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Barack Obama's presidency

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Aristide's Right to Return to Haiti

By Nat Parry
March 17, 2011

Editor’s Note: News reports indicate that former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide may return to his home country this week, ending a seven-year exile begun when George W. Bush’s administration collaborated with a right-wing coup to terminate Aristide’s second elected term and hustle him out of Haiti.

Though Aristide is still despised by Haiti’s small upper crust and by the U.S. political/media Establishment, he remains extraordinarily popular among Haiti’s poor – and the Obama administration’s argument against his return flies in the face of international law, as Nat Parry notes in this guest essay:

The United States government, in violation of international human rights treaties, is trying to prevent the return to Haiti of twice-elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was deposed in a U.S.-backed coup d’etat in 2004.

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.

“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 intense 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.

The letter, signed by more than 100 lawyers and law professors, explains that 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.”

The letter calls such state­ments “especially disturbing” coming from a State Department that has noted human rights experts on its staff.

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.”

It could be added that it is also “especially disturbing” given the long history of U.S. abuses toward Haiti – dating back to the early day of the American Republic – much of that history based on brazen racism. America’s first black president is apparently continuing this shameful tradition.

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.

Nat Parry is co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.

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