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 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports of arbitrary and unlawful killings perpetrated by armed gangs allegedly supported and protected by the government.
Young men from the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Ravine Pintade alleged police killed 11 of their peers on September 21 as they were recording a music video with fake weapons. During a press conference on September 22, police spokesperson Inspector Marie Michelle Verrier stated police had heard gunfire and that an investigation was underway. According to an investigation of the incident by the Center for Advocacy and Research in Human Rights (CARDH) released in October, at least 11 persons were killed, including the son of a Haitian National Police (HNP) divisional inspector. According to CARDH, police killed three at the scene, wounded and then killed two others, carried away four others later found dead in a second location. Three more were found dead the following day. The official investigation remained open as of November.
The HNP reported 1,352 homicides between January and October 31. The Catholic Commission for Peace and Justice blamed most of these deaths on gang warfare and called on the government to investigate the “hidden forces” behind the violence, including political and economic actors bankrolling gang activity. In June the Eyes Wide Open Foundation (FJKL) reported the existence of more than 150 active gangs in the country and alleged the government actively supported certain gangs.
The National Network for the Defense of Human Rights reported the government weakened the HNP during the year through politicization and exploitation of the institution. It further reported the government did not provide sufficient resources for police officers to carry out their duties but used government funds to strengthen chosen armed gangs instead. In 2020 armed gangs were invited by the National Commission for Disarmament and Reintegration to federate with the support of the government, ostensibly with the intention of reducing intergang violence and providing the commission with a negotiating partner. As a result, the G9 federation of gangs, formed in May 2020 and led by Jimmy “Barbeque” Cherizier, emerged as one the largest criminal organizations in the country. Following the G9’s formation, the country witnessed a spike in attacks against the HNP, including the killing of 36 police officers between January 1 and September 1, kidnappings for ransom of police officers, the takeover of police stations by armed gangs, and police officers fleeing for their lives.
On March 12, the HNP attempted to conduct an antigang operation in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Village de Dieu. The offensive led to the deaths of at least four HNP officers, whose bodies were not recovered. Two of the officers were publicly mutilated. The gangs also captured one police armored vehicle and destroyed a second in an operation that yielded no arrests.
The government and judiciary made minimal progress on a growing list of emblematic human rights cases. While authorities stated they continued to investigate large-scale attacks in the Port-au-Prince neighborhoods of Grande Ravine (2017), Bel Air (2018), La Saline (2019), and Cite Soleil (2020), each of which left dozens dead, the government had yet to bring any of the perpetrators to justice. In January President Moise declined to renew the mandate of the investigative judge in the La Saline case, despite a positive vetting record and recommendation by the Superior Council of the Judiciary. Among those implicated in La Saline and Bel Air were Jimmy Cherizier, Fednel Monchery, and Joseph Pierre Richard Duplan, all of whom were government officials at the time of the La Saline attacks. On February 13, Monchery was arrested for a traffic violation, yet despite an active warrant against him, authorities released him within hours of his arrest. Progress also ceased in the judicial investigation into the 2020 killing of Port-au-Prince Bar Association president Monferrier Dorval, as the judge responsible for the case resigned his position in September due to persistent threats on his life and a lack of cooperation from the government. On October 5, a new judge took over the Dorval investigation. A judge continued to investigate the assassination of President Moise; however, many members of civil society organizations and the government did not believe the judiciary had the capacity to handle such a complex, sensitive, and politicized crime.
The UN Integrated Mission in Haiti (BINUH) and numerous civil society organizations reported that gang violence in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area and Artibonite Department increased as gangs attempted to expand their spheres of control, resulting in 1,352 homicides as of October 31.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
While the law prohibits such practices, there were several reports from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleging that HNP officers beat or otherwise abused detainees and suspects.
