Amnesty--a Nasty Necessity for Peace : Haiti: A settlement is close, but only a pardon will get the military to accept Aristide.

<i> Rep. Robert G. Torricelli (D-N.J.) is chairman of the House subcommittee on Western Hemisphere affairs. </i>

The Clinton Administration is now taking steps to reverse months of drift and bring the Haiti issue to resolution. Human-rights monitors are being deployed throughout the country, and Secretary of State Warren Christopher has brought in a skillful, experienced diplomat, Lawrence A. Pezzullo, to devote full-time attention to this problem.

It is now possible to see the shape of a settlement:

* Broad consultations and negotiations leading to agreement on a consensus prime minister acceptable to all the major factions in Haiti.

* Selection by the new prime minister of a competent government, consisting of honest technocrats to whom the international community would be prepared to entrust its aid.


* Lifting of the trade embargo and the provision of an economic stimulus package to begin Haiti’s reconstruction; this aid package would include technical advisers to professionalize the military and police forces.

* Finally, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s return as a conciliator, accompanied by a strong international presence to give confidence to both sides that his return will not bring violence.

But none of this will happen without agreement on a crucial point: amnesty for those who have been involved in human-rights abuses. This is the most difficult step of all because it goes against all our most basic instincts. But experience teaches that there is no other road to a settlement.

There is no case in recent Latin American history where a military government has been willing to relinquish power when the result would be to subject its officer corps to criminal prosecution.

The exceptions prove the rule. In Panama, Gen. Noriega was captured and brought to justice, but only because the military was removed from power through a U.S. invasion.

In Argentina, President Raul Alfonsin did succeed in trying several top officers and sending them to prison for human-rights crimes, but only because the military had been weakened by its defeat and humiliation by British forces in the Falklands war. Even so, Alfonsin’s successor, Carlos Saul Menem, found it necessary to pardon the officers in order to keep the military at bay and preserve democratic government.


In no other case in this hemisphere has a democratic successor government to a military regime succeeded in holding the military accountable for its crimes while in office--not in El Salvador, where government forces--both military and quasi-official--systematically slaughtered political opponents for years; not in Guatemala, where a generation of military rulers engaged in virtual genocide against the indigenous population, and not in Chile, where more than 2,000 were killed or “disappeared” by the military regime.

Many people are opposed to even the concept of amnesty. I share their outrage; no one would be more gratified than I if it were possible to bring Haiti’s human-rights violators to justice. But the future is more important than the past. If the price of our sense of justice is to continue the turmoil and suffering in Haiti, then the price is too high. The situation cannot go on.

Some will argue that amnesty is the price to be paid in order to prevent a recurrence of the abuses. The reality is the reverse: The abuses will continue unless there is a settlement, and a settlement is impossible without amnesty. Recurrence of the abuses must be prevented by the nature of the settlement itself, which must remove the military from power and establish sufficient human-rights safeguards.

President Aristide and his countrymen must face up to the same cruel paradox that haunts others in the hemisphere undergoing transitions to democracy: The only way for the abuses to be ended is for the abusers to be granted amnesty.

None of us will enjoy seeing human-rights violators walking free in a democratic Haiti, but surely that is preferable to seeing the current situation continue.