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Haiti: Lavalas Family propaganda and The Lancet

Charles Arthur | 04.09.2006 14:01 | Repression | Social Struggles | World

Results of a new survey have just been published in the prestigous magazine, The Lancet. The 'survey' claims that huge numbers of people were killed and sexually assaulted in Port-au-Prince in the 20 months following the collapse of the Aristide/Lavalas Family (FL) government. It further contends that the perpetrators of the abuses were the criminals, police, former soldiers and anti-FL gangsters, and that hardly any abuses were committed by pro-FL gangsters. Has pro-Lavalas Family propaganda struck again?

Re: 'Human rights abuse and other criminal violations in Port-au-Prince, Haiti: a random survey of households' by Athena R Kolbe, Royce A Hutson, published in the current issue of The Lancet, Volume 368, Number 9538, 02 September 2006.

Although perhaps closer examination will reveal exagerrated extrapolations of the results of the survey, it does confirm reports from civil society organisations in Haiti and from some parts of the Haitian media indicating that human rights violations and criminal violence in Port-au-Prince have significantly increased in number over recent years.

However 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).

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. There is no dispute that many of the violations have been committed by criminals without any apparent political affiliation, by members of the Haitian National Police, by former members of the FAD'H and by armed men affiliated to anti-Aristide, anti-Lavalas Family groups. But I am informed that local people also blame Lavalas Family/Jean-Bertrand Aristide supporters for committing serious acts of violence, including rape.

My concern is that the either the conduct or the interpretation of the research has been skewed or biased in some way in order to exonerate Lavalas Family/Aristide supporters from accusations of invovlement in human rights violations. This concern is heightened on discovering that there is good reason to believe that the coordinator of the research, and one of the two authors of the Lancet article, Athena Kolbe, is in fact a pro-Lavalas Family journalist who uses the name, Lyn Duff.

To reiterate, I have reason to believe that Athena Kolbe and Lyn Duff are one and the same person.

1) At the end of the article "We Won't Be Peaceful and Let Them Kill Us Any Longer" - Interview with Haitian Activist Rosean Baptiste, interviewed by Lyn Duff, 4 November 2005, San Francisco Bay View, there is an email link to the author:

Email Lyn at

2) In a newsletter posted by the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Detroit, 4605 Cass Avenue, Detroit, MI 48201, dated October 16 2005, one can read the following passage:

Meet Athena Kolbe
Journalist and Activist
Athena Kolbe, 29, has attended 1st UU for a little over a year now and her enthusiasm for Unitarianism and Judaism (both part of her religious upbringing) has spurred some exciting happenings. The sukkah in McCollester Hall was built on First Friday under her tutelage, and she led last spring’s Passover Seder with her parents, who are active in the Worcester, MA UU Church. She is also one of the planners for the October 23rd Soulful Sundown service and is starting a UU student group at Wayne State. Currently working on her MSW in preparation for a doctorate, Athena already has a MDiv and an MA in theology and Adult RE from San Francisco’s Golden Gate School of Theology, as well as a BA in International Relations and Labor Law. Since 1995, she has lived and worked extensively in Haiti as a Pacifica radio correspondent and has also lived in Israel. Athena loves the cultural and religious diversity at 1st UU but wants to see the “under 40 crowd” and persons with nontraditional styles more enthusiastically welcomed into the church community. She has many worthy ideas to share and she’s fun to talk to. End quote

Then there are the following bits of information to be found at

In 1995, Duff traveled to Haiti where she established Radyo Timoun ("Children's Radio"), that country's first radio station run entirely by children under the age of 17. She reportedly worked closely with Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide. End quote

By the late 1990's, Duff was a well-established international journalist with postings in Haiti, Israel, Croatia, several African countries, and Vietnam.
End quote

I February 2004, Duff, who was then living six months out of every year in Jerusalem, was home in the United States on a brief visit when a group of ex-soldiers overthrew the democratically elected government headed by President Jean Bertrand Aristide. She quickly traveled to Haiti, arriving in Port-au-Prince when the coup was only days old and reporting on the situation extensively for several national media outlets.

Since that time, Duff has regularly covered the situation in Haiti for the San Francisco Bay View, Pacifica Radio's Flashpoints, and Pacific News Service. Her reporting is a blend of in-depth investigative reports and "as told to" first person commentaries by Haitian nationals. Subjects have included politically motivated mass rape, the United Nations mission in Haiti, killings by American Marines in Port-au-Prince, civilians taking over the neighborhood of Bel Air, murders of street children by police and ex-soldiers , presidential/legislative elections, and the general human rights situation.

