When the United States intervened in Haiti in September 1994, ending a military dictatorship, American GIs seized 60,000 documents from the headquarters of the Haitian army and the regime's notorious paramilitary organization, FRAPH.
Five years later, most of those papers remain warehoused in the basement of the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, prompting charges from human rights activists and U.N. officials that Washington is delaying justice for former Haitian leaders.
To step up pressure on Washington, Adama Dieng, the U.N. Secretary General's human rights envoy to Haiti, asked the 188-member United Nations General Assembly today to pass a resolution urging the U.S. government to turn over the files to the current Haitian government.
The U.N. may not decide for weeks whether to vote on the resolution, and in any event it would not be binding on the United States. But it would spotlight the murky connections between the former Haitian dictatorship and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Dieng and other human rights advocates believe that the documents contain evidence about Haitian death squads in the early 1990s. He also alleges that Washington may be reluctant to hand over the documents because they would reveal that some of the worst human rights abusers were on the CIA payroll.
"I think the U.S. administration is trying to cover up some of its wrongdoing in that period," Dieng said, noting that FRAPH's former leader, Emmanuel "Toto" Constant, now a resident of Queens, N.Y., has repeatedly claimed to have worked for the CIA.
U.S. officials deny any cover-up. A State Department official said Thursday that the United States has offered to return all of the files to Haiti, as long as it can delete the names of a small number of American citizens that appear in the documents. Haiti, however, has demanded that it be given all the documents in their entirety. The two countries are negotiating.
"The documents don't have much in them, travel receipts, laundry tickets. We would love to get rid of them," said one U.S. official, adding that "somewhere in those 60,000 documents there might be something that could help [prosecute human rights abusers], and we would gladly give them to the Haitians."
Reed Brody, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch in New York, said the documents reportedly contain photographs of torture victims, videotapes of torture sessions and membership applications for FRAPH.
"These thugs terrorized Haiti for three years," Brody said. "The United States has taken away a potential gold mine of evidence that could help bring some of these people to justice."
Robert O. Varenik, an attorney at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, said that both the U.S. and Haitian governments share responsibility for preventing FRAPH's victims from having their day in court. Varenik believes that Haiti has been reluctant to prosecute former officials of the military regime and has halfheartedly pursued the documents.
Varenik added that a CIA memo linking Constant to the murder of a former Haitian justice minister emerged in a court case brought against FRAPH in New York. "We believe those documents contain information on human rights crimes committed by people who may still pose a threat to Haitian society," he said. "Until that information comes to light, the victims have no remedy and those people will remain at large."