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.

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Campaigning for a United States in compliance with its international obligations. Follow on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/compliancecamp Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/compliancecamp Comments, article submissions or news leads are welcome at compliancecampaign [at] gmail.com.

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