A shocking new report in the British medical journal the Lancet on human rights abuses in Haiti finds that 8,000 people were murdered and 35,000 women and girls raped during the U.S.-backed coup regime that followed Jean Bertrand Aristide. Those responsible included Haitian police, United Nations peacekeepers and anti-Lavalas gangs. We speak with the co-authors of the report. [includes rush transcript]
A shocking new report published in the British medical journal The Lancet has found widespread and systematic human rights abuses in Haiti following the ouster of democratically-elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.
New figures reveal that during the 22-month period of the U.S.-backed Interim Government, 8,000 people were murdered in the greater Port-au Prince area alone. 35,000 women and girls were raped or sexually assaulted, more than half of the victims were children. Kidnappings, extrajudicial detentions, physical assaults, death threats, and threats of sexual violence were also common.
Those responsible for the human rights abuses include criminals, the police, United Nations peacekeepers and anti-Lavalas gangs.
The findings are based on a new report published in the British medical journal the Lancet. The study is based on an extensive survey of households in the Port-au-Prince area .
- Athena Kolbe, master’s level social worker with the Wayne State University school of social work in Detroit Michigan. In December 2005 she coordinated an extensive survey of households in the Port-au-Prince area to determine rates of human rights abuse under the interim Haitian government.
- Dr. Royce Hutson, assistant professor of social work at Wayne State University. He co-authored the Lancet study on human rights abuses in Haiti.
AMY GOODMAN: The findings are based on a new report published in the British medical journal, The Lancet. The study is based on an extensive survey of households in the Port-au-Prince area of Haiti. Athena Kolbe is one of the authors of the report. She’s a Master’s-level social worker with the Wayne State University School of Social Work in Detroit, Michigan. She joins us from a studio in San Francisco. We’re also joined by Dr. Royce Hutson, on the phone from Detroit, co-author of the report, assistant professor of social work at Wayne State University. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
Athena Kolbe, these are startling findings. 8,000 murdered. Over what time period? And how do you know this?
ATHENA KOLBE: We started — well, basically what we did is we randomly selected households in the greater Port-au-Prince area, 1,260 households, and then went and interviewed them about their experiences with human rights violations beginning in February 29, 2004 with the departure of Aristide through December of 2005, which is the one-month period, where we did the interviews. So based on that, we found that 23 households out of the 1260 had members who had been assassinated in that time period. And the figure of 8,000 is derived from estimating that based on the population of the greater Port-au-Prince area.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, when you say "randomly selected," obviously in Haiti, one of the poorest — the poorest country in the western hemisphere, a lot of people don’t have phones — or even locating folks. Could you explain your use of GPS to actually develop who would be the random households selected?
ATHENA KOLBE: This was actually kind of a unique type of a study, because this methodology hasn’t really been used before in public health and human rights studies. It was a used a little bit in another Lancet study about Iraq just before and after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But what we did is we randomly selected GPS locations, 1,500 of them, and then went and visited each location, eliminated the ones that weren’t actually households, the ones that were, you know, the side of a mountain or the airport runway or whatever, and then went and interviewed people at the remaining ones that were households.
And we had an over 90% response rate, which is extraordinarily high and really indicates that even those that were legitimate sites, where we went and talked to people, most people were willing to talk to us, indicating that they had something to say and wanted their story to be told about their experiences with human rights.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about who carried out these killings?
ATHENA KOLBE: Yeah. We had — the largest number of perpetrators for most of the violations were criminals, indicating that there was high rates of criminal activity. But also, we also had a number of assassinations that were done by members of the Haitian National Police, as well as killings by UN soldiers and killings by demobilized soldiers from the ex-Haitian army that was disbanded by President Aristide in 1995.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of the rapes and sexual assaults, because you said that you had — you identified actually 23 families that had actually experienced assassinations or killings within their own families, and in terms of the raw numbers on the actual rapes and assaults, and then how you extrapolated those to this astounding number of 35,000.
ATHENA KOLBE: Dr. Hutson could actually talk a little bit more about that, because he has the figures right in front of him. But I believe that it was 93 families total out of the 1,260 that had sexual assault victims in their household. And some of those had multiple victims within one household.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Royce Hutson, could you follow up on that?
