Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Police and political groups linked to Haiti sex attacks

Andrew Buncombe
Monday 04 September 2006 00:00 BST

More than 30,000 women and girls - half under the age of 18 - were raped in Haiti's capital city in the chaotic two years following the ousting of the country's democratically elected president, a survey has suggested. About 8,000 people were killed during the same period.

The survey highlights the extraordinary violence at a time when the country was headed by an interim government imposed by the international community, following the enforced departure of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. "Our results indicate that crime and systematic abuse of human rights were common in [the capital] Port-au-Prince," the researchers from Wayne State University in Michigan said. "Although criminals were the most identified perpetrators of violations, political actors and UN soldiers were also frequently identified.

"These findings suggest the need for a systematic response from the newly elected Haitian government, the UN and social service organisations to address the ... consequences of human rights abuses."

Mr Aristide was forced from power in February 2004 by a coalition of former soldiers, members of the business community and US-backed political opponents. Following elections earlier this year, Rene Preval, a former president, was chosen to again lead the country.

The survey, based on random sampling and extrapolation, suggests that between February 2004 and December 2005, a total of 35,000 women were sexually assaulted. Of those attacks, 90 per cent involved rapes. The survey, published in The Lancet, does not make any comparison to the incidence of rape and killing prior to Mr Aristide's ousting. However, both the report's authors and other human rights workers said they believe the level of rape is directly linked to a high level of general violence and lawlessness - conditions that existed in abundance during the interim government period.

"Unfortunately, I think the rates are higher than we had anticipated," said one of the study's authors, Professor Royce Hutson.

He said that, while around half of rape perpetrators were identified as "general criminals", about 14 per cent were members of the Haitian National Police (HNP), a further 12 per cent as members of anti-Aristide groups, with about 25 per cent unidentified. He said the involvement of people with political links and the police suggested something " systematic" may have been taking place.

Of the 8,000 killings - a rate that would give the interim government one of the worst human rights records in the hemisphere - 22 per cent were committed by the police, 26 per cent by the demobilised army or armed anti-Aristide groups and 48 per cent by criminals. Both the HNP and members of the demobilised army acted against supporters of Mr Aristide and his Lavalas party.

Despite the election of Mr Preval, violence and rape has continued. Last Friday several hundred rape victims marched through the centre of Port-au-Prince, their faces covered by veils, to highlight the ongoing crisis. Organiser Eramithe Delva, of the Commission of Women Victims for Victims (KOFAVIV), said: "We are veiling our faces because this is how they come to our homes to rape us, beat us, destroy our homes, burn our things."

Anne Sosin, of the group Vizyon Dwa Ayisyen (Haiti Rights Vision), said: "Cases of rape have increased dramatically during the past two years. Rape is not being used a tool of political repression in the way it was during the 1991-94 period, where women were targeted because of their political activities or that of their husbands. These rapes are happening in the context of the current political crisis and are being perpetrated by groups that often have links to political actors."

The survey does not identify Lavalas supporters as being involved in any rapes or killings, although such people could be included in other categories. Brian Concannon, of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, said: "There are cases where family members have reported, during the same period, that Lavalas supporters and foreign soldiers are responsible for killings. The cases must be infrequent enough to not necessarily show up on this type of survey."

History of rape and murder

Sexual assault as a form of political repression has a long history in Haiti. A court in New York last week heard evidence against Emmanuel " Toto" Constant, a Haitian now living in the US, who led military death squads that raped and tortured followers of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the early 1990s.

Under the military regime that ruled Haiti between 1991-94, the paramilitary group Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH) was responsible for a wave of killing and rape. In 2004, three unidentified women filed a lawsuit against Mr Constant. The hearing in New York was to determine whether Mr Constant owes damages to three women. He is in prison on mortgage fraud charges and did not attend the hearing.

One of the three woman told the court that masked men had burst into her home in Port-au-Prince in 1994 and raped her while her children saw " everything that was being done to me". She gave her evidence through a translator and from behind a screen, to hide her identity.

In 1996 the US State Department allowed Mr Constant to avoid deportation to Haiti and live freely in the US despite his position as head of FRAPH. Mr Constant says he worked for the CIA at the time.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in