Amnesty International is seriously concerned that Haiti is descending into a severe humanitarian and human rights crisis. After weeks of insurrection by the armed opposition, President Aristide left Haiti on February 29. Since his departure the situation has remained volatile as spontaneous clashes between Aristide's supporters and members of the armed opposition continue to erupt despite the presence of a multinational force authorized by the U.N. Security Council in Haiti. It is feared that continued violence will result in more deaths and mass exodus of refugees.
Amnesty International is distressed by the number of killings and human rights abuses committed in the context of clashes between police, armed Aristide supporters, and the armed opposition. Fears remain that unlawful killings and lootings may wreak further havoc on the country if the rebels and Aristide supporters fail to disarm.
Amnesty International is alarmed by the humanitarian consequences of the violence in Haiti. Traffic through Haiti's main ports has been severely disrupted, blocking imports of food and water on which civilians rely, with petrol and other supplies running low. The poorest country in the Western hemisphere, Haiti's political gridlock threatens to sweep the country into an appalling humanitarian crisis.
As the situation remains volatile, Haitians are likely to continue to seek asylum outside the country. Authorities of the neighboring Dominican Republic have announced that their border-crossings are closed, and US President George W. Bush has announced that "we will turn back any refugee that attempts to reach our shore." and set up a cordon of Coast Guard vessels off the Haitian coast to deter boat departures. So far, more than 1,000 Haitian boat people have been summarily returned. Turning refugees back to likely persecution is a violation of international refugee law.
Amnesty International is extremely concerned that Haitian judicial institutions have been further weakened by the recent political turmoil, making it difficult to hold authorities and armed opposition groups accountable for the deaths of hundreds of civilians since February 5. Furthermore, former military and paramilitary leaders responsible for serious human rights violations have taken up leadership positions within Haiti's armed opposition, and may demand impunity and a significant role in defining Haiti's future. If Haiti is to overcome the cycle of violence that has plagued the country the past decade, it must move quickly to ensure impunity does not take hold in the post-Aristide era.