2004 led very predictably to the worst human rights disaster in the Western Hemisphere over the following two years.[1] It is worth reviewing how the world’s most famous human rights group, Amnesty International, responded.

Aristide was twice elected President (in 1990 and in 2000). His first government was overthrown in a coup in 1991. The outcome of the 1991 coup was horrific and well documented. Thousands were murdered; tens of thousands were raped and tortured; hundreds of thousands were driven into hiding. The victims were overwhelmingly supporters of Aristide and his Lavalas movement. The 1991 and 2004 coups were both the work of the US government, Haiti’s elite and their armed servants. Canada and France collaborated extensively with the planning and execution of the second coup.[2]

By mid April of 2004, three organizations had sent delegations to Haiti to investigate the aftermath of the coup: the Quixote Center based in Maryland, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and the Ecumenical Program on Central America and the Caribbean (EPICA). All drew very similar conclusions.[3]

They uncovered a massive terror campaign waged by the de facto government in collaboration with the UN forces in Haiti (later to be known as MINUSTAH) against Lavalas partisans. They reported that some Haitian human rights groups in particular the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR) were unreliable due to their hostility towards Lavalas. The NLG and Quixote Center delegations observed "wanted" posters in NCHR offices which identified Aristide and other Lavalas officials as criminals. Both delegations reported that NCHR refused to carry out investigations in Lavalas strongholds such as Cite Soleil. Even at this early stage the NLG uncovered evidence in the state morgue of the huge death toll that was being exacted on Lavalas supporters. The state morgue reported that 1000 bodies had been disposed of a month after the coup – most obvious victims of violence. The morgue typically disposed of only 100 bodies a month.

The EPICA delegation suggested that people contact Amnesty to alert them of the unreliability of NCHR. It was a good suggestion because Pierre Esperance, NCHR’s director, had boasted in 2002 that

"I am a primary source of information for international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Most recently, I was invited to address the US State Department in a roundtable forum to discuss the human rights situation in Haiti."[4]

His statement does not seem to have been much of an exaggeration. During the first four months after the coup Amnesty failed to call attention to the evidence that a massive assault on Lavalas was well underway. Amnesty’s statements suggested equivalence between armed Lavalas partisans and their opponents. For example, on April 8, 2004 Amnesty would state that

"…a large number of armed groups continue to be active throughout the country. These include both rebel forces and militias loyal to former President Aristide." [5]

Amnesty criticized the de facto government for arresting "only Lavalas leaders" but it did not condemn the arrests, many of them made illegally. It expressed no doubts about the legal authority of the de facto government to make any arrests at all. Moreover, by April 8, 2004, many Lavalas officials such as Jocelerme Privert and Amanus Maette had been imprisoned without charge for longer than the 48 hours allowed by the Haitian Constitution. Amnesty had frequently protested violations of this nature in the past even in the case of Roger Lafontant, head of Duvalier’s infamous Tonton Macouts, who was arrested by Aristide’s first government in 1990 but in 2004 Amnesty was silent as the constitutional rights of elected officials were violated. [6]

It was not until a report issued in June of 2004 that Amnesty mentioned some of the facts other investigators had uncovered months earlier. It finally acknowledged that a " large proportion of the victims of violence were Aristide supporters, including members of grassroots organizations and their relatives" It finally stated that "some human rights organizations who have been active in denouncing abuses committed under the Aristide period do not seem inclined to investigate abuses committed against pro-Aristide groups". However, Amnesty failed to name any of those groups. The omission was harmful to the victims because NCHR, the most prominent Haitian human rights groups, was not only willfully blind to the campaign against Lavalas. It eagerly assisted with the campaign. On March 6, the de facto government made an agreement with NCHR to file criminal charges against anyone NCHR denounced. NCHR eventually changed its name to RNDDH at the request of its parent organization in New York, who wished to distance itself from its Haitian associates. Nevertheless, NCHR/RNDDH continues to be frequently and uncritically cited by the international press. [7]