On May 12, a widely circulated video showed four departmental public order unit officers from Nord-Est Department forcibly removing Peguy Simeon from the roof of a public bus, after which they threw him to the ground and beat him. Simeon, on his way home from the Dominican Republic following his recent deportation, was taken to a local hospital, where he died due to his injuries. The HNP Office of the Inspector General placed the four officers involved in isolation, took precautionary measures (e.g., removal of firearms, assignment to desk duty, or both) against three more, and transferred the case to the local prosecutor for legal proceedings.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. From September 2020 to June, BINUH documented 213 human rights violations, of which 126 were further investigated by the HNP Office of the Inspector General. During the same period, the General Inspectorate completed 131 investigations, many of which had been initiated previously. None of the eight cases transferred to prosecutors had gone to trial as of October. Civil society representatives continued to allege widespread impunity, driven largely by poor training and a lack of professionalism, as well as rogue elements within the police force allegedly maintaining gang connections.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in prisons and detention centers throughout the country were life-threatening. In June, BINUH and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) jointly reported prisoners were subject to torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in prisons and makeshift detention centers.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding at prisons and detention centers was severe. The June OHCHR/ BINUH report found the average amount of space per prisoner was six square feet for men and 9.5 for women, although in some prisons space per prisoner was limited to as little as 2.5 square feet. In many prisons detainees slept in shifts due to the lack of space. Some prisons had no beds, and some cells had no natural light. In other prisons the cells were either open to the elements or lacked adequate ventilation. Prison facilities generally lacked adequate basic services such as plumbing, sanitation, waste disposal, medical services, potable water, electricity, ventilation, lighting, and medical isolation units for patients with contagious illnesses. BINUH and the OHCHR found the use of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, sometimes amounting to torture, was widespread as a disciplinary measure throughout the prison system.
As of July approximately 270 prisoners were being held in makeshift and unofficial detention centers such as police stations in Petit-Goave and Miragoane. Local authorities held suspects in these facilities, sometimes for extended periods, without registering them with the HNP’s Directorate of Prisons.
Corrections authorities in Port-au-Prince maintained separate penitentiaries for adult men, women, and minors. In Port-au-Prince all male prisoners younger than 18 were held at the juvenile facility, but due to the lack of documentation, authorities could not always verify the ages of detainees. At times authorities mistakenly detained minors whose ages they could not confirm with adult inmates. Outside Port-au-Prince, due to lack of prison space and oversight, authorities did not always separate juveniles from adult prisoners or separate convicted prisoners from pretrial detainees, as the law requires.
There are specific provisions for juvenile offenders. Children younger than 13 are not held responsible for their actions. Until age 16, children cannot be held in adult prisons or share cells with adults. Juvenile offenders (anyone younger than 18) are placed in one of the country’s two re-education centers with the objective of having the offender successfully rejoin society.
Because of poor security, severe understaffing, and a lack of adequate facilities, many prison officials did not allow prisoners out of their cells for exercise. In the National Penitentiary, prisoners spent approximately one hour per day outside of confinement, but in all other facilities, prisoners had 15-20 minutes to use the toilet and bathe before returning to their cells.
On February 25, nearly 400 prisoners escaped from the Croix-des-Bouquets Prison in Port-au-Prince, which held approximately 1,550 inmates prior to the escape. The prison warden was killed during the incident. Gang leader Arnel Joseph escaped but was later killed by an HNP patrol unit. There were indications HNP officers both inside and outside the prison may have been complicit in the escape. The HNP recaptured 68 of the fugitives and initiated two investigations into the incident.
International and local observers said prisoners and detainees continued to suffer from a lack of adequate nutrition. According to the NGO Health Through Walls, approximately 3,700 prisoners in the penitentiary system were acutely malnourished. The HNP is responsible for the delivery of food to prisons, but Food for the Poor, Health Through Walls, the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights, and OHCHR/BINUH reported that delays in fund disbursement and payments to contracted food suppliers reduced the number of meals fed to prisoners. Some prisons had kitchen facilities and employed persons to prepare and distribute food. Prison authorities generally gave prisoners one to two meals a day, consisting of broth with flour dumplings and potatoes, rice and beans, or porridge. None of the regular meals provided the recommended caloric intake per day, and authorities allowed regular deliveries of food to prisoners from relatives and friends. According to Health Through Walls, approximately 500 prisoners suffered either minor or major episodes of malnutrition during the year.
International and local observers also reported a lack of hygiene and health care provision in the prison system. Health Through Walls reported that unsanitary conditions and overcrowding led to high rates of waterborne illnesses as well as tuberculosis and other communicable diseases. Most detention facilities had only basic clinics and lacked medications. Many lacked medical isolation units for patients with contagious illnesses. 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 accept prisoners as patients since there was no formal arrangement between the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health regarding payment for treatment. Prisoners who died in the care of hospitals were not counted in official statistics of deaths in custody, which as of September 1 stood at 117.
