Haiti is a constitutional republic with a multiparty political system. Voters elected Jovenel Moise as president for a five-year term in national elections held in November 2016, and he took office in February 2017. The most recent national legislative elections were held in January 2017. International election observers considered the elections free and fair.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over security forces.
Human rights issues included isolated allegations of unlawful killings by police; excessive use of force by police; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; a judiciary subject to corruption and outside influence; physical attacks on journalists; widespread corruption and impunity; and human trafficking, including forced labor.
The government rarely took steps to prosecute government and law enforcement officials accused of committing abuses. There were credible reports that officials engaged in corrupt practices, and civil society groups alleged widespread impunity.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were isolated allegations of police involvement in arbitrary or unlawful killings. Some allegations resulted in administrative sanctions, but there were no reports of criminal proceedings.
As of September no criminal proceedings were initiated in the November 2017 deaths of two police officers and nine civilians during an antigang operation in Port-au-Prince by the Haitian National Police’s (HNP) Departmental Crowd Control Unit (UDMO) and the Departmental Operations and Interventions Brigade. The National Network of Human Rights Organizations in Haiti (RNDDH) reported that UDMO officers beat numerous individuals and executed at least two in retaliation for the deaths of their colleagues. A report by the HNP inspector general found one UDMO officer, Glessen Philidor, liable for the deaths, recommended him for dismissal, and referred the case to the Port-au-Prince Prosecutor’s Office. The HNP commissioner for the West Department and a dozen of the UDMO officers involved in the operation were transferred to other posts.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices; however, there were several reports from domestic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that HNP members allegedly beat or otherwise abused detainees and suspects. Prisoners at times were subjected to degrading treatment, in large part due to overcrowded facilities.
The UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH) reported several cases of the HNP’s use of excessive force. On September 10, local media and civil society organizations accused the HNP of beating and mistreating three detainees in St. Michel De L’Attalaye, Artibonite Department, leading to the death of Nickson Jeune. HNP officials denied responsibility, stating the individual had already been beaten when the local council representative brought the three suspects to the police station. As of September 18, the HNP was investigating the incident.
Detainees were subject to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by being placed in overcrowded, poorly maintained, and unsanitary prisons and makeshift detention centers.
In contrast with 2017, there were no allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse by MINUJUSTH police officers and staff. MINUJUSTH officials attributed this in part to its zero-tolerance policy that included training, raising awareness, and enforcement.
According to the United Nations, three allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse against Bangladeshi peacekeepers from 2015-2017 remained pending. The cases alleged both sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship, transactional sex) and abuse (sexual assault against minors) involving peacekeepers deployed in MINUSTAH in Haiti and MONUSCO in the Congo. Two allegations have been substantiated according to UN investigations. The peacekeepers in question were repatriated by the United Nations. The investigations by Bangladesh were pending at year’s end.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prisons and detention centers throughout the country are life threatening and overcrowded, poorly maintained, and unsanitary. MINUJUSTH reported on September 6 that prisons and detention centers operated at a 365-percent occupancy rate.
Physical Conditions: Prison and detention center overcrowding was severe, especially in the National Penitentiary and the prison in Cap Haitien, where each prisoner had 4.2 square feet of space. In many prisons detainees slept in shifts due to lack of space. Some prisons had no beds for detainees, and some cells had no access to natural light. In other prisons the cells often were open to the elements or lacked adequate ventilation. Many prison facilities lacked basic services such as plumbing, sanitation, waste disposal, medical services, potable water, electricity, adequate ventilation, lighting, and isolation units for contagious patients. Some prison officials used chlorine to sanitize drinking water, but in general prisoners in older prisons did not have access to treated drinking water. Most prisons had insufficient sewage facilities for their populations.
Prison conditions generally varied by gender; female inmates in coed prisons received proportionately more space in their cells than their male counterparts. Female prisoners also experienced a better quality of life than did their male counterparts due to their smaller numbers. Local human rights organizations reported, however, that female detainees showered within view of male corrections officers.
