Of genocides and human rights organizations

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Of genocides and human rights organizations

Post by admin » Thu Apr 22, 2004 10:36 am

Language about Haiti appears to be a major problem in some quarters lately. First, we needed dictionary definitions of the word "coup", as though we had lost our ability to recognize a coup in the making or the results of a coup. Next we'll have to define or redefine the words "de facto", militia, rebels, freedom fighters, military occupation, democracy, electoral mandates, resignations, nationality and citizenship, et cetera as the world turns or as we go along, just as surely as we now have more fluid notions of imminent attacks and weapons of magical disappearance, pardon, of mass destruction.

We have also learned that some French and Haitian Creole conditionals should, in proper English, be translated in confidently assertive and condescendingly affirmative fashion. And thanks to La Higbie's legal research, abetted by years of desk editing experience, we
are confronted with a daily multiplicity of genocides, given that any multiple killing of individuals sharing the same gene pool or cultural characteristics can be classified as such. Sorry to say that this argument, however correct it might be on legalistic grounds, debases (at least my own) previously held notions of genocide, which applied to such grim cases as the killing fields of :
  • the Native people of North, Central, and South America (Europeans)
  • The transatlantic slave trade and the Middle Passage (European settlers)
  • The Armenians in 1915 (Ottoman Turks)
  • The Jews and Soviets during WWII (Hitler / Stalin)
  • The Cambodians in late 1970's (Khmer Rouge / Nixon-Kissinger)
  • The Rwandans in 1994
  • The Bosnian Muslims and Kosovar Albanians (Bosnian-Yugoslav Serbs), though validation of those charges of genocide against Milosevic is dubious due to the
    fact that "For a genocide conviction to be secured, the court has to be satisfied the defendant deliberately set out to remove an entire ethnic group." (BBC) and in an ironic twist, participants in the NATO campaign are themselves accused of genocide against Serbia.[/*:m]
<p align="justify">If memory serves me right, the charge of genocide has generally been considered, both in layman's terms and by the standards of international courts, the most serious of "crimes against humanity", though the application of that label has always been culturally biased in view of exonerating certain groups and incriminating others. In the first six examples of genocide I listed above, Hitler and the Nazis, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, and the Hutus are most positively identified with genocide (with the Jewish Holocaust, a particularly effective reminder of man's capacity for endless cruelty) while we have often celebrated the genocidal conquests of Western Europeans, including the civilizing impulses of a Ch
ristopher Columbus or a Las Casas, the military campaigns of a Napoleon Bonaparte, the imperialistic aims of the British in endlessly partitioning the world to their liking (India/Pakistan, Israel/Palestine, Iraq/Kuwait, Rhodesia/...), the Belgians in Congo and Rwanda (accentuating the differentiation between Hutus and Tutsis, and their resulting competition), the Afrikaners in South Africa, and we certainly could go on. However, those examples should suffice to show that while a "genocide" is usually conceived as a deliberate attempt to exterminate a racial or ethnic group, for reasons that are not necessarily attributable solely to racism but also to other forms of supremacy such as religious movements (crusades, for instance) and socio-economic systems, the label does not stick as readily on Teflon Americans and Western Europeans as it does on other groups of people.

It is terribly shocking to me to see the levity in which the label is now toyed with by opposing parties in the most recent Haitian co
nflicts, particularly when the labeling is done by NCHR-Haiti, the well-established and best-known human rights organization in Haiti, with obvious ties to (the parent?) U.S. NCHR organization, that was ably directed by Jocelyn McCalla to its position of prominence among all Haitian or Haitian-American groups advocating the rights of Haitian Refugees, of Haitian Braceros in the Dominican Republic, of Haitian Restaveks, and one would assume, ALL HAITIANS, regardless of their political affiliation. In fact, given their stellar reputation, I am very much puzzled by NCHR's seeming insouciance vis-a-vis the barrage of charges that have been leveled in public forums and by common people in Haiti and elsewhere that NCHR has intricated itself so one-sidedly in the struggle against Aristide and Lavalas that it cannot be considered an honest broker in the defense of Haitians that have been unfairly victimized due to their affiliation to the Lavalas party. This is a grave matter and I do not understand the feeble resp
onses so far, as I wonder about the viability of a human rights organization that becomes so strongly associated with a political movement, that one would come to think of them as "the human rights advocates for the opposition", though they may no longer be in opposition.