Amnesty’s report of June, 2004 denounced the brutality of US marines who arrested Annette Auguste ("So Ann"), a popular folk singer and Lavalas activist. Her family members, including her 5 year old grandson, were handcuffed by the marines. However, Amnesty suggested that arresting her was justified by hastening to add "those suspected of responsibility for human rights abuses must be brought before a court of law." Kevin Pina, a US filmmaker who worked with Haitian journalists to capture images of the post coup terror, pressed Amnesty to recognize So Ann as a political prisoner. Amnesty’s responded that it had "reliable information" that So Ann was guilty of crimes. Amnesty would not tell Pina who their sources were, but NCHR had publicly "saluted" So Ann’s arrest. She would remain imprisoned for 20 months without being charged before Amnesty would finally concede that she was arrested "solely for her political views." She finally had her day in court in August, 2006 and was acquitted because no evidence was presented against her. [8]

Amnesty also continued to use the word "Chimere" as if it were a term accepted by all Haitians to refer to armed Lavalas partisans. In fact, it was a term used by elites and the de facto government to stigmatize Lavalas supporters as criminals. Kevin Pina explained

"This word was a highly partisan term used by those who supported Aristide’s ouster, especially NCHR, to create a climate of terror and fear after Feb. 2004. Anyone accused of being a ‘chimere’ was marked for death or imprisonment without trial. Yet here was AI, a purportedly independent human rights organization, using the same politically charged language. I found it disgraceful."[9]

The partisan language Amnesty used was indicative of other failings that would mar this report and their future work.

The background Amnesty provided to the situation in Haiti did not put the human rights record of the Aristide government in proportion to those of his opponents. This had been done by Peter Hallward, a UK based researcher who had used Amnesty’s reports, but coming from Amnesty the analysis would have been more difficult to ignore. It would have helped refute articles in the international press which consistently equated Aristide’s government to the murderous regimes of the past. These distortions greatly diminished international support for Aristide’s government while it was in power and for the victims of the 2004 coup. [10]

Hallward’s analysis showed that the record of the Aristide’s government was vastly superior to any run by his adversaries. After a month the abuses of the de facto government had already dwarfed anything that took place under Aristide. Hallward’s analysis was indirectly supported by opinion polls and elections results since 1990. In 2002 a USAID commissioned poll found that Aristide remained – by a wide margin- the most popular politician in Haiti. The results of presidential elections of 2006, where the presidential candidate endorsed by the Lavalas movement won by a landslide for the fourth consecutive time, also confirmed that Haiti’s poor majority, if not the international press and various NGOs, did not equate Lavalas governments to the despised regimes of the past. [11]

On August 16, 2004 Amnesty condemned the sham trials that acquitted Jodel Chamblain and Jackson Joanis – two death squad leaders who played a key role in the coup. The outcome was hardly surprising. Gerard Latortue, head of the de facto government, had publicly praised the armed leaders of the coup as "freedom fighters".[12]

On October 8, 2004 Amnesty expressed concern about "the disregard for the lives and safety of the people" shown by the Haitian police in poor neighborhoods that were Lavalas strongholds. [13]

On October 19, 2004 Amnesty expressed concern about the arrest of Reverend Gérard Jean-Juste, a prominent Lavalas supporter, whom they said "may" be a prisoner of conscience. The statement was issued days after the arrest, which was encouraging given Amnesty’s failure to defend other political prisoners, but the tentativeness of its criticism was inexplicable given the record of the de facto government.[14]

Amnesty’s press release of November 11, 2004 condemned more police repression in Lavalas strongholds but the following outlandish statement was also made.

"Amnesty International recognizes the difficulties currently facing the transitional government, many of which are the legacy of the actions of the previous government of Jean Bertrand Aristide."

