Human rights lawyer Brian Concannon Jr. directs the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), www.ijdh.org, which litigates cases and documents human rights violations in Haiti. Several investigations, including some conducted by IJDH, have shown that violence and poverty have increased in Haiti under a U.S.-backed government that replaced ousted President Jean Bertrand-Aristide in early 2004. ("More Violent and More Inhuman," Feb. 2-9, 2005)
Human rights lawyer Brian Concannon Jr. will be speaking about Haiti on Oct. 11 at Marian College.
Concannon lived and worked in Haiti from 1995 to 2004, first with the United Nations, and then with the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in Port-au-Prince. The BAI was established by the elected Haitian government to help victims and the justice system prosecute human rights cases.
Concannon will be speaking on Tuesday, Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. at Marian College's Allison Mansion. The talk is part of the Global Studies Speakers Series sponsored by Marian's Franciscan Center for Global Studies
NUVO: The title of your talk is "Haiti: the International Community's Dictatorship." President Aristide left Haiti in early 2004 and an unelected government has taken over, which follows the same pattern that occurred in 1991. What has been the international community's response the two times Aristide was removed from power?
Concannon: The role of the international community in the first coup was to express public disapproval and then to impose sanctions, which eventually had some effect. President Aristide was returned to his elected position and we were able to prosecute many of the human rights violations by people who carried out the coup. This time, however, the international community, especially the U.S., is openly giving assistance in guns and money to the killers.
NUVO: What should the U.S. be doing in Haiti?
Concannon: We should put our basic democratic principles in action. We should withhold all aid to the current Haitian government until they release the two dozen or more political prisoners being held right now. And we should demand that elections be conducted in a way that is consistent with a democratic process, and let the Haitian government know that the U.S. will not recognize a government elected in an undemocratic process.
NUVO: Presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for Nov. 20 in Haiti. Will those be fair elections?
Concannon: It is possible they will be fair elections, but there would first have to be drastic changes from the current situation.
There are two huge problems now: First, many of the people who would be the most popular candidates (including two high-profile supporters of ousted President Aristide: the Rev. Gérard Jean-Juste and former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune) are in jail. Others are in exile or in hiding.
Second, there is an intentional effort to suppress the vote of poor people. The very poor Cite Soleil area of Port-au-Prince has 300,000 people but not even a single registration site. There are only 400 to 600 voter registration sites in all of Haiti. Compare that to the 4,000 sites in Los Angeles, which has about one-third the land area and much better transportation, or the 11,000 sites the democratically elected Haitian governments had in place. Haiti is a big place and the roads are bad, so the poor will have a difficult time voting.
NUVO: Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 8 of every 10 Haitians living in poverty. If and when democracy is restored, what can the democratically elected government do to reverse Haiti's slide into desperation?
Concannon: A new government could continue what the previous democratically elected government was already doing. More secondary schools were built in Haiti in the years after the return of democracy in 1994 than were built in the previous 200 years. Literacy, sanitation and health care programs were started, but the latest coup government has dismantled them. But recovery will be tough: In Haiti, problems can build on themselves. For example, there has never been enough money for education in the past, so now even if you can build new schools, there is a shortage of well-educated teachers to fill them.
NUVO: Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice visited Haiti and criticized the government for holding political prisoners and for the slow preparations for the November elections. Do Secretary Rice's comments provide you with any optimism about the U.S.' future involvement in Haiti?
Concannon: It is something that she at least raised the issue of the prisoners, which is better than ignoring it. But it is clear that it is only lip service. She was there to support [current Prime Minister Gerard] Latortue, who is presiding over a brutal war against Haiti's democracy movement. The true feelings of the Bush Administration were revealed in June, after the House of Representatives voted to cut off shipments of guns to Haiti until the unelected government's human rights record improved. In response, the State Department announced they would send another $1.9 million worth of weapons to the Haitian government before the elections.