Haiti is a constitutional republic with a multiparty political system. The most recent national legislative elections were held in November 2016; international observers considered the elections free and fair. In January 2020 the terms of the majority of parliamentarians expired due to a failure of the country to conduct elections in 2019. Only 10 elected members of 30 remained in the upper house, while the lower house had none. As a result, parliament was unable to reach a quorum and ceased to function. Nearly 400 unelected mayors served at the pleasure of the executive.
Jovenel Moise was elected as president for a five-year term and took office in February 2017. Controversy arose early in the year regarding the length of his mandate and whether it expired in February 2021 or 2022, due to ambiguities in the constitution. Despite opposition from most political actors and civil society, President Moise remained in power until his assassination on July 7. Three days before his death, Moise had named, but not yet sworn in, Ariel Henry to replace Joseph Jouthe as prime minister. On July 20, after a short power struggle, Henry became the prime minister, and on September 11, he signed a political accord with a large number of opposition parties and civil society organizations. Planned 2021 presidential and legislative elections had already suffered logistical difficulties and delays; Moise’s assassination and an ensuing lengthy process to negotiate a political accord resulted in an agreement to delay elections until 2022 or later.
The Haitian National Police, an autonomous civilian institution led by a director general under the authority of the minister of justice, is responsible for maintaining public security. The Haitian National Police 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 Haitian National Police. The Superior Council of the National Police, chaired by the prime minister, provides strategic guidance. The Superior Council includes the director general and the chief inspector general of the Haitian National Police, the minister of the interior, and the minister of justice. Civilian authorities at times did not maintain effective control over security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful and arbitrary killings by gangs allegedly supported by government officials and private-sector actors; torture or cruel and degrading treatment by government agents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; violence or threats of violence against journalists; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for sexual and gender-based violence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with physical, mental, and developmental disabilities; and forced child labor.
The government rarely took steps to prosecute government and law enforcement officials accused of committing abuses and corruption, and civil society groups alleged widespread impunity regarding these acts.
Gang violence escalated throughout the country, particularly in metropolitan areas, and the gangs allegedly received support from political and economic elites. Kidnappings for ransom by armed gangs increased and affected all sections of society. Armed gangs were also responsible for armed conflicts resulting in approximately 20,000 displaced persons, for capturing up to 10 police stations and substations, and for blocking fuel supplies in October and November, bringing economic life and freedom of movement to a virtual standstill.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
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. The crimes were rarely formally prosecuted and often settled under pressure from community and religious leaders, generally through a monetary settlement calling on the father to pay for prenatal care and birth costs, and more occasionally calling on the father to acknowledge the child as his own; forced marriages were far less prevalent. The law 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 and had increased due to the mass displacements caused by gang violence, COVID-19 restrictions, and the August 14 earthquake. Judges often released suspects arrested for domestic violence and rape.
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 anecdotally that women were more likely to report cases of sexual and domestic violence since 2014, when the women’s movement achieved major policy victories, including the enactment of the Law on Responsible Fatherhood. Nonetheless, the same organizations reported that many victims still did not report such cases for reasons that included social pressure, fear, and a lack of logistical and 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 services, 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 the justice system. In such cases local leaders often pressured family members to come to financial settlements with the accused to avoid social discord and embarrassment. According to judicial observers, prosecutors often encouraged such settlements.
According to a rapid gender assessment conducted by CARE International, gender-based violence became a far greater problem in areas affected by the August 14 earthquake. Seventy percent of women and men surveyed in affected areas said their fear of sexual violence had increased since the earthquake. Forty-three percent of community leaders and 75 percent of youth said sexual violence had increased since the earthquake, and 70 percent of organizations said women and girls were most at risk of sexual violence.
In Les Cayes Prison, where women have a section visible to men, women reported receiving abusive comments from male inmates and officers. During a 2019 prison mutiny, male inmates raped 10 women and one 15-year-old girl. The investigation conducted by the HNP Inspectorate General recommended the dismissal of a corrections officer, which was never implemented. The case was transferred to the Gonaives prosecutor’s office, where it remained an open investigation.
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. Although authorities stated the government was opposed to sexual harassment, there were no formal governmental programs to combat it on a national scale.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
While stigma around seeking or accessing contraception significantly decreased over the past decade and women were far more knowledgeable about contraception, social and economic barriers remained. Cultural and historical barriers persisted in the use of the intrauterine device and contraception more generally, particularly cultural misconceptions and lack of knowledge of proper usage.
Many women and their families maintained a strong preference for giving birth at home with the assistance of matrones (traditional birth attendants) as opposed to giving birth in health facilities with the assistance of skilled birth attendants. The choice may be rooted in a desire for client-centered care, particularly for respectful maternity care, which was otherwise largely unavailable. The government did not allow state institutions to work openly with matrones, a practice that prevented them from acquiring the skills needed to serve as skilled birth attendants.
The government has protocols governing the provision of service to survivors of sexual violence. Emergency contraception is part of a mandatory package of services for the clinical management of rape cases, according to government protocols on the handling of rape cases. Emergency contraceptives were available, although health providers noted they were not always distributed equitably. The Ministry of Health was responsible for maintaining these protocols and practices; however, donors and NGO partners provided nearly all such care.
