The Sound of Violence

Update:

In September 2006 MediaLens issued a Media Alert examining the UK media’s abject silence on the violence that has consumed Haiti since the “military coup that forced Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile on February 29, 2004 .” [1]

A study published in August 2006 by the Lancet “found that during the 22-month post-Aristide period of the US-backed Interim Government, 8,000 people were murdered in the greater Port-au Prince area of Haiti alone, giving Haiti’s government one of the worst human rights records in the hemisphere. 22 per cent of the killings were committed by the Haitian National Police (HNP), 26 per cent by the demobilised army or armed anti-Aristide groups and 48 per cent by criminals.” [Ibid]

We wrote to RTE at the time to ask why they had failed to cover the report. The answer was predictable, ‘contention’ rose it’s ugly head, again:

“As [you] are probably aware, the Lancet has been investigating allegations that this report may have been misleading. They have received complaints questioning the findings – especially in relation to the role of the Lavalas groups, and the figures for the number of sexual attacks and murders.” [Michael Good, Email 22/09/06]

It is now over 5 months since this study was published, and Haiti has been mentioned just twice since then by RTE:

“Almost half of the world’s countries – 49% – are not stable enough for business to operate in. Control Risks, an international business risk consultancy, says 96 out of 198 countries posed a medium, high or extreme political risk. This means that at best, businesses there are likely to face disruption. In worst case scenarios, they find that find the state is actively hostile towards them.

The most politically hostile countries for business include Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Liberia, Cuba, Haiti , and Bolivia.” [2]

“Digicel, the Caribbean mobile company owned by Denis O’Brien, says it has over four million subscribers – twice as many as last year- and has invested $1.5 billion in the region…After launching in Haiti last year it said its customer base has reached one million there. In 2006 Digicel also launched services in Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos and Bonaire.” [3]

Should it come as a surprise that this support of business success in an “actively hostile” state should trump the deaths of 8,000 people?

We wrote again to Mr. Good on the 8th February:

Dear Mr. Good, [Email, 08/02/07]

Further to our exchange last year regarding violence in Haiti, the Lancet have published the findings of it’s investigation into the ‘contentious’ Haiti Report. The findings vindicate the authors and the report. Please find a copy attached below. I trust there are no other objections to reporting the findings.

Best wishes,

David Manning

The Lancet

February 3, 2007 – February 9, 2007

SECTION: Pg. 355 Vol. 369 No. 9559 ISSN: 0140-6736

Clarification: Human rights abuse and other criminal violations in Port-au-Prince , Haiti

Richard Horton and William Summerskill

Human rights abuse and other criminal violations in Port-au-Prince, Haiti: a random survey of households was published online on Aug 31, 2006, and in print on Sept 2, 2006.1 Within days, The Lancet was informed that co-author Athena Kolbe had previously written about Haiti as a journalist under the name of Lyn Duff. Because Kolbe had worked as a volunteer at an orphanage in Haiti founded by President Aristide and had written sympathetically about Aristide after he was deposed,2 concerns were expressed about the paper’s findings.

In response to credible allegations that one author’s former activities might constitute an undisclosed conflict of interest, The Lancet began an inquiry.3 The authors’ institution, Wayne State University Detroit, Michigan, USA) was asked to investigate the matter, and the issue was referred to the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE).

Eileen Trzcinski, Professor and Interim Director of Research at Wayne State University School of Social Work, audited 100 questionnaires selected by computerised randomisation. Outcome details on the original handwritten records corresponded with the project’s computerised database. The overall distribution of rapes and murders were re-analysed according to alleged perpetrators, and the results agreed with the published findings. Outcomes were then compared by political affiliation of the interviewer and for Kolbe’s own data (as an interviewer). Again, there was no evidence of systematic bias. On the basis of this investigation, The Lancet has confidence in Kolbe and Hutson’s findings as published.

COPE recommended that readers should be made aware that Athena Kolbe had published as a reporter under the name of Lyn Duff, and that failure to disclose a separate name, under which relevant material had been published and cited in her Lancet paper, constitutes an undeclared conflict of interest. The Lancet’s position on transparent disclosure of potential conflicts of interest is in accordance with guidelines established by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors.4 he Lancet has made this position prominently available to readers5 and to authors,6 and stated clearly that incomplete disclosures will be amended in a published statement in the Department of Error section, which will also be linked electronically to the publication in electronic databases. Such a correction for this study appears in today’s Lancet.

To realise their full potential to benefit populations, research findings must influence practice. Intelligent debate is part of that process. The Lancet encourages genuine debate, and will always consider seriously allegations of scientific misconduct. It is unfortunate, however, that in

this case much of the debate was aimed at exploiting historical divisions in Haiti. That process has obscured the message of Kolbe and Hutson’s research and detracted from the real issue-the welfare of civilians in Haiti-to whom attention should now turn.

