International Tribunal on Haiti

On March 11, some 250 people gathered in Miami at the southern campus of Florida International University (FIU) to attend the third session of the International Tribunal on Haiti.

Seven witnesses testified about the crimes against humanity committed by United Nations occupation troops, the Haitian National Police (PNH) and the Washington-backed "rebels" in the years before and after the February 2004 coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

In the end, the eleven member jury found "rebel" leaders Guy Philippe and Louis Jodel Chamblain guilty of master-minding massacres, carried out by paramilitary gunmen under their command on Haiti's Central Plateau between 2002 to 2004.

Guy Philippe was a former Haitian soldier and then a police chief, who fled Haiti to the Dominican Republic in November 2000 after he was discovered plotting a coup against President René Préval with other high-ranking police officers. Louis Jodel Chamblain was the vice-president of the Front for the Advancement and Progress in Haiti (FRAPH), a notorious death squad during the first coup against Aristide (1991-1994). The two became the most prominent leaders of the 200 or so ex-soldiers and Tonton Macoutes who waged a guerilla war from the Dominican Republic against Haiti's constitutional government from July 2001 to January 2004. In February 2004, these "rebels" staged a media-hyped occupation of several towns and cities in Haiti's north, allowing the U.S. Special Forces to kidnap Aristide from his home on Feb. 29, 2004 on the pretext that they were saving his life.

Presiding Judge Benjamin Dupuy, assisted by Judges Lucie Tondreau and Lionel Jean-Baptiste, opened the session by explaining the court's purpose. "The tribunal will examine current reports of killing, torture, illegal detention and other serious violations of international human rights, as well as the events leading up to the overthrow of Haiti's elected government in February 2004," Dupuy explained. "The Tribunal's second purpose is to develop a case file that will be referred to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in the Hague."

René Préval's victory in presidential elections last month will not affect the court's mission. "Even if Haiti does transition to an elected government, that will not end this Tribunal's work," Dupuy said. "The return of democracy to Haiti will require establishing the truth about the overthrow of democracy in Haiti, and the crimes against humanity committed against the Haitian democracy movement over the last two years."

The Tribunal was held on Sep. 23, 2005 in Washington, DC and on Nov. 19, 2005 in Boston, MA. During those sessions, five men were convicted: U.S. Marine Brigadier General Ronald Coleman, Haitian Police Inspector Yves Gaspard, former Haitian National Police Chief Léon Charles, former UN Mission to Stabilize Haiti (MINUSTAH) military commander Brazilian Lt. General Augusto Heleno Ribiero Pereira, and the Chilean MINUSTAH chief Juan Gabriel Valdes.

In the third session, four more U.N. officials were added to the 22 previously indicted: Jordanian Brig. General Mahmoud Al-Husban, Brazilian Capt. Leonidas Carneiro, Chilean Gen. Eduardo Aldunate Herman, and Brazilian Gen. Carvalho de Sigueira. Investigating Judge Brian Concannon accepted the updated indictment and the prosecution team of Desiree Wayne and Kim Ives began to call their witnesses.

Lawyer Tom Griffin presented a summary of the Commission of Inquiry's final report, which he wrote. The Commission, headed by former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, visited Haiti for a week in October 2005 and interviewed over 50 witnesses and victims of coup-related violence. Griffin also testified about the testimony the Commission received about Philippe's crimes on the Central Plateau. His presentation was buttressed by a videotaped interview with the former Lavalas leader of BelladPre, Cléonord Souverain, who described how Philippe's "rebels" massacred five of his family members in their home in June 2002.

Two other Commission members - trade unionist Dave Welsh and John Parker, director of the International Action Center's West Coast office - also gave detailed and rousing reports about the testimony they had gathered from witnesses and victims of coup-related violence in Port-au-Prince's Belair neighborhood.

Mario Joseph, Haiti's foremost human rights defense lawyer, testified about the human rights situation in Haiti during the coup, and specifically about the role and responsibility of Philippe and Chamblain.

Dr. Evan Lyon, who works with Partners in Health in Cange on the Central Plateau, also explained, using a Powerpoint presentation, how the paramilitary guerillas of Phillipe and Chamblain victimized and terrorized the population both before and after the coup.

One of the most moving moments was when AgnPs Mentor, a former officer of the Special Unit of the Presidential Guard (USGPN), was asked to testify about her polio-crippled nephew, raised as her own child, who is currently held without charges in the National Penitentiary's infamous Titanic cell block. Her voice broke and tears flowed as she told how the police had arrested him in the street because they knew him to be her adopted child.

Mentor, who now is exiled in Boston, also gave an eye-witness report of the October 26, 2004 massacre in the capital's Fort National neighborhood, in which 13 young people were summarily executed by masked policemen. She fled Haiti under threats a month later.

Finally, Benissoit Duclos, the former head of Haiti's Taxi Driver Union and director of the government-run Conatra bus company, explained how the large "Dignité" bus fleet was destroyed by the coup's marauders, mortally wounding Haiti's economy and population. He explained how the U.S. government's National Endowment for Democracy (NED) had infiltrated the union movement, and even attempted to penetrate his union and coopt him. He also described how coup government burned down his home and threatened to kill him, forcing him to flee to New York in March 2004.

Father Gérard Jean-Juste, who was scheduled to testify, could not be present because he was in the hospital undergoing cancer treatment.

The entire session was presented in both English and Creole, with most of the translating done by CreoleTrans' director Fedo Boyer. FIU student Bibi Olivier also assisted interpreting.

Despite numerous difficulties, the success of the Tribunal's third session was due in large measure to the work and support of three Miami-based groups: the community organization Veye Yo, the support group Haiti Solidarity, and the FIU-based Bolivarian Youth, who hosted the event.

Delegations came from as far away as New York. Among the personalities in the audience were renowned Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat and the parents of Haitian First Lady Mildred Trouillot Aristide.

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