Violence against women in Haiti has increased since the 1991 coup, when the military took power. This violence includes the violence of poverty, which has forced many women into prostitution. There are reports of girls as young as 9 years old being kidnapped and sold to Dominican-run prostitution rings. Rape is also on the increase, with many of the rapes being committed by the Haitian military and the Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH). A victim who has been twice gang-raped said, “The crime is that those who should be protecting us don’t. They rape us instead.”
In the last week of September, the InterPress Service reported that a coalition of U.S. and Haitian women’s organisations called on the Interamerican Human Rights Com- mission to document and press charges in cases of sexual abuse of women by the Haitian military regime. The coalition’s proposal included sworn statements by victims, like Alerte Belance, who was raped and attacked with a machete when FRAPH members burst into her home looking for her husband. “I am here to tell my story only because they thought I was dead,” she told the Commission.
Belance said she was worried that the military would not be held responsible for their acts if the amnesty law included in the agreement between Haiti’s military regime and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is passed.
At a press conference, Rhonda Copelon of the Harvard Law School said the group seeks official recognition that rape and sexual abuse are common forms of torture in Haiti. “We want the Commission to send a research mission to avert future human rights violations. We ask that the international community disarm the forces involved in the campaign of terror,” she said.
The following report by Anna Hamilton Phelan of Artists for Democracy in Haiti (reprinted from July 1994 The Witness, 1249 Washington, Blvd., Suite 3115, Detroit, MI, 48226-1822, US) explains how other women are fighting this injustice:
“In Haiti it is common to see naked male children, as the heat is oppressive. However, even in the sweltering slum of Cité Soleil, the genitals of female children are covered. This practice honors the ‘birth part’ of female as the ‘pathway of life’. Such respect, people say, was largely responsible for there being so few rapes in Haiti.
“But that’s changed. Since September 1991 when the democratically elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted by a military coup, incidents of rape of women and girls have increased alarmingly. And these rapes have a specific purpose. My research confirms the May 19 statement of the UN/OAS International Civilian Mission that “rape has emerged as a tool of political repression in Haiti. “
“I just returned from Haiti where, with the help of an anthropologist who has worked in Haiti for 10 years on women’s reproductive health, I was able to enter neighborhoods and videotape the testimonies of some rape survivors. All were assaulted by members of the military, the police or the newly formed anti-democratic political party known as FRAPH. Many were told during assaults that they were being raped because they or their male partners participated in democratic activities.
“The women who came forward took an enormous risk. They knew I could not help them to leave Haiti. They understood they would not be financially compensated. Because of the constant presence of FRAPH in these neighborhoods, I went in as a health care worker with a camcorder (small video camera) hidden in my bag. Women guarded the doors. When FRAPH members appeared, the women would sing, signalling to us to turn out the camera light and be quiet.
“In one account, Jacqueline’s husband was a pro-democracy activist who refused to remove Aristide’s poster from his wall. When the military came after him, he went into hiding. Jacqueline was living with her aunt when seven members of the military broke into their tin and cardboard shack. They accused her of knowing where her boyfriend was, voting for Aristide and being in the resistance. Then each man raped her. They told her they would return. Her aunt, afraid for her own safety, would no longer hide her. Jacqueline seeks shelter each night in the shacks of others.
“As unimaginable as the living conditions are for the poor of Haiti, the fear that engulfs them is worse, especially al night when the military takes to the streets in its trucks.”