Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution grants broad freedom of expression to citizens and protection to journalists. Civil society observers noted those rights were not always upheld or respected.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported a deteriorating security climate for journalists and said some journalists were resorting to self-censorship to avoid being publicly targeted by political or gang leaders. Complaints against police for assaults and attacks on journalists increased, compared with 2018.
Gedeon Jean, director of the Research and Analysis Center for Human Rights, claimed that members of a security detail accompanying former president Michel Martelly assaulted and threatened to kill Jean in March. The incident occurred as he was leaving a radio station. A fervent critic of the former president, Jean filed a complaint with authorities on March 25. As of September it was unclear if the case had been assigned to an investigative judge.
In December 2018 a fire destroyed the headquarters of Radio Quisqueya. The station’s co-owner was Lilianne Pierre Paul, a well known critic of the majority PHTK Party, who on several occasions had been publicly vilified by former president Martelly. Pierre Paul filed a complaint demanding that authorities investigate the “real causes” of the fire. The government offered assistance to rebuild the station, but Paul and her business partner declined the offer in order to maintain their journalistic independence. As of September the station had resumed programming.
On October 10, the body of journalist Nehemie Joseph was found in Mirebalais. Joseph had been working for Panic FM, a local radio station, and for radio Mega, located in Port-au-Prince. Eleven days later, the government fired Mirebalais prosecutor Faublas Romulus, who publicly declared knowing the perpetrators with “90 percent certainty” but failed to make any arrests.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: Legislative, municipal, and presidential elections were completed in 2016. While there were isolated allegations of voter fraud, the elections were generally regarded as credible by international and domestic observers. Although voter turnout was low, citizens generally accepted the elections, and public demonstrations against the election results were muted, compared with previous years. Legislative and local elections scheduled for October did not take place and as of December had not been rescheduled.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Some political parties exercised undue influence at the local level, including through threats to journalists and civil society organizations.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, but social norms and the threat of electoral violence discouraged women from voting and, to a much greater extent, from running for office. The constitution requires that at least 30 percent of elected officials be women, but both chambers of Parliament fell well short of this quota (3 percent in the Senate, 2.5 percent in the Chamber of Deputies). Local elections, in which candidates run in groups where women must be at least 30 percent of the candidates on the ballot, did reach the quota. Civil society organizations noted female political candidates had little access to campaign financing and that female participation in politics was hindered by cultural norms rejecting female participation in politics.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law criminalizes a wide variety of acts of corruption by officials, including illicit enrichment, bribery, embezzlement, illegal procurement, insider trading, influence peddling, and nepotism. There were numerous reports of government corruption, and a perception of impunity for abusers. The judicial branch investigated several cases of corruption during the year, but there were no prosecutions.
Corruption: The constitution mandates that the Senate (vice the judicial system) prosecute high-level officials and Parliament members accused of corruption, but the Senate has never prosecuted a high-level official for corruption.
On January 31 and May 31, the Audit Bureau issued reports on the government’s spending of $1.6 billion in Petro Caribe funds between 2008 and 2018. The two reports identified numerous current and former government officials and private-sector contractors involved in questionable disbursement of government funds, overbilling, collusion, favoritism, and embezzlement. The reports implicated past administrations for alleged misappropriation of public funds, as well as President Moise for alleged misappropriation of contracts worth $1.2 million prior to his presidency. Based on the Audit Bureau’s report to the chief prosecutor, on February 4 then prime minister Jean-Henry Ceant announced a formal complaint against several former government officials. On March 13, the chief prosecutor transferred the case to the judiciary, noting the involvement of several high-level officials in potentially corrupt actions. On July 15, the investigative judge assigned to the Petro Caribe case issued subpoenas for former prime ministers Jean Max Bellerive and Laurent Lamothe and several other high-level officials to answer questions regarding government spending of Petro Caribe funds.
In a separate case, in October 2018 a judge ordered the arrest of former HNP director general Godson Orelus in connection with his role in illegally smuggling arms and ammunition into the country in 2016. Orelus was charged with a number of crimes, including money laundering. After Orelus appealed the charges, a judge released him from custody in April, and an appellate court dropped the charges in May.
