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 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and press. Government officials and private actors sometimes restricted this freedom.
Press and Media Freedom: There were isolated incidents of actions against journalists by national and local government officials. As a result, some independent media believed they were unable to criticize the government freely.
On March 14, Vladjimir Legagneur, an independent journalist, went missing after entering Grand-Ravine, a gang-controlled area of Port-au-Prince, to pursue a story about gang activities. Following his disappearance, journalists organized marches and called for a full investigation. On April 5, police announced two arrests in the case while waiting for results from forensic testing on “fresh” human remains found in the area where Legagneur was last seen. The results of the forensic exam were still pending as of October. As of September 15, the HNP had arrested four persons, including a schoolteacher in the area where Legagneur disappeared, in connection with the case.
Violence and Harassment: Some journalists were subjected to threats, harassment, and physical assault allegedly due to their reporting. In some instances government authorities participated in these acts.
On August 20, government officials alleged parliament had been attacked by persons with small arms fire and a grenade. Within a few days, however, various media establishments questioned the official narrative, since a preliminary investigation concluded the shots had likely come from inside the building. During the investigation tensions flared between police investigators and parliamentary security personnel, and the latter attempted to bar journalists from covering those exchanges by grabbing and blocking their cameras to prevent them from filming the incident. In the melee security agent Ernst Lee Raphael allegedly assaulted journalist Frantz Cineus of Television Pacific and damaged a camera. The presidents of both chambers of parliament publicly apologized after the initial events, and Raphael was fired. Following the incident, several journalists noted what they described as constant threats from security agents at the parliament who blamed journalists for the public’s negative perception of parliament.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: There were few allegations of censorship by the government. In March the National Telecommunications Board closed 10 radio stations accused of operating without a license. One such station, Radio Planete, alleged the decision was politically motivated, since one of their journalists hosted a show critical of the government handling of Petro Caribe financing (see section 4). The telecommunications board’s president denied the accusations and reiterated his determination to combat “pirate” stations.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authorization. Socioeconomic and infrastructure hurdles contributed to the dominance of radio and, to a lesser extent, television, over the internet.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 12 percent of citizens used the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
In May an NGO focused on rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons said it was barred from hosting a panel discussion on LGBTI issues at the Cap-Haitian State University campus, a government university, even though payment had been accepted for the event.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: While the law prohibits rape of men or women, it 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 rigorous. The criminal code excuses a husband who kills his wife or her partner found engaging in an act of adultery in his 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 February the OPC reported that the First Instance Court of Jeremie, the largest city and capital of Grand’Anse Department, released 16 of 29 individuals accused of rape. The prosecutor for Jeremie, Bergemane Sylvain, allegedly dropped charges against the accused with the justification that the victims had signed statements withdrawing their claims. The OPC criticized Sylvain’s decision, saying that the law does not allow for compromise in criminal matters and that the victim’s retraction cannot stop a prosecution. The accused remained free at year’s end.
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. Civil society organizations reported that while women were more likely to report cases of sexual and domestic violence than in the past, many victims failed to report such cases due to a lack of financial resources. Additionally, 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.
On September 6, MINUJUSTH reported an increase in the number of sexual and gender-based violence cases investigated. They reported that between January and August, 149 cases were investigated, compared with 181 investigations in all of 2017. Nonetheless, there were reports that in rural areas, criminal cases, including cases of sexual violence, were settled out of court. According to MINUJUSTH, 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.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: The law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Women did not enjoy the same social and economic status as men, despite the constitutional amendments recognizing the principle of at least 30 percent women’s participation in national life and notably in public service.
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 resources.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through an individual’s parents; only one parent of either sex is necessary to transmit citizenship. Citizenship can also be acquired through a formal request to the Ministry of the Interior. The government did not register all births immediately. Birth registry is free until the age of two years. Approximately 30 percent of children between the ages of one and five lacked birth certificates or any other official documentation. Children born in rural communities were less likely to be documented than those in urban areas.
