102.    Since the coup d'état of September 29, 1991, thousands of Haitians have fled the country, setting out by sea aboard small and unsafe craft.  One of the reasons for the massive exodus of Haitians is the harsh crackdown against groups that support President Aristide, which was particularly brutal in certain neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince.  Another reason for the massive exodus has been the very bad economic situation, which was exacerbated by the predictable shortages resulting form the trade embargo.


         103.    The crackdown and the deteriorating political and economic situation forced many people to flee the country, many across the border into the Dominican Republic, others aboard small boats bound for the United States.  Other boats headed for Belize, Cuba, Honduras, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela, their passengers seeking asylum.  While the United States Coast Guard intercepted many of these boats, it is suspected that many others have sunk and their passengers drowned.


         104.    Prior to the coup d'état in Haiti, the United States Government, based on a bilateral agreement with Haiti, had a policy of intercepting Haitian vessels on the international waters of the Caribbean Sea and returning their passengers to their country of origin.  Over a ten-year period (September 1981-September 1991) approximately 20,000 Haitians had been intercepted under the terms of that agreement.  Since the coup d'état, estimates are that some 40,000 Haitian nationals have been intercepted by the Coast Guard, and 30,000 of them returned to Haiti.


         105.    Once the boats were intercepted, the Haitians were taken to the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where they were interviewed by representatives of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service to determine whether, under international law, they were eligible for refugee status.


         106.    The United States Government had argued that the Haitians' reasons for fleeing their country were mostly economic in nature and not political, so that they had to be screened before asylum could be granted.  On November 18 and 19, 1991, the United States authorities returned to Haiti over 500 people who had requested asylum.  As a result of these events, many suits were filed in the United States federal courts in Florida, by nongovernmental organizations representing the refugee "boat people".  The suits were based on the possible physical danger to which these people would be exposed if they were forcefully repatriated.


         107.    The U.S. district court issued a preliminary injunction to suspend the enforced returns.  At the same time, the news media and attorneys for the boat people were authorized to visit Guantanamo Bay.  It was said that some 33% of the cases involved people who were eligible for refugee status.


         108.    On January 31, 1992, the Solicitor General requested a stay of the preliminary injunction issued by the U.S. district court, which the United States Supreme Court granted.  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights twice requested the United States Government to suspend the practice of returning the Haitians on humanitarian grounds.


         109.    As the massive exodus of Haitians continued, on May 24, 1992, the United States Government enacted the "Interdiction of Illegal Aliens" Executive Order which revoked and replaced the 1981 order.  It would allow any Haitian intercepted on the high seas by the United States Coast Guard to be returned immediately to Haiti.  Under the terms of that executive order, the Attorney General requires Haitians seeking asylum in the United States to apply through the United States Embassy in Port-au-Prince.  It was said that the purpose of the executive order was to protect the lives of Haitians who set out to reach the United States in unsafe crafts.


         110.    Some argued that the executive order was based on the premise that the principle of non-refoulement contained in the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees did not apply because Article 33 was not self-executing as to persons situated outside United States territory.  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the other hand, stated that paragraph 1, Article 33 of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, concerning the principle of non-refoulement, was self-executing both within and outside United States territory.


         111.    On July 29, 1992, the Federal Court of Appeals declared that United States laws prohibited the government from returning Haitians who were fleeing the country in vessels without determining first whether they were being persecuted.  The Court added that the current United States policy of intercepting all vessels that would appear to be carrying Haitian refugees prevented those refugees from seeking asylum in other countries such as the Bahamas, Jamaica, or Cuba.  On August 1, after the Government appealed that decision, the Supreme Court, by a vote of seven to two, suspended the injunction, thus allowing the government to continue its policy of intercepting and returning Haitian refugees.


         112.    The Supreme Court set August 24, 1992, as the deadline for the Government to submit its case, while attorneys for the Haitian refugees would have until September to argue their points.  The outcome of this legal proceeding is not yet known.  It is possible that the process will go on until all remedies have been exhausted, which means that Haitian refugees will continue to be repatriated without being given a hearing to make their case for asylum.


         113.    Earlier it was announced that the refugee facilities at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base had reached maximum capacity.  The Immigration and Naturalization Service reported that 10,736 Haitians had been moved to the United States so that their applications might be processed, except for some 274 people who turned out to be HIV-positive and would therefore remain at the Guantanamo Bay facilities; their applications for asylum would continue to be processed from there.


         114.    The first week in January 1993, 45 Haitian refugees went on a hunger strike at the Krome Detention Center (located on the outskirts of Miami) to protest the immigration policy, which they claimed gave preference to Cuban refugees.  The hunger strike began two days after the release of 48 Cubans who had arrived in Miami on December 29, 1992, aboard a commercial airliner that had been rerouted.


         115.    As January 20, 1993, approached, departures of refugees resumed and it was feared that when the new administration took office in the United States, there would be a massive exodus of 200,000 refugees.  On January 14, President-elect Bill Clinton went on radio with a message asking Haitians to remain in their country and informing them that when he was sworn into office, the "boat people" would continue to be intercepted and returned to Haiti.  The new administration announced a global plan to restore democracy in Haiti and secure the return of deposed President Aristide.  It also reported that operation "Able Manner", involving 20 United States Navy vessels and 10 aircraft, was being launched just off the Haitian coastline to prevent hundreds of Haitians from perishing at sea.  Human rights groups representing the Haitian refugees condemned the announcement, saying that the action was a violation of international law and United States law, which make it unlawful to return the refugees and expose them to reprisals without giving them an opportunity to establish their eligibility for asylum.


         116.    Some 236 Haitians were intercepted and taken directly to Haiti during the first week of this year.  Another 102 refugees, among them eight survivors of the sinking "Vierge Mirage" which had 400 Haitians on board, returned from Cuba via the air-bridge between Cuba and Haiti.  That bridge was the initiative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in cooperation with the Red Cross of both countries.  Some sources say that since January 12, 1,298 refugees have decided to return to Haiti voluntarily.


         117.    Once the refugees are returned to Haiti, they are met by customs officials, who fingerprint and photograph them, and take their general data.  Members of the International Committee of the Red Cross and diplomats from the United States Embassy have said that the refugees are not mistreated upon their arrival.  However, human rights groups have said that the exhaustive identification made of each one of the refugees has created certain fear of what could happen to them later.


         118.    In certain cases it was indicated that a number of repatriated haitians were arrested at their homes and later some of them were found dead.  Others were beaten in public by soldiers who forced them under threat of arms to identify other repatriated persons.  In other cases it was indicated that some repatriated individuals were taken to the National Penitentiary where they were subjected to torture and denied food.




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