Wherever There Is Impunity for Power,
There Is No Law
Statement of Ramsey Clark at the Oct. 11 press conference of the International Tribunal on Haiti’s Commission of Inquiry in Port-au-Prince.
I first came to Haiti in 1946, before probably anybody else in this room was born. Over the years, I’ve been back maybe a dozen times, but because of the nature of my work, never at a happy time.
You have heard descriptions of terrible police and military violence against the people of Haiti. All who revere life and seek peace have to recognize that police and military violence against the people is the greatest of all crimes. Who will protect the people when the police and military are violating their rights?
The very special context of this police and military violence against the people of Haiti has to be observed with the greatest care because it has happened in the wake of yet another U.S. regime change of the government of Haiti. Whatever might have happened if George Bush, and Dick Cheney and finally Colin Powell hadn’t said that Aristide has to go, we will never know. But what did happen because President Bush decided that Aristide has to go we know very well: systematic violence against the people of Haiti that is clearly overwhelmingly politically motivated.
You report in the press here regularly that there is a war against what they want to call gangs and bandits.
What they are really talking about is Aristide supporters and the Lavalas. Very often they use the name Lavalas as a synonym for the gangs, the bandits. And they go out and commit summary executions against the people, to control the country for the future.
It is especially tragic to see the United Nations forces used in this way. The United Nations was created to end the scourge of war. Its first peace-keeping forces were unarmed. I remember the tragedy of seeing the bodies of six young men from Fiji wearing blue helmets and unarmed, killed by an Israeli invasion in southern Lebanon. Now what we see is MINUSTAH adopting the military tactics of Special Forces. We have to remember that soldiers come to love war too well. The United States has created an international militarism that mimics its tactics. You only have to look at Iraq today in towns like Falluja and elsewhere to see the systematic destruction of the resistance of the people.
It is absolutely imperative for the future of Haiti and to peace on earth that there be accountability for these crimes. If international forces under the auspices of the United Nations can come to Haiti and engage in systematic summary executions of its people, what place on earth will be safe from that power?
You’ve heard that cumulatively deaths by military and police actions in Haiti amount to some hundreds of people.
You’ve heard a minor fraction of what’s happened. Only yesterday the police here told us that there are deaths every day from police actions.
At the beginning of corrections are the facts. The truth about the actions of U.N. military forces and Haitian police acting in cooperation with their own gangs, which commit murder, is essential to the future of this country. That truth will depend upon a vigilant press and a public in Haiti which is unafraid to tell what has happened to it.
I served in the U.S. government for eight years in the 1960s. It was a period of civil rights. It began really for the government in 1961 with what we call the "Freedom Riders," with public school integration for the first time, so that African American and white children would go to the same school. The introduction of the first African American into the University of Mississippi in September 1962 cost several lives and thousands and thousands of rounds of ammunition fired to prevent the admission of one person into that university solely because of the color of his skin.
For the next years, we addressed the problem of civil rights in the United States with the highest priority on the elimination of poverty. Gandhi correctly called poverty the greatest genocide. And in Malawi and Niger and other parts of Africa you see literally tens of millions of people at risk of starvation.
But during the so-called War on Poverty in the United States, the expenditures for public education, for public healthcare, for social welfare, social security, housing and all the rest more than tripled. And then from rising expectations, beginning in August 1965 race riots broke out in our major cities. In Maryland in 1964, Los Angeles in 1965, Cleveland in 1966, Newark and Chicago in 1967. Then with the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.
in April 1968, there were over 100 cities where race riots broke out spontaneously. Police repression was enormous. Hundreds of people were shot dead for the most serious offense of, perhaps, looting. People called for the shooting of looters. There was a picture of a 14-year-old kid who had been running down the street with a basket of apples, shot in the back and killed.
The U.S. Department of Justice [which Ramsey Clark headed at that time - Ed.] announced that its highest criminal law enforcement priority was the prosecution of police for violating the rights of citizens.
And against the vehement opposition of the police and political power in the United States and the National Guard, we began to prosecute police in cities across the country who had killed citizens living in their own country.
And that’s very much what’s happened here in Haiti. But you are afflicted not only with your own police, which have had their problems for generations, but with foreign military forces from many countries, acting under different commanders, under the auspices and direction of the United Nations, and they must be held accountable for their crimes.
There was an international conference in Paris from September 23 to 25 this year, on impunity for power. It asked how does one address the problem of the police, soldiers, and the rich being above the law. The conclusion was obvious: wherever there is impunity for power, there is no law. If power can have its way, the people live in a jungle, and it’s survival of the fittest. We have to come to grips with the lawlessness of the United Nations forces here, and political gangs acting under their orders and direction, and make all of them equally accountable for their acts.
We expect the International Criminal Court, created by a treaty signed by over 120 nations, and now sitting in The Hague, to receive evidence of these crimes in Haiti and to hold those convicted for them accountable under the law of nations. And we hope Haiti can do its part to protect itself from such lawlessness too.