Education: Constitutional provisions require the government to provide free and compulsory education for all children up to grade nine (when students are approximately age 16); however, the government did not effectively enforce these provisions. Eight of 10 children who attended school did so at private, often religious institutions. The quality of those institutions varied widely because the government lacked the means to inspect them.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits domestic violence against minors. The government continued to lack sufficient resources and an adequate legal framework to support or enforce existing mechanisms to promote children’s rights and welfare fully, but it made some progress in institutionalizing protections for children.
The most recent study launched by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, published in 2015, estimated there were 286,000 children working in indentured domestic servitude (referred to as restaveks), a form of trafficking in persons. Furthermore, restaveks were often victims of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse. The National Child Welfare Institute (IBESR), along with the HNP’s specialized Child Protection Bureau (BPM), were tasked with protecting the welfare of children. Their efforts were limited, however, by small budgets and inadequate personnel.
For more information, see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/ and the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at .
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18 years. No data was available regarding early and forced marriage, but childhood and forced marriage was not a widespread custom.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 18 years, and the law has special provisions for rapes of persons who are 16 years or younger. The law prohibits the corruption of youth under 21, including prostitution, with penalties ranging from six months to three years of imprisonment for offenders. The law prescribes prison sentences of seven to 15 years of imprisonment and a fine ranging from 200,000 to 1.5 million Haitian Gourdes (HTG) ($2,900 to $21,600). The penalty for human trafficking with aggravating circumstances, which includes cases involving the exploitation of children, is up to life imprisonment.
According to a September 6 MINUJUSTH report, the majority of reported victims of sexual violence were underage girls. There were some reported instances of boys being raped. Several civil society groups reported children living in impoverished conditions were often subjected to sexual exploitation and abuse. According to these groups, children were often forced into prostitution or lured into transactional sex to fund basic needs such as school related expenses. Recruitment of children for sexual exploitation and pornography is illegal, but the United Nations reported criminal gangs recruited children as young as 10 years of age.
On June 13, the government announced it had permanently banned international NGO Oxfam from operating in the country following allegations that Oxfam employees had engaged in sexual misconduct and abuse during the 2010 earthquake response. There were allegations that some of the victims may have been minor children.
Institutionalized Children: The IBESR has official responsibility for monitoring and accrediting the country’s orphanages and residential care centers. According to international NGO Lumos, an estimated 25,000 children lived in the more than 750 orphanages in the country. An estimated 80 percent of those children had at least one known parent who was alive. In October the IBESR announced that only 35 of the more than 750 orphanages it inspected were compliant with the minimum standards for child care. The IBESR attempted to close the most egregious orphanages but could only do so as quickly as they could find placement for the children. In 2017 government officials closed four abusive orphanages that housed 116 children and potentially involved trafficking and placed 51 children from those orphanages into foster care; the remainder were returned to their families. The government accredited 96 families for its newly developed foster care program to make children less vulnerable to trafficking or being revictimized. Local and international antitrafficking organizations noted, however, that the government had not provided appropriate resources to develop enough transitional centers or other temporary housing and care facilities.
There are different provisions for juvenile offenders. Children under 13 are not held responsible for their actions, and until age 16, they cannot be held in adult prisons or share their cells. Instead, juvenile offenders were placed in re-education centers with the objective of successful societal reinsertion. There were two rehabilitation centers, both in Port-au-Prince, called CERMICOL. As of August approximately 200 minors were in CERMICOL.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
The Jewish community numbered fewer than 100 persons, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution stipulates that persons with disabilities should have the means to provide for their autonomy, education, and independence. The law prohibits discrimination in employment practices against persons with disabilities, requires the government to integrate such persons into the state’s public services, and imposes a 2 percent quota for persons with disabilities in the workforces of private-sector companies. This quota was not met, as the government did not enforce these legal protections.