Administration: The country’s independent human rights monitoring body, the Office of Citizen Protection (OPC), investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions in prisons. The OPC regularly visited prisons and detention facilities and worked closely with NGOs and civil society groups.
Independent Monitoring: The corrections authority permitted the United Nations, local human rights NGOs, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other organizations to monitor prison conditions. These institutions and organizations investigated allegations of abuse and mistreatment of prisoners. One human rights organization complained of a guard taking their photographs as they interviewed detainees.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media. Civil society observers noted this right was not always upheld or respected.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported a deteriorating security climate and said some journalists resorted to self-censorship to avoid being publicly targeted by political or gang leaders.
On June 29, a journalist and an activist radio presenter, Diego Charles and Antoinette Duclair, were killed in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. The acting HNP director general issued a statement the following day claiming the police union, SPNH-17, was behind the double killing and others in retaliation for the earlier killing of the SPNH-17 spokesperson, although many observers in civil society failed to understand the connection between the two incidents or how police were able to draw their conclusions so rapidly.
Local media reported a prominent photojournalist fled the country in June due to death threats from gang members. He had reportedly taken photographs of the gang looting a private business.
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.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no reports of the government restricting academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights. Gangs believed to have ties to the government sometimes issued threats against antigovernment protesters.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
Under the constitution citizens have almost unlimited rights to peaceful gatherings. Police must be informed in advance of planned gatherings but cannot prevent them. As in previous years, many groups exercised that right. According to UN police statistics, the country witnessed 94 peaceful and 565 violent incidents of civil unrest between January 1 and August 1. There were accusations of heavy-handed tactics by police to suppress protests. In addition to the conduct of inspections and training, the HNP General Inspectorate launched several investigations into allegations of excessive use of force during protests, particularly against journalists, which continued as of year’s end.
The Fantom 509 group, composed of a mix of rogue and former police officers, took to the streets on motorbikes and discharged their firearms on several occasions. In the aftermath of the March 12 failed police operation in Village de Dieu, Fantom 509 capitalized on rank-and-file officers’ discontent with the institution’s leadership and instigated incidents of street violence and vandalism. During these episodes of unrest, three police stations in West Department were stormed to free 12 detained officers, killing two police officers in the process. Following these incidents, the interim HNP director general reformed his senior leadership and initiated legal action against Fantom 509, now officially designated a criminal organization. The HNP reported that it was searching for Fantom 509 members suspected of various crimes.
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. The constitution mandates the Senate (vice the judicial system) prosecute high-level officials and members of parliament accused of corruption, but the body had never done so. The government’s previous anticorruption strategy expired in 2019, and as of October there was no formal anticorruption strategy.
Corruption: There were many reports of widespread corruption associated with the Petro Caribe petroleum importation program, a strategic oil alliance signed with Venezuela in 2006 under which Haiti was able to save U.S. dollar reserves, borrowing fuel from its oil-rich neighbor and deferring payment for up to 25 years. The agreement mandated the government of Haiti to use any money saved for the development of the economy and social programs. Instead, between two billion dollars (equivalent to almost a quarter of the country’s total economy for 2017) and six billion dollars went missing, and citizens saw few of the promised benefits, according to protesters and local media. The Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes reported that more than two billion dollars in Petro Caribe funds had been embezzled or wasted in worthless projects. On June 26, Investigative Judge Ramoncite Accime announced his decision to suspend the investigation indefinitely and unfreeze the defendants’ assets due to what he termed a lack of evidence. Judge Accime also ordered the release of the frozen assets of six businesses, including President Moise’s energy company Comphener, Inc. Despite these actions, however, the judge did not explicitly absolve the defendants of guilt.
On April 26, the FJKL published a report on HNP’s financial mismanagement between 2016 and 2019, based on a decision rendered on March 25 by the Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes. According to the FJKL, the poor management of HNP finances posed a danger to public security by limiting the organization’s operational capacity. The FJKL also highlighted errors in the High Court’s judgments and recommended strengthening the institution, which plays a fundamental role in the fight against corruption.