The Dominican Government has offered police protection to Fr Pedro Ruquoy, a 52-year-old Belgian priest working with Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic , who has been subjected to a relentless campaign of threats and assaults.
Protection was offered after Fr Ruquoy's case was taken up by Amnesty International. Press reports also accused him of blackening the republic's international image by alleging brutality and discrimination against illegal immigrants from neighbouring Haiti .
One paper suggested last month that the priest, who has been living in the Dominican Republic for 30 years, was himself involved in an immigrant-smuggling racket.
The harassment began in 2001, after Fr Ruquoy gave evidence to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in Costa Rica , about the conditions in which poor Haitian immigrants were forced to live in the Dominican Republic .
The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) joined several other NGOs at the end of 2004 in denouncing the treatment of Haitian refugees and immigrants in the Dominican Republic . They accuse the republic of summarily repatriating Haitians, thousands of whom cross the porous 225-mile border between the two countries to work as seasonal labourers on Dominican plantations and construction sites, or just to escape poverty and natural calamities in their home country.
Fr José Núñez, JRS's director for Latin America , says it is common practice for police to raid Haitians' homes at night, confiscating their residence papers to provide a pretext for deporting them, or demanding protection money.
He concedes that the Dominican Republic has a right to deport foreigners who are there illegally, but says the Government is under an obligation to ensure deportations are carried out in accordance with international law. The Dominicans estimate that there are up to one million Haitians living in the republic, which has a population of about 8.5 million.
Haiti : Elections yes, human rights violations no.
In response to the international community's pledge of US$41 million to fund elections in Haiti later this year, the UK-based Haiti Support Group expresses its concern about the timing of the announcement and the context in which it has been made.
There must of course be elections in 2005 to replace the current "selected" government with one that has been democratically elected. Furthermore, international aid is necessary to fund these elections. However, it is worrying that the announcement of election aid funding has been made while allegations that the interim government has been involved in serious human rights violations have yet to be addressed.
As well as indications that the police have been involved in the murder of civilians, the interim government is also accused of political persecution of supporters of the former government and of the Lavalas Family political party.
Hundreds of Lavalas Family Party supporters are believed to be in prison where they are being detained without being charged with any offence.
The current absence of any conditionality linking the disbursement of election aid with progress on human rights and democratisation is in sharp contrast to the suspension of nearly all multilateral development aid between 2001 and early 2004 to protest against the Lavalas Family government's failure to address charges of abuses of democratic norms and deviations from the rule of law.
Haiti Support Group director, Charles Arthur, commented, "If it was right to withhold aid then, surely it would now be consistent to tie election aid to the human rights performance of the interim government. It is hard to see how free and fair elections can take place when supporters of one of the main political parties are victims of abuse by agents of the current government." (The Haiti Support Group)
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Haiti Support Group is a solidarity organisation that has supported the Haitian people's struggle for justice, human rights and participatory democracy since 1992.
More information may be obtained from the Haiti Support Group