The presence of United Nations peacekeepers for more than a year has failed to curb widespread abuses and political violence in Haiti, leaving a volatile climate for upcoming elections, Amnesty International has declared.
Amnesty accused the US-backed interim government and the UN peacekeeping force of showing leniency towards former soldiers and other rebels who toppled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide last year while aggressively combating armed militants loyal to the ousted leader.
Haiti’s ill-equipped police force executes and arbitrarily arrests people with impunity, while jailed Aristide supporters have been prevented from seeing lawyers and relatives, the group said.
“Haitians remain mired in a human rights crisis despite the presence of a UN peacekeeping force,” Amnesty said.
“In fact, little tangible process has been made to protect human rights since the interim government took office in early March 2004.”
Interim officials declined to comment on the report, saying they had not seen it. Interim prime minister Gerard Latortue, however, acknowledged that police committed abuses but insisted the government investigated them.
He has also insisted the judiciary acted independently in cases against former Aristide officials.
Although UN troops drove former soldiers from police stations in several provincial towns earlier this year, the UN mission has seen its “activities limited by the lack of political will from the interim government to take a stance against these groups”, Amnesty said.
Peacekeepers had failed to prevent former rebels “from engaging in illegal activities and committing serious human rights abuses”, the report said.
UN mission spokesman Damian Onses-Cardona insisted peacekeepers had aggressively confronted former soldiers.
The presence of ex-soldiers in Port-au-Prince has all but vanished since a UN offensive earlier this year that drove them from their headquarters in the capital.
Peacekeepers have focused in recent weeks on rooting out politically-aligned gangs in Port-au-Prince slums. A powerful pro-Aristide gang leader and four of his allies were killed in a UN raid in the slum of Cite Soleil three weeks ago.
Amnesty, which said its report was based on visits to Haiti in 2004 and ongoing research, warned Haiti’s human rights crisis “could worsen in the run-up to elections”.
The group criticised Haiti’s judicial system for keeping Aristide supporters and other prisoners jailed for months without charge.