She currently splits her time between Detroit, Michigan, and a home in the Delmas neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
End quote

Put this all together and there is pretty strong proof that the Lancet survey was coordinated by Lyn Duff (known here as Athena Kolbe)

Acording to Lyn Duff's article, 'Jean Bertrand Aristide: Humanist or Despot?' published by Pacific News Service on 2 March 2004:
In 1995 when, I was 19 years old, I traveled to Haiti to help set up Radyo Timoun, a radio station run by street children in the capital, Port-au-Prince. Over three and a half years I worked and often lived with the children of Lafanmi Selavi, a shelter for some of the nation's quarter of a million homeless children. It was there that I came to know Jean Bertrand Aristide, not just as the president of the poorest country in the western hemisphere, but also as a father, teacher, a friend, and a surrogate dad for hundreds of parentless street kids. The Jean Bertrand Aristide I know is markedly different from the one that is being portrayed in the media.
End quote

Lyn Duff is described as "a friend of Aristide" in Justin Felux's article, 'Debunking the Media's Lies about President Aristide', published by on 14 March 2004.

Recently, Lyn Duff has written a number of reports on the issue of rape in Haiti. On 3 March 2005, The Black Commentator published Duff's article, 'Political Rape Rampant in Haiti', reporting on the rape of the 14-year old girl, Majory. Duff wrote,
Marjory is part of a growing number of girls and young women who human rights investigators say have been victims of mass rape committed by members of the disbanded military and their compatriots who patrol the countryside and Haiti’s cities, hunting down supporters of Haiti’s pro-democracy movement.
End quote

On 23 December 2005, the San Francisco Bay View published Duff's article, "Police use rape to terrorize women and girls in Haiti", in which she wrote;
Since the Feb. 29, 2004, coup overthrowing the democratic government of Jean Bertrand Aristide, reports have surfaced of a growing problem: politically motivated mass rape. Women in the popular neighborhoods – which are known for their support of Aristide and the democratic movement – have accused members of the police force and U.N. soldiers, as well as members of the demobilized Haitian army, of targeting them for sexual attacks.
End quote

How can Kolbe/Duff's research into the issue of human rights violations and the perpetrators be regarded as objective when she herself states that for three and half years she worked with Aristide's Lafanmi Selavi centre for street children where she befriended Aristide himself and presumably some of the boys who later left the centre and who, according to some sources, then acted as armed enforcers for the Lavalas Family party in certain parts of the capital?

How can the findings be regarded as objective when Kolbe/Duff plainly states her sympathies for what she describes as "Haiti's pro-democracy movement - her loaded short-hand for Aristide supporters - and already states her opinion about the political affiliations of the victims and the perpetrators of rape and sexual assaults before the research is finished?

Above all else, how can the survey be regarded as objective if the main person coordinating the survey hides her very pronounced political sympathies by using a different name?

There is a concerted international campaign to distort news and manipulate information about Haiti with the apparent aim of repairing the reputation of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and of winning support for his Lavalas Family party. The publication of this article in The Lancet has already attracted a lot of media coverage, and some of that coverage reports the non-involvement of Lavalas Family party supporters in human rights violations in Port-au-Prince. For example:

Democracy Now, 31 August, 2006:
A shocking new report published in the British medical journal The Lancet has found widespread and systematic human rights abuses in Haiti following the ouster of democratically-elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide in February 2004.(...) Those responsible for the human rights abuses include criminals, the police, United Nations peacekeepers and anti-Lavalas gangs.
End quote

The Independent, 4 September 2006:
More than 30,000 women and girls - half under the age of 18 - were raped in Haiti's capital city in the chaotic two years following the ousting of the country's democratically elected president, a survey has suggested. About 8,000 people were killed during the same period.(...)The survey does not identify Lavalas supporters as being involved in any rapes or killings...
End quote

The Lancet article was published at the very moment when rape victims were marching in Port-au-Prince to draw attention to the issue, and specifically to the fact that no political party had said anything to condemn the attacks. Coincidence? I don't know, but clearly the publication of the article shifts attention away from any accusations of Lavalas Family party members' or supporters' involvement and/or criticism of the lack of condemnation of crimes that are still going on to this day, and instead puts the focus on the interim government of 2004-6, on anti-Lavalas Family entities and on the UN forces in Haiti.

I am concerned that The Lancet has unwittingly been used as part of the pro-Aristide propaganda campaign.

Charles Arthur

Charles Arthur
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