NOTES: AFFILIATION:

The Lancet, London NW1 7BY , UK

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

References

1 A Kolbe, R Hutson, Human rights abuse and other criminal violations in Port-au-Prince, Haiti: a random survey of households, Lancet, Vol. 368, 2006, p. 864-873, .

2 L Duff, Jean Bertrand Aristide: humanist or despot? Pacific News Service

March 2, 2004, http://www.hartford-hwp.com/archives/43a/666.html , (accessed Dec 8, 2006), .

3 D Campbell, Lancet caught up in row over Haiti murders, Guardian, Sept 8, 2006, http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1867372,00.html ,(accessed Jan 24, 2007), .

4 International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, Uniform requirements for manuscripts submitted to biomedical journals: writing and editing for biomedical publication, http://www.icmje.org, February, 2006, (accessed Jan 24, 2007), .

5 A James, R Horton, The Lancet, ‘s policy on conflicts of interest, Lancet, Vol. 361, 2003, p. 8-9, .

6 The Lancet, Information for authors, http://www.thelancet.com/authors/lancet/authorinfo , (accessed Jan 24, 2007),

As yet we have received no response.

 

1.http://www.medialens.org/alerts/06/060911
haiti_the_traditional.php
2. ttp://www.rte.ie/business/2006/1107/controlrisk.html
3. ttp://www.rte.ie/business/2007/0109/digicel.html

Below is the previous correspondence with RTE News Editor Michael Good on this issue:

Dear Mr. Good, [Email, 22/09/06]

It is now over three weeks since that damning report detailing human rights abuses in Haiti was published in the peer reviewed medical journal The Lancet. There has yet been no mention of it in the Irish media. Are we to wait until it reaches the agenda of a politician before it is deemed worthy of reporting?

Please find attached below my original email and one I sent to the Irish Times.

Thank you for your time.

Regards,

Dear Mr. Good, [Email, 13/09/06]

A study conducted by the Wayne State University school of social work in Detroit Michigan in 2005 of human rights abuses in Haiti since the ousting of democratically-elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide was published in the British medical journal The Lancet last month. The study has received surprisingly little attention given the disturbing picture it paints of life in Haiti since the US backed coup. Among the figures:

8,000 people were murdered in the greater Port-au Prince area of Haiti alone

[22 per cent of the killings were committed by the Haitian National Police (HNP), 26 per cent by the demobilised army or armed anti-Aristide groups, 48 per cent by criminals]

35,000 women and girls were raped or sexually assaulted

[more than half of the victims were children]

The findings are particularly unwelcome for those countries who actively engaged in ‘disturbing’ the democratic process by forcibly removing President Aristide, as the figures show a sizable proportion of attacks were conducted by political groups with ‘Western’ support. This however should not impede RTE in reporting the facts.

I hope you can find time to address this issue.

Yours sincerely,

David Manning

For more information on the report please see:

http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/08/31/144231

http://www.medialens.org/alerts/index.php

Dear Ms. Kennedy,

It is now two weeks since the Lancet medical journal published the findings of a study which examined human rights abuses in Haiti since the ousting of democratically-elected President Jean Bertrand Aristide. Only a handful of news outlets have bothered to report on the findings, though this should come as little surprise to those that have followed events in Haiti since the US backed coup of two years ago.

UK based media watch organisation Media Lens, in monitoring the media’s reporting of Haiti’s human rights situation, have revealed a remarkable trend. Prior to the ousting of President Aristide the British and US media published many articles about the human rights situation in Haiti in order to vilify a leader, unpopular with the US, Canadian and French governments.

Yet following the ‘forced exile’ of President Aristide there followed large scale human rights abuses in Haiti which have gone unreported in the media. The most blatant example of this silence is the lack of coverage of this study’s shocking findings: ” 8,000 people were murdered in the greater Port-au Prince area of Haiti alone,” many by anti-Aristide groups, also, “35,000 women and girls were raped or sexually assaulted, more than half of the victims were children.”

In failing to report the dire situation in Haiti the liberal media walks a fine line between inexplicable silence and complicity.

Yours etc…

Dear Mr. Manning, [Email, 22/09/06]

Thank you for your recent letter concerning the Lancet report on human rights abuses in Haiti.

As are probably aware, the Lancet has been investigating allegations that this report may have been misleading. They have received complaints questioning the findings – especially in relation to the role of the Lavalas groups, and the figures for the number of sexual attacks and murders.

However, all parties do appear to accept that the level of violence and sexual assaults in Haiti is disturbingly high.

We will continue to monitor the situation in Haiti with a view to returning to this story in the near future.

Regards,

Michael Good

Dear Mr. Good, [Email, 25/09/06]

Apologies for my delayed response.

As far as I am aware the complaint regards the use of one of the coordinators names and does not question ‘the figures for the number of sexual attacks and murders’, this confusion has been exploited by the media in order to undermine the the study by speculating on the political motivations of the coordinator. However, neither the Lancet’s investigation, nor the complaint, question the validity of the study’s core findings.