Local disabilities rights advocates stated that persons with disabilities faced significant obstacles to vote, as they had difficulty obtaining a national identification card, a requirement to vote, because the National Identification Office was inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
Individuals with disabilities faced significant social stigma because of their disability. Persons with mental or developmental disabilities were marginalized, neglected, and abused in society. The Office of the Secretary of State for the Integration of Handicapped Persons (BSEIPH), which falls under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, is the lead government agency responsible for providing assistance to persons with disabilities and ensuring their civil, political, and social inclusion.
The BSEIPH had several departmental offices outside the capital, and it effectively lobbied the government to pass legislation to benefit persons with disabilities. Nonetheless, its efforts were constrained by a limited budget, and there was little progress to create of a strategic development plan to guide the institutions efforts. The BSEIPH provided persons with disabilities with legal advice and job counseling services. It regularly convened meetings with disabilities rights groups in all of its regional offices.
Some disabilities rights activists called the social services available to persons with disabilities inadequate, adding that access to quality medical care posed a significant challenge for persons with disabilities. Hospitals and clinics in Port-au-Prince did not have sufficient space, human resources, or public funds to treat such individuals.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
No laws criminalize sexual orientation or consensual same-sex conduct between adults. There are no antidiscrimination laws to protect LGBTI persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
There were no reports of police officers actively perpetrating or condoning violence against LGBTI individuals. Some LGBTI groups reported the HNP and judicial authorities were inconsistent in their willingness to document or investigate LGBTI persons’ claims of abuse. HNP academy instructors taught police officers to respect the rights of all civilians without exception. The curriculum specifically trained new officers on crimes commonly committed against the LGBTI community. As a result, some civil society leaders noticed a marked improvement in the efforts of the HNP’s Gender and Community Police Units to address the needs of the LGBTI community.
In August the office of an LGBTI rights organization was attacked by an individual shouting anti-LGBTI slogans. According to the organization, the attacker came to request financial assistance and when the organization refused, he attacked the office. The assailant returned the next day with other armed individuals to set fire to the office. The organization stated local police officers were slow to offer assistance and that at one point, an officer asserted there was no evidence of the alleged attack. The organization’s coordinator said he went to file a complaint with the local justice of the peace, who made anti-LGBTI remarks before referring him to the court clerk, who requested a bribe to begin the investigation.
Local attitudes remained hostile toward LGBTI individuals who were public and visible about their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, particularly in Port-au-Prince. Some politicians, societal leaders, and organizations actively opposed the social integration of LGBTI persons and discussion of their rights. LGBTI advocacy groups in Port-au-Prince reported a greater sense of insecurity and less trust of government authorities than did groups in rural areas.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
According to a 2017 Center for Disease Control-sponsored stigma index, 57 percent of women and 54 percent of men said they would deny HIV-positive children entrance to schools with HIV-negative children, and 65 percent of women and 64 percent of men said they would not buy vegetables from persons with HIV.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
MINUJUSTH and numerous civil society organizations reported gang violence continued to increase, particularly in impoverished areas of Port-au-Prince such as Martissant and Grand-Ravine. MINUJUSTH reported that, between June and August, there were seven gang-related incidents reported, compared with three from the same period in 2017.
Section 7. Worker Rights
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor; however, the government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors of the economy. The labor ombudsperson, however, did not record any instances of intimidation or employer abuse. Penalties for violations of forced labor laws range from 1,000 to 3,000 HTG ($14.40 to $43.20) but were insufficient to deter violations.
There were reports that forced or compulsory labor occurred, specifically, instances of forced labor among child domestics, or restaveks (see section 7.c.). Children in the following situations were vulnerable to forced labor: private and NGO-sponsored residential care centers; workers in construction, agriculture, fisheries, domestic work, and street vending; IDPs, including those displaced by Hurricane Matthew and the 2010 earthquake; members of female-headed, single-parent, or large families; and LGBTI youth often left homeless and stigmatized by their families and society (see section 7.c.).
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.