The main "difficulty" the de facto government faced was eliminating Haiti’s most popular political movement. That was clear even from a careful read of Amnesty’s reports. The "difficulty" was, in one sense, a legacy of Aristide’s government, and of the 200 year struggle by Haitians for democracy, but that is not what Amnesty meant. It was commiserating with the elite over their "difficulties".[15]

I had donated to Amnesty for many years, but as 2004 came to a close I began writing to them often to complain about their work on Haiti.

I received gracious replies to my letters from Linn Kingston, Amnesty International Canada’s Caribbean Coordinator at the time. It quickly became clear that it was Amnesty’s UK office that was responsible for reports about Haiti. Kingston told me that a detailed report was to be published about Haiti "early in 2005" and that my concerns would be "passed on". Repeated delays to the report’s publication eventually exasperated Kingston. She wrote to me in May of 2005 saying she was "mystified" by the delays given the dire situation in Haiti. She told me she had "protested and have asked the Canadian Secretary General, Alex Neve and the Directeur General, Michel Frenette of the Francophone Canadian Section to protest as well."

The report would not be published until the end of July, 2005. [16]

Several months before Amnesty’s report was finally available, the University of Miami School of Law’s Center for the Study of Human Rights, published a detailed report about the human rights situation Haiti. Harvard Law School had also put out an extensive report shortly after. [17]

The University of Miami report summarized conditions in Haiti as follows:

"…the police, backed by UN forces, routinely carry out indiscriminate and unprofessional killing operations. The undisciplined army is back, protecting the rich and attacking the poor. The justice system is twisted against poor young men, dissidents and anyone calling for the return of the constitutional government."

The report conservatively estimated that 700 political prisoners were jailed by the de facto government. It shed considerable light on the close working relationship between NCHR, the Haitian government, and officials linked to the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and USAID.

The Harvard School of Law report was more focussed on the role of the UN forces (MINUSTAH) in Haiti but would reach similar conclusions:

"MINUSTAH has effectively provided cover for the police to wage a campaign of terror in Port-au-Prince’s slums. Even more distressing than MINUSTAH’s complicity in HNP abuses are credible allegations of human rights abuses perpetrated by MINUSTAH itself…"

Amnesty’s report of July 28, 2005 again failed, unlike other investigators, to clearly put the violence of Lavalas partisans and the government in proportion. It did, belatedly, defend Yvon Neptune, the former Prime Minister under Aristide, whose illegal detention NCHR had caused with it groundless allegations of a "massacre" in Saint Marc. Amnesty finally stated that Yvon Neptune was a "political prisoner" after he had already spent a year in jail. Amnesty said that a "local human rights organization" had accused him. Again, it failed to name NCHR. [18] Neptune was finally released provisionally in August, 2006, but he must still fight NCHR’s allegations in court.

On July 6, 2005 MINUSTAH forces and the Haitian police carried out a massacre in Cite Soleil a slum where support for Lavalas runs especially deep. At least 23 people were killed. The consequences of the raid were extremely well documented. It was captured on film by Haitian journalists working with Kevin Pina. The evidence of MINUSTAH’s criminality was so compelling that MINUSTAH stated shortly afterwards that it "deeply regrets any injuries or loss of life during its operation." [19]

Weeks after the massacre Lucile Robinson, Amnesty’s UK based researcher for Haiti at the time, explained Amnesty’s silence to me as follows.

""We are aware of the situation and are currently gathering information from a variety of sources in order to gain a balanced and informed view on the subject before we react to these events. As I am sure that you are aware, in order to maintain the good reputation that AI depends on to produce effective actions, we do need to make very certain of our facts before acting upon them."