I know perfectly well that Pierre Esperance of NCHR-Haiti and Jocelyn McCalla of NCHR (US) will be reading my words. They are two gentlemen that I have many reasons to respect, for the tremendous body of work they have accomplished on behalf of Haitians everywhere, and I hope that they will recognize in the expression of my thoughts the gravity of the charges and the resulting precariousness of NCHR's ability to represent Haitians regardless of status and political affiliation, and in the performance of their goals beyond any material success that may be achieved in fund-raising activities. On behalf of many, I would be gratified if they take the time to clarify their respective positions on these issues.

The Summary Report
of Haiti Human Rights Delegation "March 29 to April 5, 2004" by the National Lawyer's Guild is particularly alarming in that respect, though hardly unrepresentative of the current discourse on the effectiveness of rights organizations in Haiti.

[quote]-NCHR is a well-funded and equipped human rights agency that purports to take all cases, regardless of political affiliation.

-NCHR however, could not name a single case in which a Lavalas supporter was a victim.

-NCHR took the delegation into a large meeting room where the wall was adorned with a large wanted poster featuring Aristide and his cabinet, in small photos, across the top. It named Aristide a dictator guilty of human rights abuses. Among a long list of other charges, it condemned him for the murder of John Dominique and included a large photo of Dominique's dead body. The poster calls for the arrest and imprisonment of A
ristide and his associates.

-The Delegation suggested that NCHR's neutrality and inclusiveness might be better expressed with additional posters condemning, for example, FRAPH, Jodel Chamblain, Jean Tatoune Baptiste, Ti Kenley, etc. While the Director and the staff acknowledged the existence of all of those named, they laughed at the suggestion of adding other wanted posters to the office.

-The Delegation noted that many of the newsletters, open letters, and advisories available in the NCHR waiting room refer to Aristide as a dictator and that none of them concern abuses against supporters of the elected government or Lavalas.

-NCHR was asked if they would investigate the 1000 bodies dumped and buried by the morgue during the last few weeks at Titanye, and the alleged malfunctioning of the refrigeration at the morgue. The director and his staff denied ever knowing about these events, laughed, and said none of it was true.

-NCHR was asked if it would investigate the dumped bodies
at Piste D'Aviation. The director and his staff laughed and denied that it was true. The Delegation then showed NCHR the photographs we had taken of the ashes and fresh human skeletons. In response, the NCHR director told us that the General Hospital routinely dumps bodies at the Piste D'Aviation.[/quote]

Considering that the label of genocide has not been applied to the Piatre and Jean-Rabel massacres, or even consistently to the horrific 1937 Trujillo massacre of Haitian workers in the D.R., I think that NCHR can more beneficially contribute to the human rights situation in Haiti, than lending itself to debasing forms of speech, however they fit narrow legalistic definitions which are demonstrably not applied universally in any case. If the United States and the United Nations have so much trouble building their case of genocide against Slobodan Milosevic, which after all was their justification for NATO's intense bombardment of Serbia, it behooves all of us not to be flippant in our r
hetoric about the Haiti situation. The prejudice is there, it is palpable, let us not unnecessarily inflame the passions.

As for Du Tuyau's observation that the killing of Lavalas members could be construed as pesticide while the killing of non-Lavalas members, could be termed a genocide, I would hesitate to belabor the point. "Pests" is not far from the mindset of anti-immigration extremists in America who consider Haitian immigrants "garbage" regardless of political affiliation. It is not purely coincidental that the U.S. has enforced a "dry foot, wet foot, haitian foot" policy, nor that we have had a very popular video game urging its protagonists to "Kill the Haitians!" When we Haitians do not learn to value the lives of our own brothers and sisters, regardless of their social status and political affiliation, we unwittingly give other peoples the presumption of innocence when engineering our carnage. We should be smart enough to realize that, regardless of elite status or favor with those in
power in the U.S., Haiti and elsewhere, we are putting our own lives at risk, as long as we can be remotely considered as Haitians. Let us learn the lessons of Rwanda. Let us learn the lessons of the River Massacre, and consider that a reparation price of twenty-nine dollars was affixed to each Haitian head. How much has this been inflated in today's world markets?

It is time that we embrace our own and reject the condescension of our enemies who have a knack of dissimulating themselves as friends of Haiti.

Guy S. Antoine
Windows on Haiti

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