As of August the Department of Corrections (DAP) held approximately 550 prisoners in makeshift and unofficial detention centers, such as police stations in Petit-Goave, Miragoane, Gonaives, and some parts of Port-au-Prince. Local authorities held suspects in makeshift facilities, sometimes for extended periods, without registering them with the DAP.
Corrections authorities in Port-au-Prince maintained separate penitentiaries for adult men, women, and minors. In Port-au-Prince all male prisoners under 18 years of age were held at the juvenile facility at Delmas 33, but due to the lack of sufficient documentation, authorities could not always verify the ages of detainees. At times authorities detained minors believed to be older, and whose ages they could not confirm, with adult inmates. Authorities moved the vast majority of these minors to juvenile detention centers within two months of verifying their ages. Due to lack of space, resources, and oversight outside the capital, authorities sometimes did not separate juveniles from adult prisoners or convicted prisoners from pretrial detainees, as the law requires.
International and local observers indicated prisoners and detainees continued to suffer from a lack of basic hygiene, malnutrition, poor quality health care, and water-borne illness. According to a 2017 estimate (the most recent available), 10 percent of the nationwide prison population suffered from malnutrition and severe anemia, while sanitation-related diseases, including scabies, diarrhea, and oral infections, were commonplace. Because of poor security, severe understaffing, and conditions in some detention centers, prison officials did not allow prisoners out of their cells for exercise. In the National Penitentiary, prisoners spent approximately an hour outside of confinement, but in all other facilities, prisoners only had 15-20 minutes to bathe before returning to their cells.
Prisoners’ access to adequate nutrition remained a problem. The HNP has contractual and fiscal responsibility for the delivery of food to prisons. Human rights observers alleged that delays in fund disbursement and payments to contracted food suppliers reduced the number of meals fed to prisoners. Additionally, human rights groups accused prison officials of selling food intended for prisoners on the open market. Some prisons had kitchen facilities and employed persons to prepare and distribute food. Prison authorities generally provided prisoners with one or two meals a day, consisting of broth with flour dumplings and potatoes, rice and beans, or porridge. None of the regular meals served to prisoners provided sufficient calories, according to medical standards. Authorities allowed prisoners regular deliveries of food from relatives and friends.
As of October, MINUJUSTH reported 100 deaths in custody, whereas a prominent local human rights organization reported 120 deaths in detention over the same period. Most died from starvation, anemia brought on by malnutrition, tuberculosis, or other communicable diseases. Exact causes of death were difficult to ascertain, as the government did not regularly perform autopsies on deceased detainees. A government commission was created in February 2017 to investigate deaths due to prison conditions, but as of November, the commission’s findings were not published.
Most detention facilities had only basic clinics and lacked the medications for treatment of illnesses and diseases contracted while in custody. Few prisons had the resources to treat serious medical situations. Some very ill prisoners were treated at hospitals outside of prisons, but many hospitals were reluctant to take prisoners, as there was no formal arrangement between the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health regarding payment for treatment.
Administration: The country’s independent human rights monitoring body, the Office of Citizen Protection (OPC), maintained a presence at several prison facilities and advocated for the rights and better conditions of prisoners, especially juveniles in preventive detention, and investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The OPC regularly visited prisons and detention facilities throughout the country and worked closely with NGOs and civil society groups.
Independent Monitoring: The DAP permitted MINUJUSTH, local human rights NGOs, and other organizations to monitor prison conditions. These institutions and organizations investigated allegations of abuse and mistreatment of prisoners.
Improvements: The DAP added 93 new corrections officers in the year, increasing its force by more than 7 percent, as a measure to alleviate insufficient staffing. In July a group of approximately 20 DAP corrections officers prevented 4,200 detainees from escaping the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince. In previous years DAP corrections officers failed to prevent prison escapes or responded to prison disturbances with excessive force, notably in Les Cayes in 2010, where DAP officers killed or wounded numerous prisoners during a prison riot.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but it does not provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The constitution stipulates that authorities may arrest a person only if apprehended during the commission of a crime or based on a warrant issued by a competent official, such as a justice of the peace or magistrate. Authorities must bring the detainee before a judge within 48 hours of arrest. By routinely holding prisoners in prolonged pretrial detention, authorities often failed to comply with these provisions.