The World Health Organization estimated the maternal mortality rate at 480 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017. A major cause of maternal deaths was the government’s lack of support for matrones. Other reasons included geographic difficulties in access to health facilities and financial barriers to primary health care. Of the country’s 571 communal sections, 125 had no health facilities. The proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel was 42 percent. The adolescent birth rate for those ages 15-19 years was 140 per 1,000.
Discrimination: Women did not enjoy the same social and economic status as men, despite the constitutional requirement 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. Women were often classified into certain jobs such as secretarial or cleaning services, and they faced lower pay as well as barriers when attempting to compete for hiring or promotions on an equal footing with men. Women were largely viewed as more vulnerable to coercive and exploitive practices in the workplace, such as sexual harassment.
The constitution states that “to fortify the national unity, eliminating all discrimination between the populations, of the towns and of the countryside, by the acceptance of the community of languages and of culture and by the recognition of the right to progress, to information, to education, to health, to work and to leisure for all citizens [masculine] and citizens [feminine].” The constitution also establishes the Office of Citizen Protection to protect “all individuals against any form of abuse by the government.”
There were high levels of colorism (prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone) and ethnic discrimination against the Syrian-Lebanese community that controlled many aspects of the economy. President Moise often stoked these economic resentments into populist nationalism, as both he and his ministers made increasingly provocative claims in speeches regarding the oligarchs in control of the country’s economy. Colorism has a long tradition in society, with light-skinned, often French-speaking, Haitians disparaging darker-skinned Haitians, who more generally speak only Creole.
During the year the international activist and founder of the think tank Policite, Emmanuela Douyon, published an editorial examining the historically taboo subject of colorism. Douyon suggested that certain positions in society, including owners of supermarkets, entertainment companies, and other businesses, were dominated by lighter-skinned Haitians. She called for an end to “the hints of this infamous slavery system” by guaranteeing that neither racism nor colorism are tolerated.
The rhetoric of the Moise administration on ethnic discrimination against the Syrian-Lebanese community became more dangerous as it was adopted by the infamous G9 Friends and Allies gang leader Cherizier, who advocated their toppling. In sporadic rioting during the year, unidentified individuals often targeted members of the Syrian-Lebanese minority. In a night of rioting on March 17, for example, individuals looted the Universal Motors dealership, owned by the wealthy businessman and leader of the Third Way Movement political party Reginald Boulos, and set the building on fire.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived through an individual’s parents; either parent can 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 age two. Approximately 30 percent of children between ages one and five lacked birth certificates or any other official documentation. Children born in rural communities were less likely to be documented than children in urban areas. During the year the Interior Ministry issued a large backlog of birth certificates, as these were necessary for the citizenry to apply for the new national biometrically enabled identification cards required to vote in elections.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits domestic violence against minors. The government lacked an adequate legal framework to support or enforce mechanisms to fully promote children’s rights and welfare. The government made some progress in institutionalizing protections for children.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal age of marriage is 18 for men and 15 for women. Early and forced marriage were not widespread customs. Plasaj, or common-law marriage, was common and sometimes used by older men to enter relationships with underage girls. The government does not formally recognize plasaj, although children born to those couples can be recognized as lawful heirs of the father.
Sexual Exploitation of Children : The minimum age for consensual sex is 18, and the law has special provisions for rape of a person age 16 or younger. The law prohibits the “corruption” of persons younger than 21, including through commercial sex, with penalties ranging from six months to three years of imprisonment. The maximum penalty for human trafficking with aggravating circumstances, which includes cases involving the exploitation of children, is life imprisonment.
The former president of the Haitian Football Federation, Yves Jean-Bart, was banned for life by the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and fined $1.14 million and procedural costs for the rape and sexual abuse, at times including sex trafficking, of up to 34 women, including at least 14 girls, between 2014 and 2020. As of November 22, authorities had not acted against Jean-Bart or 10 other perpetrators and accomplices in the case, including the head of the Haitian National Referees Committee, whom FIFA provisionally suspended for 90 days as part of its investigation.
Several civil society groups reported on impoverished children subjected to sexual exploitation and abuse. According to these groups, children were often forced into commercial sex or 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 age 10.
Displaced Children: Children displaced by the gang violence of June and the August 14 earthquake were vulnerable to sexual exploitation, as many of the children remained in formal or informal IDP camps while their parents went to work. The OPC contributed to the coordination of a humanitarian response, with food and medical relief; items for babies and pregnant or breastfeeding women; “dignity kits” containing menstrual pads, soap, underwear, detergent, a flashlight, and toiletries for girls and women; postexposure prophylaxis kits for those exposed to HIV; items for persons with disabilities; and psychosocial support for those affected by exploitation and sexual abuse.
Institutionalized Children: The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor’s Institute of Social Welfare and Research (IBESR) has official responsibility for monitoring and accrediting the country’s residential children’s homes and care centers. The institute reported 754 such facilities in operation, although only 98 were licensed by the government. According to the international NGO Lumos, an estimated 25,000 children lived in residential children’s homes and care centers, and approximately 80 percent of these children had at least one living parent.