“It is not suggested that the Lancet report had misreported its findings or that Ms Kolbe had any other agenda than the welfare of ordinary Haitians at heart. It is accepted by all parties that the study’s core findings – that there have been disturbingly high levels of violence and sexual abuse in Haiti in that period – are true and need to be urgently addressed by the Haitian government and other bodies.” [1]

It is alleged that this coordinator, in ‘failing’ to clearly state that she had worked at an orphanage founded by Mr. Aristide, has attempted to disguise her political association. This insinuation is then used to suggest this ‘undisclosed’ favour may have coloured the findings, so as to cast a more favourable light on pro-Lavalas groups.

Yet, “Prior to beginning research, [the study’s coordinators] received written permission from Latortue’s [Prime Minister of Haïti] administration to conduct the study. We fully informed the government of our intentions to research human-rights abuses and of Athena Kolbe’s background as a journalist writing under her mother’s maiden name, as well as the volunteering she did with orphans in Port-au-Prince.” [Exert from a letter to the Miami Herald from the study’s coordinators, Royce Hutson and Athena Kolbe, attached in full below] [2]

It appears, this relatively inconsequential issue has been exploited in order to cast doubt on the findings, which do not support the ‘complainants’ contention. Therefore there is some reason to believe the speculation is politically motivated.

“The main reason why I doubt this finding is that it contradicts the information that I have received from independent human rights investigators working in some of the most violent areas of Port-au-Prince…I have some doubts about the credibility of the research with regard to the perpetrators of these acts. These doubts focus on the contention that very few of the human rights violations have been attributed to “Lavalas members or partisans” (by which I assume the authors mean members or partisans of the Lavalas Family party led by Jean-Bertrand Aristide).” [Exert from a letter from Charles Arthur to the Lancet] [3]

Though the ‘contention’ has been extensively examined: “The publisher of the Lancet, Richard Horton, said the study had come with excellent credentials and peer reviews. “It was very thoroughly reviewed by four external advisers,” he said.”

The investigation into this complaint by the Lancet, which I might add has received more publicity than the actual study, is presumably standard procedure for a peer reviewed scientific journal.

As I pointed out before, the results of the study and the level of violence depicted in Haiti is not disputed. And while it is unalarming that such a study should be treated with hostility in the mainstream press, it is shameful that the media would choose not to report the findings, and in the case of the Guardian, for instance, focus on the unsubstantiated allegations.

There remains several options open to the media; firstly, ignore the existence of the study in compliant fashion, secondly, report the findings of the report, but choose to focus on the unfounded insinuations, or thirdly, report the findings and also the complaint, while ensuring that appropriate weighting is assigned to each.

If the purpose of the media is to provide adequate and accurate information in order to afford citizens the means to maintain democratic institutions, then refraining from reporting such findings amounts to a conscious attempt to hinder that process.

While the ‘complainant’ and those that conducted the study have much common ground, in that they both have the interests of Haitians at heart, the media has cynically used this issue to bury the report. Much of the responsibility for the human rights abuses detailed in this study falls at the feet of those that supported the 2004 coup, namely, France, the US, and Canada. The reason they were able to conduct this operation with little resistance from their citizens is that the media has consistently and continually failed to report the situation in Haiti.

Regards,

David

1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/

2. http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news

3. http://www.medialens.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1842

Haitian-abuse study legitimate

Re Gerard Latortue’s Sept. 9 letter, Kurzban column gets it wrong: We were surprised to see Latortue’s attack on our study, which estimates that 8,000 murders and 35,000 sexual assaults — half against children — were committed during his tenure as Haiti’s interim prime minister.

Prior to beginning research, we received written permission from Latortue’s administration to conduct the study.

We fully informed the government of our intentions to research human-rights abuses and of Athena Kolbe’s background as a journalist writing under her mother’s maiden name, as well as the volunteering she did with orphans in Port-au-Prince.

Using Random GPS Coordinate Sampling, we surveyed 1,260 households accounting for 5,720 individuals and found extensive violations by Latortue’s interim-government forces. More than 20 percent of the murders and 13 percent of the sexual assaults were attributed to government-security agents. Had Latortue had any questions about our credibility, his administration should not have authorized the study.

Latortue’s claim that we were ”discredited” is false. The Lancet’s editor has publicly stated that the study’s findings are not under dispute. The journal’s only concern is with tangential issues regarding the use of one of our names. Neither of the researchers was ever a member nor paid employee of any Haitian entity or political party. Volunteering to do child care and teach communications classes at an orphanage’s youth radio station 10 years ago is not a conflict of interest, either by academic ethics or by common sense.

ROYCE HUTSON and ATHENA KOLBE, assistant professor and research assistant, Wayne State University School of Social Work, Detroit

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