Amnesty’s reluctance to comment even to call for an investigation despite overwhelming evidence contrasted starkly with its swift response to unsubstantiated reports of police beheadings by Lavalas supporters. Amnesty finally made brief reference to the July 6 massacre in a statement it published six months after it took place. [20]

Lucile Robinson also defended Amnesty’s work by saying that "there are actions which we take which will not always be visible to the general public". However, it was obvious that public exposure was desperately needed. I cited various, far too typical, press reports that obscured the campaign against Lavalas, and thereby minimized the political price paid by the governments of US, Canada, and France (among others) for siding with the oppressors. [21]

Amnesty redeemed itself somewhat by responding quickly, and this time decisively, to the second arrest of the Reverend Gerard Jean-Juste. In a statement of July 25, 2005 it designated him as a "prisoner of conscience." Despite Amnesty’s public action, Jean-Juste remained imprisoned for six months after Amnesty took his side. He was provisionally released to have chemotherapy and has still not been cleared. [22]

In January of 2006, Amnesty co-authored a report with OXFAM and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) about the progress of disarmament in Haiti since the coup. The report was entitled "The call for tough arms controls:Voices from Haiti", but some voices were conspicuously absent. After reading the report, I posed questions to Amnesty to which they never responded. Among those questions were

*Why are none of the victims of MINUSTAH’s raids into poor neighborhoods quoted in this report? *Why, in the section entitled "What needs to be done", was discussion dominated by foreign officials and representatives of the de facto government? There was one brief quote from a Bel Air resident but nothing from the well known and highly respected political prisoners: Gerard Jean Juste, So Ann, Yvon Neptune who had been interviewed by journalists and activists. [23].

Despite the elections of February 2006, the Haitian government remains penetrated by appointees of the de facto government. Judge Peres Paul responsible for the incarceration of Gerard Jean-Juste and Kevin Pina remains on the bench. In December of 2005 the regime stacked the judiciary in a brazen abuse of executive power. It fired five supreme court justices and replaced them with their allies. As a result, at least 100 political prisoners jailed by the de facto government remain in prison. Police hired by the de facto government , and vetted by NCHR/RNDDH, are still on the job. [24]

MINUSTAH continues to patrol slums like Cite Soleil on behalf of Haiti’s elite and their foreign allies. On December 22, 2006 MINUSTAH and the Haitian police perpetrated yet another massacre in this neighborhood. Nearly a month later, Amnesty has yet to publicly comment. [25]

On December 13, 2006 Jean Candio, a former Lavalas parliamentarian, became a political prisoner of the Canadian government. He was imprisoned for two weeks in a Windsor Ontario jail due to his association with Aristide’s government and spurious allegations by NCHR/RNDDH that in 2001 he had used violence to disrupt a church meeting. Both Amnesty and the UN had published NCHR’s allegations against Mr. Candio, but never mentioned later investigations that exonerated him.

The Canada Haiti action Network (CHAN) has expressed its dismay at Amnesty’s response to the case of Jean Candio. CHAN summed up Amnesty’s track record in Haiti: "Amnesty has been outperformed in Haiti by investigators with far fewer resources and much less stature." [26]

For more information see


[1] As measured by political killings (4000 over two years) relative to the population the Haitian de facto regime and its allies surpassed Colombia’s military and paramilitary groups. This according to the findings of the Kolbe/Hutson study published in the Lancet Medical journal in August, 2006. However, it should be noted that a scientific survey of political killings in Colombia has never been carried out. The "passive surveillance" figures for Colombia are likely to be low. For discussion of passive surveillance versus random sampling see

[2] For consequences of 1991 coup see

reports/pdfs/h/haiti/haiti948.pdf For Canada’s role in 2004 coup see "Canada in Haiti: Waging war on the poor majority" by Yves Engler and Anthony Fenton for discussion of Canada’s role.

