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Human rights abuse and other criminal violations in Port-au-Prince, Haiti: a random survey of households (Part II)

By Athena R Kolbe MSW and   Dr Royce A Hutson PhDA new study has just been released by the Wayne State University Human Investigations Committee based in London.It was also published in the journal The Lancet, a British scholarly journal. Knowing the importance of such document, CSMS Magazine believes it would be of great interest to our readers, who might otherwise be unaware of such pertinent study, to have an opportunity to read it. Because of the lack of a graphic system on the site, it might be difficult to read the table. Because of the length of the report, we had to split it in two parts.Restaveks, in particular, are victims in two disturbing ways. First, restaveks are often relegated to second-class citizenship and in many ways could be considered modern-day child slaves. Few attend school and many often work in labor-intensive activities that would be judged as human rights abuses by international standards.22 Secondly, this second-class status seems to make them more vulnerable to sexual exploitation by others, although respondents might have been more likely to report abuse of restaveks than abuse of other children in the household, because of the restavek’s perceived status as household property.     Criminals and unknown assailants were the most cited perpetrators of sexual abuse. Improvements in law enforcement, vigorous prosecution of perpetrators, and increased awareness about child sexual abuse through public education campaigns could decrease the rate of such abuse substantially.23 Rapes by police officers present a different challenge. HNP officers and other official government security forces reportedly committed almost one in eight rapes. As with murders, we believe that a reordering and retraining of the police force in Haiti might be necessary to address this problem. Identification and prosecution of police officers who commit sexual offences should be a priority for the new administration.     Threats of death, bodily harm, sexual violence were common and came not only from criminals, but also from both the HNP (and other government security forces) and foreign troops. The most commonly identified perpetrators of death threats, besides criminals, were UN troops. Of the UN troops identified, half were from Brazil or Jordan. Brazilian and Jordanian soldiers were also noted by respondents for issuing the majority of physical threats and threats of sexual violence by foreign soldiers. These findings support media reports24 of abuse by UN peacekeepers, particularly Brazilian25 and Jordanian troops.26 The retraining of some peacekeeping soldiers seems to be necessary.     Non-governmental organisations, churches, and women’s organisations might need to establish coordinated services to meet the needs of sexual assault survivors. The number of rape victims shows the overwhelming need for psychological, medical, and social support services. Culturally appropriate therapeutic interventions should be developed, especially for vulnerable populations such as children and elderly victims.     Medical services should be offered to victims of torture and other physical and sexual assaults. Extensive research already exists on the most effective ways of providing such services to victims, their families, and their communities through the establishment of neighbourhood clinics, public-health programmes, and peer intervention projects. Haitians should be able to access free or affordable medical services to resolve problems caused by human rights violations.    The newly elected government of Rene Preval, the UN leadership in Haiti, and social service non-governmental organisations need to take concrete measures to investigate the extent of human rights violations throughout the country. Understanding the extent and severity of the abuses experienced by individuals and communities can provide the necessary information for development of programmes to address the health consequences and alleviate the emotional suffering of victims.    The frequency of human rights violations, and especially the prevalence of sexual violence against women, demands a serious and thorough response from the international community, the new Haitian government, and non-governmental organisations working in the region. The new administration should take steps to stop any ongoing human rights abuses through various domestic and international systems.ContributorsA Kolbe was principally responsible for survey instrument design, hiring, training, and overseeing the interview staff, leading the study teams, coordinating all logistical aspects of the study, and data entry and organization. R Hutson was principally responsible for data analysis and data interpretation. The authors were jointly responsible for sampling design and preparation of the manuscript.Conflict of interest statementWe declare that we have no conflict of interest.AcknowledgmentsWe thank the School of Social Work at Wayne State University for their material support for this survey. Many thanks and remembrances go to Marla Ruzika (1977–2005) for her technical assistance with the GPS methodology and human rights investigation protocols. We also acknowledge and thank the interviewers who risked grave danger to complete the surveys in this troubled region, Bart Miles at the Wayne State University School of Social Work for his insightful editorial comments, Nomi Klein for her professional data entry and organization, and the United States Embassy-Political Section, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, for assistance with the mapping of Port-au-Prince.


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