Upsetting the powers that be by Kate Campbell

The Boston Globe
April 19, 2005

Upsetting the powers that be
By Kate Campbell

Human Rights Investigation Calls Haiti “More Violent and More Inhuman”; Report Documents U.S. Role in Chaotic Interim Government

Download CSHR report at:


Globe Correspondent PHILADELPHIA -- Tom Griffin vividly remembers the day he sat in a rural Haitian clinic beside 10-year-old Gima and watched the boy die of starvation. It was during the first of what would become many humanitarian missions for Griffin, an immigration lawyer who first witnessed Haiti's dismal poverty on that day in 2000. ''He was so weak he couldn't speak," said Griffin, 42, who was raised in the Boston area and moved recently to Philadelphia. ''His grandmother had brought him on the back of a donkey."

By the time Gima arrived at the clinic in mountainous Fond-des-Blancs, said Griffin, he weighed just 30 pounds and was so far beyond help that medical staff sought only to make him comfortable in his last days.

On a trip in November, increasingly aware of Haiti's political chaos, Griffin packed a borrowed digital camera. Ten days later, he returned to Philadelphia with a collection of horrific photographs. Soon to follow was a report documenting the violence and despair churning in the slums of one of the world's poorest countries.

''I'm working to upset the powers that be," he said. ''I want to awaken all of us complacent people who seek to avoid the gruesome inhumanity of the world and how it always victimizes the most innocent and weakest."

Griffin's report -- titled ''Haiti: Human Rights Investigation, [*] November 11-21, 2004," with photos of brutalized bodies and mutilated, abandoned corpses -- is grabbing attention. Last month he addressed diplomats at the Canadian Parliament, officials at the Organization of American States, and the Congressional Black Caucus
in Washington.

''The United States certainly has a responsibility to stabilize Haiti," congresswoman Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, said in a phone interview. ''We helped destabilize it."

Concerned by news of political prisoners and former government officials being held without charges, Waters flew to Haiti last month to investigate. Griffin's report, she said, played a part in her decision to go. ''The prisons were in deplorable condition," she said. ''People were thrown in jail without charges. There were filthy mattresses and many people crammed into small cells." Waters said the United States should call on Haiti's interim prime minister, Gerard Latortue, to release the political prisoners.

''People have forgotten the whole issue of Haiti," said Larry Birns, head of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, which monitors US-Latin American relations. ''The Griffin report has reawakened indignation."Driven by faith Griffin said his Roman Catholic faith is the engine that drives him.

His education at Boston College High School illuminated the role of service and aimed him toward his life's work.

''It really impressed in me to make ourselves the best so we can serve others," said Griffin, who earned his law degree from Suffolk University. ''If Jesus is the center of your life and you listen to his words, he's asking you to love so much that, to society, it becomes radical."

''How we treat the least among us, that is how we treat God," he said.
And it is mistreatment that Griffin has recorded.

Toward the end of his visit to Haiti, a gun battle erupted. When it ended he went into Port-au-Prince's Bel Air neighborhood and found 35-year-old Inep Henri, who had been shot in the eye. Henri's family tended to his wounds at home rather than take him to the city hospital because, they said, police often take shooting victims from hospitals and execute them. Griffin persuaded the family to have Henri hospitalized. When he later found Henri at the city hospital, he lay untreated in a crowded emergency room. Despite Griffin's pleas, Henri was not treated and died, Griffin said.

Griffin, a founding partner of the Philadelphia law firm Morley Surin & Griffin, paid his own way to Haiti with the goal of writing a report the world would read. After his return, he completed one for the University of Miami School of Law's Center for the Study of Human Rights. Graphic photographs of Henri and others are included in the
document, which alleges rampant human-rights abuses and implicates the interim Haitian government.

Raymond Joseph, spokesman for the Haitian embassy in Washington, called the report ''one-sided," saying Griffin was a supporter of deposed president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and ''failed to document acts of violence first committed by pro-Aristide gangs against the police." Griffin said that he has ''nothing to do with Aristide" and that what he reported and photographed speaks for itself.

Fighting for the disenfranchised is nothing new for Griffin. He was part of a delegation that brought attention to the unsolved 2001 killing of human-rights lawyer Digna Ochoa in Mexico.

Griffin said he also knew a great deal about Paul Farmer -- the physician and anthropologist who founded the Boston-based nonprofit Partners in Health, which offers community-based healthcare in Haiti -- and considers him a tremendous inspiration. Griffin said he met and talked briefly with Farmer, who has written extensively about health and human rights, when he spoke in Boston.'Totally dedicated' Griffin grew up one of five children. His parents divorced when he was a teenager, and his mother raised the children alone. He spent 10 years as a federal probation and parole officer in New York and Boston before becoming a lawyer.

Retired federal probation officer George Santa Cruz said he is not surprised by Griffin's commitment to justice. ''He's passionate about Haiti, the people there, and their suffering," said Santa Cruz, who worked with Griffin in Boston and traveled with him to Haiti. ''He's a brave man morally, as well as physically, and that combination has served him well as far as what he's doing in Haiti."

Griffin's connection to Haiti and a respect for the resilience of the families he came to know in the country's poorest neighborhoods began with volunteer work. In 2000, while a member of St. William's parish in Dorchester, Griffin first visited Haiti with the St. Boniface Haiti Foundation. ''Tom works at great personal risk for the people who have no voice," said Rita Russo, vice president of programs at St. Boniface. The Boston-based nonprofit works with US Catholic parishes to provide healthcare for Haiti's poor.

Griffin is ''totally dedicated not only to the Haitian cause, but to wherever he sees injustice and a lack of human rights," said Francois LaTour, director of Philadelphia's Haitian Community Center, who has worked on immigration cases with Griffin for several years.

