Human rights violations--including murders, sexual assaults, and kidnapping--were common in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital city, after the departure of the democratically elected President in 2004, according to an Article published online by The Lancet.
In February 2004, armed rebels overthrew Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Since then, reliable evidence of the frequency and severity of abuses has been scarce. Neither the UN nor the Haitian government have had a firm estimate of the numbers or perpetrators of violations, with claims ranging from several hundred to more than 100,000 incidents. Supporters of Aristide, the interim government, and foreign peacekeeping troops were accused of abuse.
Royce Hutson and Athena Kolbe of Wayne State University, Detroit, USA, did a random survey of households in the greater Port-au-Prince area of Haiti. Participants were asked if they or anyone in their household had suffered any human rights violations such as murders, rapes, extra-judiciary arrests, larceny, or physical assaults in the 22-month period from February 2004 to December 2005. They were asked the date and location of incidents, as well as the perpetrator.
The results showed human rights abuses were frequent occurrences. The estimates suggest about 8000 individuals (around 12 per day) were murdered during the period, and sexual assault was common, especially against children, with the data suggesting 35,000 women and girls were raped in the greater Port-au-Prince area. Criminals, the Haitian National Police, and UN peacekeepers were frequently identified as perpetrators.
The authors conclude: "The frequency of human-rights violations, and especially the prevalence of sexual violence against women, demands a serious and thorough response from the international community, the new Haitian government, and non-governmental organisations working in the region. The new administration should take steps to stop any ongoing human-rights abuses through various domestic and international systems."
A Lancet Editorial comments that the United Nations has an important role to play: "UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has spoken out firmly against exploitative behaviour by UN peacekeepers… Annan's stand needs to be followed by stronger action to restore both international and local confidence, without which local security cannot be assured. Severely traumatised populations remain vulnerable, and as Hutson and Kolbe show, suffering does not stop when peacekeepers arrive. UN peacekeepers must no longer add to that suffering".
Contact: Dr Royce Hutson, Wayne State University, School of Social Work, Thompson Home, 4756 Cass Ave., Detroit, MI 48202, USA; T) 1-313-577-4444; email@example.com
Athena Kolbe, Wayne State University, School of Social Work, Thompson Home, 4756 Cass Ave., Detroit, MI 48202, USA; T) 1-313-303-7724; firstname.lastname@example.org
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