[3] Tom Reeves, a Quixote delegation member, discusses findings here:

/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=5335 NLG sent two separate delegations see

international/Haiti_delegation_report1.pdf And

delegations.htm The Ecumenical Program on Central America and the Caribbean. A People’s Fact Finding Investigation to Haiti: April 18-24, 2004. (EPICA: Washington, D.C., 2004)

[4] See

platform/1323 for the Esperance quote



[6] Amnesty International: The 1992 Report on Human Rights Around the World (covers events in 1991)

[7]Amnesty; June, 2004;

Index/ENGAMR360382004?open&of=ENG-HTI On agreement between NCHR and de facto regime see

YvonNeptuneIACHRPetition_ENU.pdf For uncritical citation of NCHR/RNDDH see the lengthy Toronto Star article "Crime & Chaos in Haiti" by Tim Harper (Nov 11, 2006) which describes the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) as the "the leading Haitian human rights organization." NCHR-New York, publicly distanced itself from NCHR-Haiti in March, 2005, and asked it to change its name. Soon after, NCHR changed its name to RNDDH. See



[8] For Amnesty’s defense of So Ann. See


=ENG-HTI For NCHR’s "salute" of So Ann’s arrest see


annette+auguste Pina interview



[9] For Pina interview see link provided note 8

[10] The left leaning UK Independent stated in an editorial of March 1, 2004 – one day after the coup – that Aristide’s ouster would be "mourned by few Haitians" and that Aristide was "just another dictator in a region where he’d once been the great democratic hope."

[11]Below from "Option Zero in Haiti" by Peter Hallward: "Amnesty International’s reports covering the years 2000-03 attribute a total of around 20 to 30 killings to the police and supporters of the FLa far cry from the 5,000 committed by the junta and its supporters in 199194, let alone the 50,000 usually attributed to the Duvalier dictatorships….. Amnesty International reports indicate that at least 20 police officers or FL supporters were killed by army veterans in 2001, and another 25 in further paramilitary attacks in 2003, mostly in the lower Central Plateau near the US-monitored Dominican border." See

showarticle.cfm?SectionID=55&ItemID=5806 for the full article Hallward’s numbers are confirmed by Justin Podur – who took a very detailed look at a book published by a rabidly anti-Aristide author See


SectionID=55&ItemID=9706 For information on USAID commissioned polls in Haiti see

showarticle.cfm?SectionID=55&ItemID=8940 For probing analysis of Haiti’s 2006 presidential elections by Brian Concannon see


Index/ENGAMR360532004?open&of=ENG-HTI Amnesty’s June, 2004 report mentioned Latortue’s "Freedom fighter" remark. See note 7







[16] Human Rights Watch, in contrast, never replied to a single email or phone call of mine about Haiti. Their response to the 2004 coup was even worst than Amnesty’s. See


[17] Miami report at

CSHR_Report_02082005_v2.pdf Harvard report at



[18] For details about the "massacre" in Saint Marc see


[19] Independent: Andrew Buncombe: "Peacekeepers accused after killings in Haiti" :


[20] Amnesty’s brief mention of July 6, 2005 massacre is here


=ENG-HTI Amnesty’s response to the "beheadings" story is here

/ENGAMR360542004?open&of=ENG-HTI Amnesty said it "condemns in the strongest terms the beheading of National Police officers, supposedly by Lavalas supporters." Brain Concannon discusses the unsubstantiated "beheading" reports here

article_violence-in-haiti-kboo-portland-radio.html Investigations in the Port-au-Prince morgue by the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) turned up no evidence that the beheadings took place.

[21] See FAIR; Jeb Sprague "Invisible Violence" for detailed look at the corporate media’s Haiti coverage after the coup;



[23] The Control Arms report is here

Index/ENGAMR360012006?open&of=ENG-HTI Some of my letters to Amnesty (and Human Rights Watch) are archived here An interview Justin Podur did with So Ann while she was in prison is here


[24] See

/humanrightsreport6-19-06.pdf for discussion of judiciary The de facto government’s hiring of police , and the NCHR/RNDDH role, is discussed is The University of Miami report. See note17. For an updated list of political prisoners see

[25] For graphic images from the 12/22 massacre see the following Democracy Now segment. which is an interview with So Ann

[26] First open letter from CHAN to Amnesty is here Second open letter is here