DR. ROYCE HUTSON: Sure, absolutely. Yeah, actually, Athena, it was 94, but very close. Yeah, so we took 94, and we essentially extrapolated it to the greater Port-au-Prince area with the estimated number of females in the greater Port-au-Prince area that we got from our own sample. Census data wasn’t really available with regards to what the average household size, what percentage of the population is female. So we had to sort of construct those figures for ourselves. And then we took those constructed figures and extrapolated our findings to the greater Port-au-Prince area. And we got to 35,000, roughly, female sexual assault victims.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, and then we’re going to come back to this discussion and also go to Haiti, some videotape that is quite shocking of UN forces moving into the neighborhood around Cite Soleil and opening fire. We’re also going to talk with an attorney who has brought a lawsuit against a man who now sits in a New York jail. He’s sitting there for mortgage fraud charges, but he’s a leader of a paramilitary death squad, Emmanuel Constant, and they have brought a lawsuit against him for sexual abuse and rape of women in Haiti. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: On the phone with us, Athena Kolbe, social worker with the Wayne State University School of Social Work in Detroit. We’re also joined on the telephone by Dr. Royce Hutson, assistant professor of social work at Wayne State. Athena is in a San Francisco TV studio. Athena — Juan, a question.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Yes. I’d like to ask Dr. Hutson, these findings are so startling that obviously a lot of people are going to question them, because this is something that really has not been extensively reported in the past. So I’d like to ask you, in your figures you claim that over 50% of the murders were committed by government forces or anti-Lavalas groups and the bulk of the others by criminals, very few by Lavalas supporters themselves. And also in the rapes, about a quarter of them were committed by either government forces, police or anti-Lavalas groups. Now, obviously this is a peer-reviewed study, appearing in the Lancet, but your defense of those who will say that you’re basically extrapolating from very small numbers of people that you actually interviewed who were victims of these crimes?
DR. ROYCE HUTSON: Well, actually, I would argue that it was not really that small of a number, though it was 1,260 households that really represented 5,720 individuals. And in survey methodology, that’s considered a rather large number of people to be surveying. If you looked at our — for instance, if you looked at our confidence intervals, you’ll find that for at least a number of — in extrapolated figures, I should explain, that those are pretty tight figures, because our sample sizes are rather large.
With regards to who is committing these, we made a special point of, for instance, not using interviewers that are associated with Lavalas or less political parties, in the interest of trying to keep the study nonpartisan. I mean, of course, there’s a possibility that people would claim that someone did something to them when they didn’t. But we find that that, in fact, probably was not the case, in that when we look at the figures, you know, it goes across the breadth of various anti-Lavalas groups — the demobilized army, the HNP — which are not exactly what I consider to be a sole entity. They are, in fact, separate groups.
AMY GOODMAN: And just to explain, Lavalas being pro-Aristide forces. Aristide removed in Haiti in 2004 in a U.S.-backed coup against him. We’re talking about this period after his removal.
DR. ROYCE HUTSON: That’s correct. We didn’t find any — we didn’t detect any Lavalas atrocities with regards to murder or sexual assault. We did detect some physical assaults by Lavalas members and some threatening behavior by Lavalas members. So they’re not completely exonerated from any human rights abuses. However, as the questioner noted, a vast majority of the atrocities that weren’t committed by criminals, but by others, were from groups affiliated in some fashion with anti-Lavalas movements.
AMY GOODMAN: Athena Kolbe, who are the restaveks?
ATHENA KOLBE: The restaveks are unpaid domestic servants. They are children, usually from the countryside, who come into the city, and they work with Haitian households in exchange for room and board. And we found that girls who were restaveks were particularly at risk for sexual assault, more so than other children, although children in general were particularly at risk, but also more so than even adult women.
And this really begs the question of, when you have so many restaveks who were sexually assaulted — and when we’re talking about sexual assault, also I want to clarify, we’re not just talking about molestation or someone grabbing someone sexually when they don’t want it. We’re talking about more than 90% of the sexual assaults in our study involved penetration. And some of the them involved multiple perpetrators, involved penetration with inanimate objects, like a piece of metal. These were very brutal sexual assaults that we recorded. And when we’re looking at such high numbers of children being sexually assaulted by officers from the Haitian National Police, and then particularly this vulnerable group of child domestic servants, it really makes you wonder what exactly was going on under the interim Haitian government in regards to the sexual assault of children by police officers.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about the international peace monitoring force that is stationed there? Did you find any indication of violations, human rights violations, by them?
ATHENA KOLBE: We certainly did. Although the rates were lower than some people might have expected, we found that they had very high rates of threatening behavior, of committing death threats, threats of sexual and physical violence. And by threats, we mean not just pointing your gun at someone, because when you’re a peacekeeping soldier, you know, you carry a gun. If you have to point it at people, then some people might interpret that as a threat. We didn’t count that as a threat. We counted threats as something verbal, a verbal, you know, "Do this, or I’ll kill you," where the person really felt like they were legitimately threatened, like their life was really at stake or the life of their family was really at stake. And they had actually relatively high numbers of death threats and threats of sexual and physical violence, which is perhaps indicative of a pattern of perhaps a lack of training, or since it was so many troops from different countries, as well, who are involved in this threatening behavior, that perhaps the United Nations forces are not interacting with the Haitian populous in a really appropriate way.