"Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons." Bertrand Russell

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Sound of Violence

Further to Media Lens' Haiti alert:


A response from RTE's News Editor and my reply:

Dear Mr. Good,

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.



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

Dear [Me],

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.


Michael Good

Dear Mr. Good,

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.


See 'Silence and Complicity' for the rest.