The UN Security Council voted last October 15 to extend the mandate of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (Minustah) for another year. The next day, Brazil’s foreign relation’s office released a statement saying, “The Brazilian government is satisfied with the decision.” The Brazilian army is in charge of coordinating the close to 9,000-strong Minustah forces. But there is little debate in Brazil about the country’s role in the occupation of Haiti and even less discussion about charges of human rights abuses against the UN troops.
Brazilian soldier from the Minustah force. (Robert Miller, CC)
One of the gravest cases documented by Haitian human rights organizations is the December 22, 2006, massacre in the community of Cité Soleil. The killing occurred after a demonstration of ten thousand people demanding the return of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and the exit of the foreign military presence. According to eyewitness accounts and video footage produced by the Haiti Information Project (HIP), UN forces attacked the community and killed close to 30 people, including women and children.
In response to criticism from human rights organizations denouncing the massacre, Minustah justified its actions with the pretense of combating gangs in Cité Soleil. Nonetheless, the footage taped by HIP show UN troops firing at unarmed civilians from helicopters. The Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency reported on the aftermath of the attack, documenting high-caliber bullet holes in many houses. The director of the HIP, Kevin Pina, also accuses Minustah of collaboration with the Haitian National Police in summary executions and arbitrary detainments. Says Pina, “In this context its hard to see the UN mission as an independent and neutral force in Haiti.”
Camille Chalmers, a professor at the University of Haiti and a member of the Haitian Platform for the Articulation of Social Movements, in an interview with journalist Claudia Korol from the Adital news agency explained, “Minustah tries to legitimize its actions claiming its fighting gang-bangers. But many people believe that the only ways to really reduce insecurity are public policies and social services. Instead, what we have is a violent military apparatus.”
Another violent Minustah operation in Cité Soleil occurred in July 2005, leaving traces of more than 22,000 bullet holes. Residents interviewed by HIP described finding the bodies of residents killed in their homes. Such declarations reveal the soldiers fired indiscriminately into the neighborhood, causing serious damage to housing in a neighborhood of already extremely precarious conditions. In violation of the Geneva Conventions, Minustah also did not allow the Red Cross to enter the neighborhood, according to neighborhood complaints.
Classified U.S. government documents, obtained by human rights organizations through a Freedom of Information Act request, show the U.S. Embassy in Haiti knew that the UN troops were planning an attack on Cité Soleil. Social organizations believe the military objective was to block mass demonstrations that sought to commemorate Aristide’s birthday, July 15.
A report by Project Censored estimates that more than 1,000 members of Aristide’s Lavalas party were arrested and nearly 8,000 assassinated during the “interim government” that controlled the country between 2004 and 2006, following the coup against Aristide in February 2004. Chalmers blames this on the “intervention led by the United States and France.” He adds, “Solidarity with the people of Haiti means reconstructing the country and responding to the most pressing social problems, but the military presence does not help this. The objectives of improving security and human rights have not been achieved. On the contrary, we think that Minustah’s presence constitutes a violation of the Haitian people’s right to self-determination.”
More recently, on February 2 of this year, UN troops hatched another operation against Cité Soleil that culminated with the killing of two youths sleeping in their homes. Five days later, several demonstrations were held throughout the country, and on February 9 there was another military attack on the community that was denounced by local organizations, such as the Haitian Institute for Justice and Democracy (IJDH).
On October 30, human rights groups denounced the kidnapping of Maryse Narcisse, who belongs to the national directorate of Lavalas and works on health and education projects. Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine, a psychologist, human rights activist, and member of Lavalas, disappeared on August 12. Local organizations blame the UN occupation of generating political instability and of attacking defenders of human rights and democracy in the country.
Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim (center) on a visit to Brazilian troops in Haiti. (Marcello Casal Jr./ABr, CC)
Between June 23 and July 3, a delegation from the Federation of Brazilian Lawyers (OAB in Portugues) visited Haiti. The delegation concluded that Minustah plays a “violent” and “oppressive” role that cannot be considered a “humanitarian action.” Aderson Bussinger Carvalho, who authored the report, demands that Brazil’s troops leave Haiti. “The conclusion I came to is that the troop presence in Haiti is not humanitarian. It’s a strictly military mission. The country has a history of foreign occupations and Brazil is now playing a role in that history,” said Carvalho in a recent interview with the Folha de São Paulo newspaper.
The role of Latin American militaries today in Haiti is similar to the multilateral force that remained in the Dominican Republic after the U.S. invasion in 1965. A lasting military dictatorship had ruled the Dominican Republic until 1961 when Rafael Trujillo died. The next year Juan Bosch was elected president but was deposed in a military coup after seven months in office. In April 1965, a ground swell of protests demanded the return of the deposed Bosch. The protests caused U.S. president Lyndon Johnson to order the military invasion of the Dominican Republic with 20,000 Marines. A few weeks later, the Organization of American States (OAS) deployed an “International Peace Force” of 1,129 soldiers. Back then, Brazil was ruled by a military dictatorship, but the function of the troops in the Dominican Republic is similar to the current role played by the Brazilian troops in Haiti.
The Brazilian government has ignored the complaints against the UN troops in Haiti. With Brazil’s eye on obtaining a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (an unlikely event), the country’s presence in Haiti has legitimated a coup d’état and abetted U.S. interests in the region.
Maria Luisa Mendonça is a journalist and coordinates the Network on Social Justice and Human Rights. This article was originally published by ALAI and translated by NACLA.