Español English French Kwéyol

Human rights, not politics, should be priority for Haiti


By Michael Deibert [1]

Submitted to AlterPresse on September 11, 2006

A recent article in the British medical journal The Lancet ’Human rights abuse and other criminal violations in Port-au-Prince, Haiti: a random survey of households,†[2] rather than serving as a sober analysis of the myriad of human rights abuses that occurred under Haiti’s 2004-2006 interim government, appears to be little more than part of an ongoing attempt to rehabilitate the public image of former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and elements of his political party, Fanmi Lavalas [3].

The article in question, quoted extensively by Mr. Aristide’s U.S. attorney, Ira Kurzban, in a recent editorial in The Miami Herald [4], was co-authored by Athena R. Kolbe, who has previously written extensively about Haiti under the nom de plume Lyn Duff. Described as "a friend of Aristide" in a 2004 article [5] in the magazine "Dissident Voice," Ms. Kolbe worked at Mr. Aristide’s Lafanmi Selavi center for street children, which served as one of the nexuses for the gangs who terrorized Haiti during the latter’s 2001-2004 tenure as Haiti‘s president. All of this naturally begs the question of how Kolbe/Duff’s “research†into the issue of human rights violations and the perpetrators can be regarded as objective when she states that for three and half years she was an Aristide employee, and states that her sympathies are solidly with Haiti’s disgraced former president.

The atmosphere of violence in Haiti today did not spring out of a vacuum. With some of the ghastly rapes and murders carried out in the town of Saint Marc as the Aristide regime sputtered to its bloody dénouement in February 2004 [6]
 [7]- including one in the ruins of the city’s burned-out commissariat by the pro-Aristide Bale Wouze (Clean Sweep) gang - carried out in the presence of Corps d’Intervention et de Maintien d’Ordre (CIMO) and Unite de Securite de la Garde du Palais National d’Haiti government forces (at the time reporting directly to Mr. Aristide’s National Palace), one must ponder whether these sexual assaults were happening with government sanction.

In his Miami Herald editorial, Mr. Kurzban writes that “The University of Miami School of Law’s Center for Human Rights, led by the prominent human-rights author and professor Irwin Stotzky, Harvard University’s Human Rights Clinic and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti all detailed executions and systematic human-rights violations after Aristide’s removal.â€

While no one disputes the fact that human rights abuses took place during the 2004-2006 interim government in Haiti (in a personal aside, I lost several friends to Haiti’s violence during this period), the devil, as they say, is in the details.

The University of Miami School of Law’s Irwin P. Stotzky was a long-time board member of Mr. Aristide’s aptly misnamed "Foundation for Democracy†and his own biography on the school’s website [8] announces that “he has served as an attorney and adviser to Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.†The only attorney in Haiti thanked by name in the pages of the university’s voluminous Haiti report was for a considerable time an employee of an Aristide government-funded legal organization, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux. One of the report’s key claims - that pro-Artistide armed gangs congealed after the president’s departure - has been revealed to be false by the reporting of many journalists, foreign and Haitian, working on the ground in Haiti since 2001 [9]

The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) , for its part, listed Mr. Kurzban as one it’s founders and "a member of the Board of Directors" in a 24th March 2005 letter sent to Santiago A. Canton, Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the OAS [11]. Though the organization is ostensibly headquartered in Oregon, where its lead attorney resides, donations are directed to be sent to a Florida address, where Mr. Kurzban resides. The group’s 2005 annual report lists $53,836 of contributions from several "individual supporters" with long-standing links to Mr. Aristide, including Mr. Kurzban himself [12]. Recently, the organization has busied itself with an attack on a Haitian public servant of unimpeachable integrity, Port-au-Prince chief prosecutor Claudy Gassant, who had to flee Haiti for his life during Mr. Aristide’s tenure while attempting to investigate the murder of Haiti’s most prominent journalist, Jean Dominique, and who the IJDH maligns as a "a prominent Lavalas critic†in a recent press release [13].

In a similar vein, when Mr. Kurzban writes that Haiti’s 2004-2006 interim government “paid a U.S. law firm $250,000 a month retainer solely to bring against Aristide a civil suit that was ultimately dismissed,†he errs in that the case was in fact withdrawn with an option to refile, not dismissed. When it comes to the subject of expenditures, Mr. Kurzban declines to reveal that, according to US Department of Justice Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filings, his own law firm received an astonishing $4,648,964 from the Aristide government of behalf of its lobbying efforts alone between 2001 and 2004 [14], and that Mr. Kurzban still serves as Mr. Aristide’s attorney in the United States. By way of putting things in perspective, Mr. Kurzban was thus earning from the Haitian state more than 2,000 times the average yearly income of any one of the more than 7 million people in Haiti who survive on less that $2 per day. For his part in Mr. Aristide’s propaganda campaign, the public relations firms of former U.S. congressmen and head of the Congressional Black Caucus Ron Dellums received the relatively modest sum of $989,323 over the same period.

Though the Lancet report chronicles no rapes or murders committed by Fanmi Lavalas partisans, something that flies in the face of the on-the-ground reporting of journalists who have worked in Haiti for the last two years, it may be instructive to recall that, over the last two years, defectors from Mr. Aristide’s party have charged publicly that former president was orchestrating a large part of Haiti’s violence from exile with the connivance of former officials of his government [15]. Citing the July 2005 murder of Haitian journalist Jacques Roche, a May 2005 attack on a Port-au-Prince marketplace that killed seven people and saw a large part of the market, which served the capital’s poor, burned to ashes and what they charged was a campaign of rape by gangs supportive of the exiled president in the capital’s slums, last year four of Haiti’s most politically progressive organizations - the Groupe d’Appui aux Rapatries et Refugies (GARR), the Plateforme haïtienne de Plaidoyer pour un Développement Alternatif (PAPDA), Solidarité des Femmes Haïtiennes (SOFA) and Centre National et International de Documentation et d’Information de la Femme en Haïti (EnfoFanm) - all signed a petition calling for Aristide to be judged for his crimes against the Haitian people [16].

Rape and other transgressions, unfortunately, appear to be looked upon as just another weapon in the arsenal of some of Haiti’s politicians by which they can crush opposition to them and whatever designs they may have on power. It is high time that it be denounced without regards to who is committing it, and that foreign lawyers, journalists, researchers and others stop attempting to shield the guilty from having to answer for their crimes.


[1Michael Deibert is the author of Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (Seven Stories Press). His website is His blog can be read at