U.S. State Department Geographic Bureaus: Latin America Bureau

U.S. Department of State
96/09/27 Testimony on Haiti
Office of the Spokesman

Statement of Joseph G. Sullivan, Special Haiti Coordinator,
before the House International Relations Committee, Washington,
DC, September 27, 1996.

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for the opportunity to appear before this committee to brief you on the recent actions we have taken to assist President Preval reform and retrain elements of the Presidential palace security unit. I would like to provide you an overview of our actions and underlying policy, and then my colleagues and I will be glad to respond to specific questions.

Haiti is a neighbor which for most of 200 years has not seen the effective application of the rule of law nor the development of effective institutions of government. Just two years ago, prior to the U.S.-led intervention, law enforcement and justice was virtually absent in Haiti. There was no police force and the Haitian Army was viewed as an enemy of the people. An uncontrolled outflow of thousands of Haitian migrants in unsafe vessels fleeing to the United States was under way. During the years of the de facto regime, over 58,000 Haitian migrants were interdicted by the U.S. Coast Guard.

But Haiti has moved away from this dismal scenario. We have seen concrete improvements. The uncontrolled outflow of migrants, which in fiscal year 1994 alone cost the U.S. Government about $400 million, has ended and the illegal migrant flow was virtually zero over the past three months. President Aristide was restored to office. His elected successor, President Preval, is courageously implementing the economic reform measures needed to put the economy back on track, to encourage private investment and gain the assistance of the international financial institutions. The Army has been disbanded and a new civilian Haitian National Police has deployed 5,200 new officers selected in an open, apolitical, rigorous and competitive national process. Five of nine Department HNP Directors, senior management supervisors, have received training and have assumed their duties. Seventy three Commissaires, middle management supervisors, have completed their training and are gradually and selectively being assigned to the most critical posts to provide supervision to the HNP officers. Another 63 Commissaires awaiting assignment or completing training should be in the field in the next two months.

President Preval has taken steps to rid his government of individuals involved in or accused of human rights abuses, and he continues to focus on this issue. Despite these and other notable advances, challenges remain. The new security structures still lack experience and specialized technical training. The HNP is making definite progress, but it is an institution that still needs our help, like the other institutions of the fledgling Haitian democracy.

The problems of common crime and political violence aimed at destabilizing the Preval government have been recurrent challenges testing the HNP. Yet, even in the face of these formidable problems, it is clear that the level of political violence in Haiti has declined significantly. Human rights groups estimated that some 3,000 political murders took place during the 1991-1994 Haitian coup period. By comparison, since September 1994, these same groups estimate that there have been about two dozen execution-style killings in Haiti, in which a political motive appears possible. Any murder is one too many, but there have been clear improvements in a country with a long tradition of political violence.

This improvement reflects the fact that the democratically- elected governments have the support of the Haitian people and have sought to end pervasive human rights abuses.

Recently, Port au Prince has experienced a threat to civil order with attacks on government buildings, the murders of nine policemen since March, and rumors of coup and assassination plots, followed by the August 20 murders of opposition politicians Antoine Leroy and Jacques Fleurival. This spike in violence and indications that elements of the Presidential Security Unit were involved in the Leroy/Fleurival killings prompted President Preval to undertake a reorganization, vetting and retraining of the Presidential Security Unit and the National Palace Residential Guard. In order to insure that the security threat is confronted appropriately, the Haitian Government initiated a broad-based investigation into all recent incidents of violence. President Preval reiterated his conviction that there was no place in palace security for those linked to crime, corruption and the violation of human rights.

On August 30, National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott, and other administration officials traveled to Haiti to discuss, among other issues, our concerns about reports of official involvement in the August 20 murders and assistance we might provide to help President Preval carry out the vetting and re-organization of his palace security apparatus. Based upon his decision to reorganize the presidential security unit, President Preval requested that the United States send a temporary deployment of security specialists to assist him in carrying out the reorganization and retraining of palace security. He announced publically on September 17, that he had already suspended the Director and Deputy Director of the palace security unit pending investigation of their possible involvement in the August 20 murders.

As you are aware, the U.S. Government provided assistance to the Government of Haiti under Section 552 (c) (2) of the Foreign Assistance Act. We have sent 20 Department of State and 12 Department of Defense civilian security personnel to assist the eight contract security personnel and two DS advisers already assigned to assist the Palace security unit. This augmented team of security personnel is assisting in providing security to President Preval, retraining palace security elements and training new personnel that will be assigned to the palace as a review and vetting of the current Haitian palace security agents is carried out.

Haiti still has many problems and there still are problems in instituting the rule of law and in assuring that the new security forces do not violate their mandate. What is very important is that when such violations occur, the Haitian Government be prepared to deal with them.

When the OAS/UN Civilian Mission in Haiti (MICIVIH) issued its report in July of this year and documented instances of human rights abuses by HNP personnel, the Police Inspector General undertook an investigation, suspending a number of agents, recommending dismissal of others and preparing submission of several cases for possible prosecution.

President Preval has unequivocally reiterated his determination to make the rule of law a reality for the Haitian people. The establishment of Haiti's first civilian, professional police force and the determination to end the systematic violation of human rights typical of the former Haitian security services are significant advances toward this goal. President Preval is determined to ensure that these advances are not undermined by criminal actions of any individuals in the security force. He is taking steps to address that problem and we are assisting in that effort.

The problems of inexperienced and inefficient police and judicial systems and political violence are not unique to Haiti. The are endemic to countries making the transition from authoritarian to democratic societies, and no country has had further to travel in this regard than Haiti. But, Haitian authorities have moved to deal with these problems with U.S. and international assistance. Haiti's police and security establishment remain inexperienced and ill equipped, but are advancing in the gradual process toward becoming the effective institution required for a functioning democracy.

We firmly believe that it is in our national interest to support President Preval as he continues work to build Haitian democracy and its institutions.

I want to note at the beginning of this testimony that I shall answer questions as fully as I can in open session. In those instances where classified information is involved I would be pleased to go into more detail in a closed session.

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