U.S. interference in Aristide’s return to Haiti violates international law
The United States government, in violation of international human rights treaties, is currently trying to prevent the return to Haiti of twice-elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was deposed in a U.S.-backed coup d’etat in 2004. He has been living in exile in South Africa ever since.
The State Department warned Monday that Aristide’s presence in Haiti could disrupt a runoff election being held on Sunday that will decide Haiti’s next leader. President Obama also personally phoned South African President Jacob Zuma to express his “deep concerns” about exiled former president Aristide’s planned return to Haiti, an official said on Thursday.
“Mr. Aristide has chosen to remain outside of Haiti for seven years,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said. “To return this week can only be seen as a conscious choice to impact Haiti’s elections… Return prior to the election may potentially be destabilizing to the political process.”
Besides being untrue (Aristide never left Haiti voluntarily, but rather was forced into exile under U.S. pressure in 2004), the State Department’s opposition to Aristide’s return is legally dubious, as a prominent group of lawyers wrote in a letter to Cheryl Mills, U.S. Department of State Chief of Staff yesterday.
The letter to Chief of Staff Mills explains that the U.S. government’s interference in President Aristide’s return violates his rights guaranteed by Haiti’s Constitution and international law:
Haiti’s Constitution guarantees the right of any Haitian national to return to the country. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which is binding on both the United States and Haiti, declares that “[n]o one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.”
The DOS justification for restricting President Aristide’s constitutional and human rights– that his “return this week could only be seen as a conscious choice to impact Haiti’s elections” is itself a violation of his political rights, including his right to free expression, freedom of association, and freedom to take part in the conduct of public affairs.
Bill Quigley, Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, stated that “the United States trying to control when any Haitian citizen—especially a former President—can enter Haiti is outrageous. It violates a stack of binding international human rights treaties. I felt compelled to speak out to defend both President Aristide’s human rights and the American tradition of rule of law that I teach in my classroom.”
The letter, signed by more than 100 lawyers and law professors, points out that the State Department’s expressed justification for restricting President Aristide’s right to return home—a fear that he might “impact” Sunday’s election, is an additional violation of Aristide’s rights to free expression and freedom to take part in the conduct of public affairs. The letter calls such statements “especially disturbing” coming from a State Department that has noted human rights experts on its staff.
It could be added that it is also especially disturbing that given the U.S.’s long history of abuses toward Haiti — much of it based on brazen racism — America’s first black president is apparently continuing this shameful legacy.
For his part, Aristide says that he does not intend to be involved with Sunday’s election, but rather, plans to get involved with educational projects and teach. He wants to return before Sunday’s election because he worries that the next president may not allow him to return.