Letter: Haitian tragedy

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Sir: 30 September was the first anniversary of a national tragedy that has been compounded by an international scandal. On 30 September 1991 a bloody military coup ousted the elected head of state of Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. It was just nine months after he won 67 per cent of the vote in a UN-run election.

This is the first time a UN-sponsored election has been overturned. Yet the international community has turned its back. The Organisation of American States, the 34-country regional body of which Haiti is a member, chose sanctions as the best means of pressure, yet sanctions have been violated.

More than a dozen oil tankers have unloaded in the capital, Port-au-Prince, since sanctions were imposed. Research by Edward Kennedy's office shows that in a 14-week period in 1991-92, eight ships left Liverpool for Haiti. Although Britain has no legal duty to enforce the sanctions, we believe its moral obligation is clear, if, as it claims, it supports efforts to restore President Aristide to power.

Political terror and sheer desperation have forced many Haitians to flee the country in leaky fishing boats. Their efforts to find refuge have been in vain. In May, George Bush signed an Executive Order allowing the US coastguard to repatriate Haitian refugees without screening. It is the first time the US has repatriated refugees to a country ruled by a regime it does not recognise. Tragically, Britain seems to be following suit. Some 119 Haitians from the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British Dependent Territory in the Caribbean, were repatriated to Haiti in July this year.

The Government should state unequivocally that it recognises President Aristide as Haiti's sole legitimate head of state and put pressure on UK companies supplying the regime in Haiti to observe the economic sanctions. It should also use its influence with the EC Council of Ministers and the UN Security Council to press for mandatory sanctions on Haiti and pledge that there will be no compulsory repatriation of Haitian refugees from British Dependent Territories.

Yours faithfully,

SEEAR, JOHN BATTLE, MP, PAUL BOATENG, MP, JOHN PRITCHARD (General Secretary, Methodist church overseas division)

London, EC1