Haiti is a constitutional republic. International observers assessed the 2006 presidential and parliamentary elections as generally free and fair, after which President Rene Preval and the new parliament took office in May of that year. The government did not hold follow-on indirect elections that would have completed the construction of local government institutions and would have created a Permanent Electoral Council. Neither did it hold the expected November 2007 elections. The government reconstituted the existing Provisional Electoral Council in December 2007 with a mandate to schedule new elections to renew one-third of the Senate in 2008. Despite some improvements, the government's human rights record remained poor. Human rights problems included government ineffectiveness in addressing killings and other abuses by gangs and other armed groups; Haitian National Police (HNP) participation in kidnappings; dangerous prison conditions; arbitrary threats and arrests; lack of judicial effectiveness and independence; violence and discrimination against women; child abuse and internal trafficking of children for domestic labor; and ineffective enforcement of trade union rights.
The U.S. strategy for advancing freedom and democracy focuses on the following priorities: promoting peace and security; and strengthening democracy, governance, and the rule of law. In developing strategy priorities, the U.S. government consults with government institutions, NGOs, trade unions, and other organizations, and works closely with these groups to encourage reforms and discuss problems related to human rights and democracy. These priorities respond to the challenges the government faces, including corrupt, weak and nontransparent institutions; lack of confidence in the dysfunctional judicial system; and violent and lawless neighborhoods in major population centers.
The embassy seeks to resolve short-term insecurity and instability and foster longer-term government commitment to and participation in sustainable programs to promote democratic principles, practices, and human rights. These efforts include securing free and fair local and national elections, supporting good governance and justice sector reforms, and fostering the social reintegration of trafficked children. The U.S. uses diplomatic engagement, public outreach, foreign assistance programs, and related initiatives to advance strategy objectives.
The United States continues to strengthen democracy and governance through direct technical assistance and support of on-the-ground partners. U.S. technical assistance is helping the government finance procurement of ballots and other voting materials for the upcoming senatorial elections. The United States is also partnering with an elections NGO to provide technical expertise to the Provisional Electoral Council. In the Sud, Sud-Est, and Centre Departments, a U.S. program fosters effective and responsive municipal-level governance by strengthening institutions and facilitating citizen participation.
The U.S. government advances respect for the rule of law by providing logistical assistance for expediting trials and supporting a roving justice of the peace program that enables residents in rural areas to resolve minor conflicts peacefully. The rehabilitated court building in Cite Soleil also promotes the rule of law by housing a citizen complaints office, law clinic, and legal assistance program. U.S. funding to rehabilitate the Cite Soleil court building is enabling residents to pursue peaceful and lawful resolutions of local disputes.
The U.S. government continues to promote peace and security through technical assistance, equipment, and training, including human rights training, of more than 600 new police academy graduates, including 86 women. This U.S. assistance is promoting improvements in the HNP's performance and public image. U.S.-sponsored efforts to promote citizen security also include initiatives for vulnerable groups. In Cite Soleil, a volatile neighborhood on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, the United States sponsors an out-of-school youth program that has helped approximately 350 young persons acquire vocational training. As part of the U.S. embassy's active public diplomacy agenda, mission officials regularly discuss human rights and labor rights priorities with government officials and NGOs, including holding public dialogues on the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
To address Haiti's challenges to government accountability and transparency, and respect for the rule of law, the U.S. government provides technical training to the Financial Intelligence Unit in the Ministry of Justice, the Bureau of Financial and Economic Affairs in the Judicial Police, the HNP, and the criminal justice system for investigating and prosecuting persons accused of corruption. The United States is also funding the establishment of an anticorruption computerized control system for the Ministry of Economics and Finance.
The trafficking of children for the purpose of domestic servitude as "restaveks" remains a serious problem, with estimates of as many as 300,000 children laboring in this form of exploitation. To support the government's efforts to combat the restavek phenomenon, U.S.-funded programs operated by NGOs are implementing public campaigns to raise awareness about trafficking, provide services to victims, and coordinate efforts for legislative reform. The programs also provide trafficked children with food, medical care, transportation, informal education, and shelter, and are focused on safely returning rescued children to their regions of origin within the country.