Amnesty International’s Track Record in Haiti

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.

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