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 2016; international observers considered the elections free and fair. Prime Minister Jean Henry Ceant departed office in March after a vote of no confidence in the lower house of parliament. Legislative elections planned for October 2019 did not take place. As of December, parliament had not approved a new prime minister and cabinet, nor a budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year.
The Haitian National Police (HNP), an autonomous civilian institution under the authority of a director general, maintains domestic security. 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 strategic guidance to the HNP. The Superior Council also includes the HNP director general, HNP chief inspector general, minister of the interior, and minister of justice. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.
Significant human rights issues included allegations of unlawful killings by police; excessive use of force by police; arbitrary and prolonged pretrial detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; a judiciary subject to corruption and outside influence; physical attacks on journalists; widespread corruption and impunity; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with physical, mental, and developmental disabilities; and sexual and gender-based violence and discrimination.
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 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.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
f. Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting refugee status or asylum through Haitian missions or consulates abroad. Third-country nationals can petition for asylum through the local office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
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.
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.