March 13, 2005
The following is excerpted from a February 24, 2005 article by Lyn Duff which appeared on-line in Znet.
It was the middle of the night when masked men armed with semi-automatic assault rifles burst into the Cap Haitian home of 14-year-old Marjory, the oldest daughter of a local trade unionist. The men were members of the disbanded Haitian military who reformed into the armed gangs who overthrew democratically-elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide one year ago. When they discovered that her father, who the political opposition sought because of his support for the pro-democracy movement, was in hiding, Marjory says, the armed men did the unthinkable.
For three hours different men raped Marjory, her mother and an 11-year-old cousin. It's been six months since she was attacked but Marjory remembers every moment of that night. She describes her attackers in detail, down to the scars on one man's hands and the smell of cigarettes on another's jacket. She avoids eye contact when telling her story, saying that she is embarrassed to tell what happened to her.
"They violated me. [When it was happening] I closed my eyes and waited for them to finish... One of the men told me to open my eyes and look at him while he [raped me]. I didn't want to look at him. They hit me when I cried."
Marjory is part of a growing number of girls and young women who human rights investigators say have been victims of mass rape committed by members of the disbanded military and their compatriots who patrol the countryside and Haiti's cities, hunting down supporters of Haiti's fledgling pro-democracy movement.
Marjory says she was targeted because her father's trade union organized against a wealthy businessman and because her parents are members of Lavalas, the political party led by Jean Bertrand Aristide. Other victims say they were targeted because they or their family members belong to other pro-democracy political organizations or because they work with peasant unions or local women's groups.
"Rape is becoming a common tool of oppression," explains attorney Mario Joseph whose organization Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) has investigated hundreds of human rights cases in the past year. Joseph, who assisted in the prosecution of the human rights crimes committed during the last coup says that it is discouraging to see the number of convicted human rights violators who are now walking free and serving in the new American-installed interim government.
"Women and young girls are raped because their father or another relative is a member of Lavalas or is targeted [by the political opposition]. They are raped as a form of punishment. The victims do not feel they can go to the police for help with their problems because in many areas the people who victimized them are the ones running the show; they are the ones patrolling the streets as if they are police, committing crimes with impunity under the eyes of the UN. And even in Port-au-Prince, the former military has been hired into the national police force."
According to Charles Leon, chief of the Haitian National Police, 500 former members of the Haitian Army have been integrated into the police force, with plans for an additional 500-1000 former soldiers to be hired within the next year. Haiti's army was disbanded in 1994 by then President Jean Bertrand Aristide after soldiers committed numerous human rights violations, including mass rapes, during the 1991-94 coup.
United Nations soldiers have also been accused of participating in sexual attacks. Damian Onses-Cardona, spokesperson for the UN mission in Haiti, announced this week that they are "very urgently" investigating a case in which Pakistani soldiers were accused of raping a 23-year-old woman at a banana plantation in the northern town of Gonaives.
"The foreigners grabbed me and pulled my pants down, had me lie on the ground and then raped me," said the woman who asked that her name be withheld. She says two soldiers raped her while a third watched. More than 7,000 UN troops from countries including China, Brazil and the United States, among others, are stationed in Haiti.