The law requires that authorities refer all cases involving allegations of police criminal misconduct to the HNP’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Senior police officials acknowledged receipt of several complaints alleging abuses committed by officers during the year but noted that financial, staffing, and training limitations prevented the institution from readily addressing all reports of such misconduct.
Local human rights groups reported detainees were often held in detention after completing their sentence due to difficulty obtaining a release order from the prosecutor’s office. For example, Jean-Louis Duckenson was convicted for using an illegal substance and received a six-month sentence. After completing his sentence, he remained in detention for an additional eight months because the paperwork for his release had not been processed.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Domestic security is maintained by the HNP, an autonomous civilian institution under the authority of a director general. The HNP includes police, corrections, fire, emergency response, airport security, port security, and coast guard functions. The Ministry of Justice and Public Security, through its minister and the secretary of state for public security, provides oversight to the HNP. The Superior Council of the National Police, chaired by the prime minister, provides oversight and strategic guidance to the HNP. The Superior Council also includes the HNP director general, HNP inspector general, minister of the interior, and minister of justice.
The HNP took steps toward imposing systematic discipline on officers found to have committed abuses or fraud, but civil society representatives continued to allege widespread impunity. The HNP held monthly press conferences that served as awareness campaigns to inform the public of their roles and responsibilities and to report on cases of misconduct. The OIG maintained a 24-hour hotline to receive public reports of police corruption or misconduct. The OIG sends these complaints to the HNP director general for approval and then to the Ministry of Justice, which decides whether to accept their recommendation. While government officials stated the Ministry of Justice nearly always accepted their recommendations, human rights groups complained there was no way to verify the complaints because there is no official case tracking after the complaints are transferred to the HNP director general.
As of September 15, the OIG for the HNP had reviewed 415 complaints against officers, of which 157 were recommended for suspension and 22 recommended for dismissal, including dismissal recommendations for officers accused of human rights violations, which was double the number of officers recommended for dismissal during the same period in 2017. Observers attributed the increase in officers recommended for dismissal to stronger accountability measures and capacity within the OIG to receive and process complaints. According to MINUJUSTH human rights officials, there were 25 confirmed cases of human rights violations by the HNP from October 2017 to September. MINUJUSTH and civil society groups reported that while HNP officers at times faced administrative sanctions, there were no judicial proceedings against officers suspected of human rights violations.
The HNP Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) unit remained underresourced and understaffed. The unit had two satellite offices at Fort National and Delmas 33. The HNP assigned officers who received SGBV training to serve as regional SGBV representatives in all 10 departments. These officers had minimal links to the SGBV unit in Port-au-Prince.
MINUJUSTH consisted of seven formed police units, comprising 295 individual police officers and 980 other personnel. Initiated in October 2017, MINUJUSTH has a mandate to work with the government to develop the HNP, strengthen the rule of law, and promote human rights.
Foreign governments and other entities continued to provide a wide variety of training and other types of assistance to improve police professionalism, including increasing respect for human rights. The HNP continued to expand its outreach to and relations with local populations in Port-au-Prince by supporting the community policing unit. The unit aimed to implement policing strategies to reduce crime and to foster positive police-populace communication over aggressive interdiction.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law permits police officers to make arrests with a court- or prosecutor-authorized warrant, or when officers apprehend a suspect in the process of committing a crime.
While authorities generally acknowledged the right to counsel, most detainees could not afford a private attorney. Some departmental bar associations and legal assistance groups provided free counsel. Some NGO attorneys also provided free legal services. The criminal procedure code does not allow for a functional bail system.