February marked the first anniversary of the sudden departure of Aristide, who is in exile in South Africa. Whether he was forced out or chose to resign remains a point of controversy.

In addition, ''the security and human-rights situations in Haiti have seriously deteriorated since the massive prison escape of Feb. 19," said Ettore Di Benedetto, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, an independent nonprofit. ''Allegations of excessive use of force by police and police killings, including summary
executions, must be investigated," Di Benedetto added.

Haiti is also dealing with an AIDS crisis. ''It faces the most serious situation outside of sub-Saharan Africa," said Mark L. Schneider, senior vice president of the International Crisis Group.

''The reality is that Haiti's health infrastructure is almost nonexistent. Its public hospital and health clinics were weak, underfunded, and understaffed even before the political crisis of a year ago, and they have not even begun to recover."

Although he felt called to pursue justice for poor Haitians, he wants to focus on his immigration work and his wife and young son, who worry about his dangerous and time-consuming passion.

''I'd rather not be an activist on this issue," said Griffin, sitting in his living room in a Philadelphia suburb. ''But I guess people are listening, and that's all I ever wanted."

© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company*

Human Rights Investigation Calls Haiti “More Violent and More Inhuman”; Report Documents U.S. Role in Chaotic Interim Government

Download CSHR report at:

Forwarded by the Haitian Lawyers' Leadership Network
Men Anpil Chaj Pa Lou!!!
- is Kreyol for "Many hands make light a heavy load."


Here is what you can do to help us help the people of Haiti:
HLLN - Action Requested from Haiti solidarity groups and
Haitian activists for justice and democracy:

Subscribe to and circulate the Ezili Danto mailings and
posts to your mailing lists and e-mail contacts. Subscribe or unsubscribe by writing to: Erzilidanto@yahoo.com

Adopt and circulate the Haiti Resolution (updated below) from the Haitian Lawyers
Leadership Network

Circulate the human rights reports, especially the latest Miami Law Center report

Do Press Work: Join our letter writing campaigns to help free the political prisoners in Haiti, to stop the persecution of Haiti's most popular political party and democratic movement and to restore Constitutional rule. Write a letter, call the media, fax, - See our Press Work page for sample letters and for contact information.

Volunteer to help us maintain our Contact Information Sheet by sending us updated or new phone numbers and addresses to put on our Contact Information Sheet pages

Virtual interns and volunteers are also needed to help us translate selected materials into French, Kreyol, or Spanish to reach a wider audience. Volunteers with some research and computer skills are likewise needed to help us update our "List of Victims" and "Personal Testimonies" pages under Campaign One. (We have the information, what we don't have we know where to extrapolate them, but need help to put it together and in the format on our website page.)

More Network volunteer also needed to concentrate as primary coordinators/contributors to one of our seven campaigns

One internet savvy volunteer needed who is interested in logging and archiving, for our new Ezili Danto blog, (not yet unveiled) the regular Erzilidanto posts we send out so that those who only want to see these at their leisure, or, who cannot receive daily mailings, will have alternative access to these materials and posts, in an archived format.

Fundraise for the work of HLLN. Donate to our projects. Or, earn money, save lives and spread meaning and value by becoming an HLLN Marketing Associate trained to train other HLLN Associates and licensed to use our logo and HLLN materials to sponsor a "To Tell The Truth about Haiti Forum and Teach-In." Proceeds from such courses and teach ins will go to pay the Associate and to continue the work of HLLN projects, such as, our partnership with AUMOHD, the young human rights lawyers in Haiti who are defending the defenseless poor whose only crime is that they voted for Lavalas, supported Constitutional rule or are resisting a return of the bloody U.S.-trained Haitian army and US-sponsored dictatorship. For information on AUMOHD, go to: http://www.april6vt.org/

The Haiti Resolution:
1. Support the return of constitutional rule to Haiti by restoring all elected officials of all parties to their offices throughout the country until the end of their mandates and another election is held, as mandated by Haiti's Constitution;

2. Condemn the killings, illegal imprisonment and confiscation of the property of supporters of Haiti's constitutional government and insist that Haiti's illegitimate "interim government" immediately cease its own persecution and put a stop to persecution by the thugs and murderers from sectors in their police force,
from the paramilitaries, gangs and former soldiers;

3. Insist on the immediate release of all political prisoners in Haitian jails, including Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, other constitutional government officials and folksinger-activist Sò Ann;

4. Insist on the disarmament of the thugs, death squad leaders and convicted human rights violators and their prosecution for all crimes committed during the attack on Haiti's elected government and help rebuild Haiti's police force, ensuring that it excludes anyone who helped to overthrow the democratically elected
government or who participated in other human rights violations;

5. Stop the indefinite detention and automatic repatriation of Haitian refugees and immediately grant Temporary Protected Status to all Haitian refugees presently in the United States until democracy is restored to Haiti; and

6. Support the calls by the OAS, CARICOM and the African Union for an investigation into the circumstances of President Aristide's removal. Support the enactment of Congresswoman Barbara Lee's T.R.U.T.H Act (HR 3919) which calls for a U.S. Congressional investigation of the forcible removal of the democratically elected President and government of Haiti.




Denounce Canada's role in Haiti: Canadian officials Contact Infomation

Urge the Caribbean Community to stand firm in not recognizing the illegal Latortue regime:

Selected CARICOM Contacts
zilibutton Slide Show at the July 27, 2004 Haiti Forum Press Conference during the DNC in Boston honoring those who stand firm for Haiti and democracy; those who tell the truth about Haiti; Presenting the Haiti Resolution, and; remembering Haiti's revolutionary legacy in 2004 and all those who have lost life or liberty fighting against the Feb. 29, 2004 Coup d'etat and its consequences
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