In November 2018 unknown assailants fired numerous gunshots into the home and vehicle of Dieunel Lumerant, the presiding judge in an arms-trafficking case involving then chief of the National Palace Security Vladimir Paraison. In January, Judge Lumerant fled the country due to fear for his safety.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires all senior government officials to file financial disclosure forms within 90 days of taking office and within 90 days of leaving office. Government officials stated the requirement was not always followed. There is no requirement for interim, periodic reporting during the officials’ terms. Disclosure reports are confidential and not available to the public. The punishment for failure to file financial disclosure reports is withholding 30 percent of the official’s salary, but the government has never applied this sanction.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally cooperated with human rights groups, although they disagreed at times on the scope of certain human rights problems and the most appropriate means of addressing human rights issues. The government generally consulted human rights groups, including the OPC, on legislative matters.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The OPC’s mandates are to investigate allegations of human rights abuse and to work with international organizations, including MINUJUSTH, to implement programs to improve human rights. The OPC’s regional representatives implemented assistance programs throughout the country. Several civil society organizations commended the efforts of the OPC to engage the government and civil society organizations on human rights. Nonetheless, the OPC’s activities were restricted by its small budget, limiting its ability to execute its mandate. In April the OPC published its report for 2017-18 that contained 22 recommendations to government authorities on human rights abuses. The OPC reported that as of May the government had taken action on one of the recommendations, which pertained to prolonged pretrial detention.
In April the government worked with a MINUJUSTH-funded consultant to develop a human rights action plan to implement recommendations from the UN Human Rights Council.
The Chamber of Deputies has a Justice, Human Rights, and Defense Commission, and the Senate has a Justice, Security, and Defense Commission that cover human rights issues.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law prohibits rape of men and women but does not recognize spousal rape as a crime. The penalty for rape is a minimum of 10 years of forced labor. In the case of gang rape, the maximum penalty is lifelong forced labor. Actual sentences were often less severe. The criminal code excuses a husband who kills his wife, her partner, or both found engaging in adultery in the husband’s home, but a wife who kills her husband under similar circumstances is subject to prosecution.
The law does not classify domestic violence against adults as a distinct crime. Women’s rights groups and human rights organizations reported domestic violence against women remained commonplace. Judges often released suspects arrested for domestic violence and rape.
In July, Judge Jean Baptiste Louis Jean acquitted Pastor Onold Petit of the rape of a 14-year-old girl despite DNA evidence confirming that Petit was the father of the child the girl conceived as a result of the assault. The OPC intervened in the case, citing allegations of corruption and irregularities, and called on the CSPJ to intervene. The CSPJ removed Jean from his post in July pending a disciplinary hearing, and the verdict in the rape case was appealed. Civil society organizations continued to denounce the laxity with which sexual assault cases are handled in the Grand’ Anse Department, noting there were 118 pending cases. The OPC representative in Grand’ Anse reportedly received threats from government officials, including from Senator Jean Rigaud Beliziare, who accused the OPC of interfering in the judicial process.
Victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence faced major obstacles in seeking legal justice, as well as in accessing protective services such as women’s shelters. While women were more likely to report cases of sexual and domestic violence than in the past, civil society organizations reported many victims failed to report such cases due to a lack of financial resources. Due to familial responsibilities, victims were usually unable to dedicate the time necessary to follow through with legal proceedings. According to some civil society organizations, many local nonprofit organizations that provided shelter, medical and psychological services, and legal assistance to victims had to reduce services due to a lack of funding. There were reports that in rural areas, criminal cases, including cases of sexual violence, were settled outside of the justice system. According to MINUJUSTH and other judicial observers, prosecutors often encouraged such settlements.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not specifically prohibit sexual harassment, although the labor code states that men and women have the same rights and obligations. Observers indicated sexual harassment occurred frequently. There were no programs to address sexual harassment.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: Women did not enjoy the same social and economic status as men, despite the constitutional amendments requiring that women’s participation in national life and in public service (i.e., political candidates, elected officials, and civil servants) be at least 30 percent of the positions.
By law men and women have equal protections for economic participation. In practice, however, women faced barriers to accessing economic inputs and securing collateral for credit, information on lending programs, and other resources.