Arbitrary Arrest: Independent reporting confirmed instances in which, contrary to law, police without warrants or with improperly prepared warrants apprehended persons not actively committing crimes. Authorities frequently detained individuals on unspecified charges. Human rights organizations reported politicians routinely influenced judicial decisions and used the justice system to target political opponents. Persons arrested reported credible cases of extortion, false charges, illegal detention, physical violence by HNP personnel, and judicial officials’ refusal to comply with basic due process requirements.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a serious problem. The judicial system rarely observed the constitutional mandate to bring detainees before a judge within 48 hours. In some cases detainees spent years in detention without appearing before a judge. Prison population statistics did not include the large number of persons held in police stations around the country for longer than the 48-hour maximum initial detention period. Of the approximately 11,650 prison inmates, 74 percent were held in pretrial detention. Pretrial detention was significantly more prevalent in Port-au-Prince; as of August 30, authorities had yet to try 89 percent of Port-au-Prince’s inmates.
Many pretrial detainees had never consulted with an attorney, appeared before a judge, or been given a docket timeline. Time spent in pretrial detention varied significantly by geographic jurisdiction.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention Before a Court: There is no explicit habeas corpus law, although the constitution stipulates it is illegal for an individual to be detained for more than 48 hours without being seen by a judge. The OPC’s national and 12 regional offices worked on behalf of citizens to verify that law enforcement and judicial authorities respected the right to due process. When authorities detained persons beyond the maximum allotted 48 hours and OPC representatives learned of the case, they intervened on the detainee’s behalf to expedite the process. The OPC did not have the resources to intervene in all cases of arbitrary detention.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but senior officials in the executive and legislative branches exerted significant influence on the judicial branch and law enforcement. Local and international NGOs repeatedly criticized the government for attempting to influence judicial officials. As executive-appointed prosecutors could prevent cases from being seen by judges, the judges themselves faced less direct executive pressure in making decisions. Nonetheless, civil society organizations reported judges were often fearful of ruling against powerful interests due to fears for their personal security. The justice system was crippled by delays in the appointment of judges, and observers indicated that six of the 12 positions in the Supreme Court remained vacant. In the lower courts, the executive branch renewed the mandates of 50 of the 140 expired mandates for judges. Additionally, pervasive and longstanding problems, primarily stemming from a lack of judicial oversight and professionalism, contributed to a large backlog of criminal cases.
On August 28, observers reported most casework in the First Instance Court of Port-de-Paix stopped in the capital of the North West Department, due to a shortage of judges. Observers also confirmed several judges in Port-de-Paix were working with expired mandates. By law decisions taken by judges with expired mandates are invalid.
Internal political divisions as well as organizational, funding, and logistical problems often hampered the efficient functioning of the Superior Council of the Judiciary (CSPJ). The CSPJ is charged with independently overseeing judicial appointments, the discipline of judges, ethics issues, and management of the judiciary’s financial resources.
Observers stated the CSPJ was ineffective in providing judicial accountability and transparency. The CSPJ sanctioned eight judges during the year and only 30 judges since 2012. Local observers accused the CSPJ of functioning as a union for judges rather than focusing on oversight, transparency, and accountability. As members of the CSPJ are elected by their peers, civil society groups claimed CSPJ members focused on re-election rather than on executing their functions and were often reticent to sanction judges due to fear of damaging their chances of maintaining their position on the CSPJ. MINUJUSTH reported the performance of the CSPJ was affected by an unclear division of labor with the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, budgetary constraints, and allegations of interference by other branches of power.
The code of criminal procedure does not clearly assign criminal investigation responsibility, which it divides among police, justices of the peace, prosecutors, and investigating magistrates. As a result, authorities often failed to question witnesses, complete investigations, compile complete case files, or conduct autopsies. While the law provides investigative judges two months to request additional information from investigators, they often did not follow this requirement and frequently dropped cases or did not return them within the two-month limit. This resulted in prolonged pretrial detention for many detainees.
By law each of the country’s 18 jurisdictions should convene jury and nonjury trial sessions twice per year, usually held in July and December, for trials involving major violent crimes. During a case heard at a jury trial session, the court can decide to postpone the hearing to the next session for any reason–often because witnesses were not available. In these cases, defendants are returned to prison until the next jury trial session. Human rights groups highlighted the poor treatment of defendants during the criminal trials, saying that in some jurisdictions, defendants spent the entire day without food and water.
