Port au Prince — As pressure from Haiti’s elite on MINUSTAH (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti) continues to escalate, so too does the violence perpetrated by UN forces against civilians in Cite Soleil. The death toll in the desperately poor neighborhood has been climbing steadily since the Group 184 organized a business strike and a demonstration on January 16th outside UN headquarters in Port-au-Prince with the aim of pushing MINUSTAH to do more to provide security and eliminate so-called terrorists in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. At least 10 civilians have been killed by UN forces this week.
Many feel that more killings could also be in order in retaliation for the January 17th deaths of two Jordanian MINUSTAH soldiers in Cite Soleil. Representatives from Cite Soleil contest that no one from the community was involved in these killings, and that outsider intervention is a possibility.
Residents of Cite Soleil showed us the bodies of two of the most recent victims of MINUSTAH’s campaign of terror. Jean Ericson, a man in his early 20′s, lies dead on the sidewalk in a pool of his own blood. His neighbors tell us he was killed by MINUSTAH bullets at 9:00 am on January 19th. The second body is a short walk away. An unidentified man lies with a bullet hole in his chest. He was a porter, residents tell us, one of many who pull heavy loads in the hot sun in order to survive. They show us his empty cart a few blocks away.
Our next visit is Ste-Catherine’s hospital, where we meet eight-year-old Valencia who was shot in the leg during a MINUSTAH attack on her home during the night of January 18th. We learn more disturbing news at the hospital. It was itself a target of MINUSTAH fire that same night. Lani Byeneme, who was present at the hospital with her 13 year-old child, Aline Jean-Denis, during the attack explains: â€œYesterday night, we were sleeping here, and MINUSTAH came to kill us. It was MINUSTAH that shot the bullet which almost killed my little child. The window was broken, and it fell on the bed of the child.â€ Small children and their parents look on as we photograph bullet holes in the glass window of the children’s ward.
Thus far, the only MINUSTAH personnel we have come in contact with have been ensconsed in their armed personnel carriers. However, as we drive through Pele, another slum area adjacent to Cite Soleil, we see armed blue-helmeted soldiers out patrolling a busy street. They are accompanied by a masked man who is questioning people, including a woman sitting by the side of the road. She tells us that he is a Cite Soleil resident who has been hired by MINUSTAH to lead them to the ‘chimeres’, the armed bandits who are supposedly terrorizing the neighborhood.
The actions of MINUSTAH in Cite Soleil make one wonder just whom is terrorizing whom. The Geneva convention states that â€œCombatants must distinguish between civilian and military objects and attack only military targets.â€ (Protocol I, Art. 48). Residents that we interviewed stressed that the two men who had been gunned down in the street were unarmed. It is impossible to make the argument that eight year old Valencia is a combatant. The Geneva convention also specifically protects hospitals, stating that â€œFixed establishments and mobile medical units must be protected and respected by all sides in a conflict.â€ (Convention I, Art. 19). If the United Nations is willing to ignore international law to serve the interests of the rich in Haiti, it should be cause for concern not only for residents of Cite Soleil, but for citizens the countries like Canada whose governments are supporting the UN mission here.
[Leslie Bagg is an activist and independent journalist based in Montreal. She will be in Haiti filing reports during the month of January. Leslie can be reached at [email protected]]