On April 12, 12 armed men broke into an orphanage in Croix-des-Bouquets, killing a security guard and sexually assaulting two children and an employee before leaving with stolen money and valuables. As of November no arrests related to the break-in or assaults had been made.
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/reported-cases.html.
The Jewish community numbered fewer than 100 persons, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The Office of the Secretary of State for the Integration of Handicapped Persons (BSEIPH) in the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor is the lead government agency responsible for assisting persons with disabilities and ensuring their civil, political, and social inclusion. The constitution stipulates persons with disabilities should have adequate means to provide for their autonomy, education, and independence. The law requires all public buildings and spaces to be accessible to persons with disabilities. 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. The quota was not met, and the government did not enforce these legal protections, particularly regarding education, health services, public buildings, and transportation. The law bans discrimination against persons with disabilities and stipulates they have the right to basic services such as health, education, and justice.
Local disability rights advocates stated that persons with disabilities faced significant obstacles to voting and civic participation. Persons with disabilities had difficulty obtaining national identification cards, required for voting, because the National Identification Office was inaccessible to persons with disabilities.
Individuals with disabilities faced significant social stigma, exclusion, and discrimination due to their disabilities. For instance, families often left their disabled family members isolated at home. Establishments including government offices, churches, and schools did not routinely make services accessible for persons with disabilities. Opportunities to access services often depended on the economic status of the family. Persons with mental, developmental, or physical disabilities were marginalized and neglected. Deaf and blind citizens also faced marginalization and neglect and did not routinely receive necessary services.
According to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Work, 3.5 percent of an estimated 120,000 children with disabilities in Port-au-Prince attended school, as opposed to 57 percent among the general population. Disability activists reported that students with disabilities had less access to secondary education. There were a few specialized schools, all located in West Department, including Port-au-Prince. Otherwise, the students with disabilities were integrated into general classes. Nationwide, while some children with disabilities were mainstreamed into regular schools, mainstreaming depended on the severity of the disability and the economic status of the family. A small number of schools provided specialized education for children whose disabilities did not allow them to be mainstreamed.
On September 2, the victims in the arson of Camp Lapiste organized a march to the Office of the National Ombudsman, denouncing what they saw as government and social neglect of their community. They shouted slogans asking whether they were full citizens and questioning why human rights activists had not spoken out on their behalf. Renan Hedouville, the national ombudsman, assured them of his support and criticized the government’s decision to dismiss Undersecretary Soinette Desir, who led the BSEIPH. That decision had been taken a few weeks earlier, when Prime Minister Ariel Henry declared his government “did not have any undersecretary.” As of October the victims had yet to be resettled, and the government had not nominated anyone to lead the BSEIPH.
The BSEIPH had several departmental offices outside the capital, but there was little progress towards creating a strategic development plan. The BSEIPH provided legal advice and job-counseling services to persons with disabilities. It regularly convened meetings with disability rights groups in all its regional offices. The BSEIPH generally worked to integrate persons with disabilities into the general society, in part by encouraging their employment in public institutions.
Some disability rights activists noted social services available to persons with disabilities were inadequate and that persons with disabilities had significant problems accessing quality medical care. Hospitals and clinics in Port-au-Prince were rarely accessible to persons with disabilities and often refused to treat them.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Stigma against persons with HIV/AIDS was strong and widespread. In 2020 UNAIDS reported 63 percent of adults in the country said they would not purchase vegetables from a seller known to be HIV-positive, while 54 percent believed students with HIV should not attend school.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
There were reports that police condoned violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals. Some LGBTQI+ groups reported police and judicial authorities were inconsistent in their willingness to document or investigate LGBTQI+ persons’ claims of abuse.
No laws criminalize sexual orientation or consensual same-sex conduct between adults, but there are no laws to protect LGBTQI+ persons from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The government’s penal code reforms announced in 2020 and scheduled to enter into force in 2022, offer specific protections to LGBTQI+ persons for the first time. These include making LGBTQI+ persons a protected group and imposing penalties for public agents, persons, and institutions who refuse services on the grounds of someone’s sexual orientation. A backlash against these changes, however, led to calls for a committee to amend the code, thus stalling any government efforts to prepare for the transition. The Ministry of Justice stated that it expected a significant delay in the code’s implementation.
A 2017 study of public opinions on stigma and discrimination towards vulnerable groups showed that 71 percent of the individuals surveyed said “hate” was the most appropriate term to express their attitude toward LGBTQI+ persons, and 90 percent of the adult populations rejected the idea of equal rights for sexual minorities.
Local attitudes, particularly in Port-au-Prince, remained hostile toward LGBTQI+ persons who were public and visible about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Some politicians, social leaders, and organizations actively opposed the social integration of LGBTQI+ persons or any discussion of their rights. LGBTQI+ advocacy groups in Port-au-Prince reported a greater sense of insecurity and less trust of government authorities than did groups in rural areas.