Corruption and a lack of judicial oversight also severely hampered the judiciary. Human rights organizations reported several judicial officials, including judges and court clerks, arbitrarily charged fees to initiate criminal prosecutions and that judges and prosecutors failed to respond to those who could not afford to pay. There were credible allegations of unqualified and unprofessional judges who received appointments as political favors. There were also persistent accusations that court deans, who are responsible for assigning cases to judges for investigation and review, at times assigned politically sensitive cases to judges with close ties to figures in the executive and legislative branches. Many judicial officials also held full-time occupations outside the courts, although the constitution bars judges from holding any other type of employment except teaching.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not enforce this right. The judiciary follows a civil law system based on the Napoleonic Code, largely unchanged since 1835. The constitution denies police and judicial authorities the right to interrogate suspects unless legal counsel or a representative of the suspect’s choice is present or the suspect waives this right. Authorities, however, widely ignored certain constitutionally provided trial and due process rights.
The constitution provides defendants a presumption of innocence, as well as the right to attend trial, confront hostile witnesses, and call witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Defendants cannot be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Judges often denied these rights. The perception of widespread impunity also discouraged some witnesses from testifying at trials. Defendants have the right of appeal. Defendants also have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice; however, legal aid programs were limited, and those who could not pay for attorneys were not always provided one free of charge. While French and Haitian Creole are both official languages of Haiti, the majority of legal proceedings and all laws are in French, despite the most commonly spoken language being Haitian Creole. Observers noted, however, that judges often spoke to the defendant in Haitian Creole to facilitate comprehension.
The functioning of justice of peace courts, the lowest courts in the judicial system, was inadequate. Judges presided in chamber based on their personal availability and often maintained separate, full-time jobs. Law enforcement personnel rarely maintained order during court proceedings, and frequently there was no court reporter. Bribes were often the principal factor in a judge’s decision to hear a case.
In many communities, especially in rural areas, elected communal administrators took the place of state judges and asserted powers of arrest, detention, and issuance of legal judgments. Some communal administrators turned their offices into courtrooms.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no credible reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Victims of alleged human rights abuses may bring their cases before a judge. Courts can award damages for human rights abuse claims brought in civil fora, but seeking such remedies was difficult and rarely successful.
Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
There was one highly publicized report that the government failed to provide proportionate and timely restitution or compensation for governmental confiscation of private property.
According to an August 9 RNDDH press statement, seven families were displaced when their houses in Pelerin 5, a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince, were demolished on July 2-4 at the request of the prosecutor for Port-au-Prince, Clame Ocnam Dameus, without a court order. Prosecutor Dameus stated the houses were unlawfully constructed on state-owned land and represented a threat to the security of President Moise and his family, who lived in the area. Former Pelerin 5 residents along with civil society groups disputed the claim that they illegally occupied state-owned land. As of September 15, seven of the 34 houses ordered destroyed had been demolished, and local authorities had turned off utility services to the remaining houses.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right. There were several instances when police used force to impose order during demonstrations. Citizens must apply for a permit to hold legal demonstrations. Although impromptu political demonstrations in some instances provoked aggressive law enforcement responses, police generally responded to these protests in a professional and effective manner.
Following the July 6-7 protests against the government’s decision to increase fuel prices, Port-au-Prince prosecutor Dameus ordered the arrest of 64 individuals accused of looting. These individuals included three who were living on property owned by opposition senator Antonio Cheramy. Some members of the opposition called the arrests politically motivated and illegal because a prosecutor can arrest only individuals caught in the process committing a crime. Dameus denied the allegations of “political persecution” and stated the persons arrested were caught carrying numerous items that had been looted from various stores. The detainees were subsequently released.
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 late 2016. While there were isolated allegations of voter fraud, the elections were generally regarded as credible. Although voter turnout was low, citizens generally accepted the elections, and public demonstrations against the election results were muted compared with previous years.
Political Parties and Political Participation: There were more than 100 political parties and platforms, 57 of which had elected officials at some level. The government was taking modest measures to reduce the number of parties, including by providing public funding to parties that meet certain criteria, although this was not intended to restrict overall citizen participation in politics. Certain 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; however, 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 that must include at least 30 percent women to be 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 that reject female participation in politics.