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. The most recent national legislative elections were on January 29. International election observers considered the elections free and fair.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
The most significant human rights issues included isolated allegations of arbitrary and unlawful killings by government officials; allegations of beatings of detainees; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; a judiciary subject to corruption and outside influence; physical attacks on journalists; widespread corruption; and trafficking in persons.
Although the government took steps to prosecute or punish government and law enforcement officials accused of committing abuses, credible reports persisted of officials engaging in corrupt practices, and civil society groups alleged there was widespread impunity.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices; however, there were several unconfirmed reports from international and domestic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that HNP members allegedly beat or otherwise abused detainees and suspects. Prisoners at times were subjected to degrading treatment, in large part due to overcrowded facilities. Several reports noted corrections officers used physical punishment and psychological abuse to mistreat prisoners.
In June police arrested two suspects in a high-profile gang rape in the Terre Rouge neighborhood of Petionville. A video circulated widely on social media of the two men–already apparently badly beaten–being forced to hit and kiss each other while in police custody. As of October the three police officers identified in the video had been placed in isolation–a type of government house arrest.
Allegations persisted that the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) peacekeepers were involved in incidents of sexual exploitation and abuse. The United Nations reported that as of October, it had received six allegations during the year: two of the alleged incidents occurred during the year, one in 2016, one earlier than 2016, and in two cases, the years of the incidents were unknown.
One of the six allegations was a MINUSTAH Formed Police Unit (FPU) officer from Bangladesh who sexually assaulted a minor. The officer’s payment was suspended, and a referral for criminal accountability was pending the outcome of an investigation. There were two allegations of transactional sex, one involving another Bangladeshi FPU member, and one involving a MINUSTAH military contingent member from Guatemala. As of October the investigation of the first case was underway, while the second was determined to be unsubstantiated due to insufficient evidence. There were three allegations of exploitative sexual relationships by UN police officers: two with paternity claims (Benin and Mali, both cases substantiated and resulting in repatriation; the officer from Benin received jail time after repatriation), and one without resolution (Canada, investigation still pending). It is likely that abuse was underreported due to fear of stigmatization.
These reports represented an overall increase from the four allegations made in 2016, but figures continued to be significantly lower than a peak of 17 allegations in 2013. MINUSTAH officials attributed the relatively low number of allegations in part to their efforts to combat the problem, and they highlighted a zero-tolerance policy that included training, raising awareness, and enforcement.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prisons and detention centers throughout the country remained overcrowded, poorly maintained, and unsanitary.
Physical Conditions: Prison and detention center overcrowding was severe, especially in the National Penitentiary and the prison in Cap Haitien, where each prisoner had 4.2 square feet of space. In many prisons detainees slept in shifts due to lack of space. Some prisons had no beds for detainees, and some cells had no access to sunlight. In other prisons, the cells often were open to the elements or lacked adequate ventilation. Many prison facilities lacked basic services such as plumbing, sanitation, waste disposal, medical services, potable water, electricity, adequate ventilation, lighting, and isolation units for contagious patients. Some prison officials used chlorine to sanitize drinking water, but in general prisoners in older prisons did not have access to treated drinking water. Most prisons had insufficient sewage facilities for their populations.
Prison conditions generally varied by gender; female inmates in coed prisons received proportionately more space in their cells than their male counterparts. Female prisoners also experienced a better quality of life than did their male counterparts due to their smaller numbers.
The Department of Corrections (DAP) held approximately 500 prisoners in makeshift and unofficial detention centers, such as police stations in Petit-Goave, Miragoane, Gonaives, and some parts of Port-au-Prince. Local authorities held suspects in makeshift facilities, sometimes for extended periods, without registering them with the DAP.
Corrections authorities in Port-au-Prince maintained separate penitentiaries for adult men, women, and minors. In Port-au-Prince all male prisoners under 18 years of age were held at the juvenile facility at Delmas 33, but due to the lack of sufficient documentation, authorities could not always verify the ages of detainees. At times authorities detained minors believed to be older, and whose ages they could not confirm, with adult inmates. Authorities moved the vast majority of these minors to juvenile detention centers within two months of verifying their ages. Due to lack of space, resources, and oversight outside the capital, authorities sometimes did not separate juveniles from adult prisoners or convicted prisoners from pretrial detainees, as the law requires.
International observers indicated prisoners and detainees continued to suffer from a lack of basic hygiene, malnutrition, poor quality health care, and water-borne illness. An estimated 10 percent of the nationwide prison population suffered from malnutrition and severe anemia, while sanitation-related diseases, including scabies, diarrhea, and oral infections, were commonplace. Because of the poor security, severe understaffing, and conditions of some detention centers, prison officials did not allow prisoners out of their cells for exercise. In the National Penitentiary, prisoners spent close to an hour outside of confinement, but in all other facilities prisoners only had 15-20 minutes to bathe before returning to their cells.
Prisoners’ access to adequate nutrition remained a problem. The HNP has contractual and fiscal responsibility for the delivery of food to prisons. According to an August 2016 UN report, changes in the contracted food suppliers and delays in fund disbursement reduced the number of meals fed to prisoners. Additionally, human rights groups accused prison officials of corruption by selling food intended for prisoners on the open market. Some prisons had kitchen facilities and employed persons to prepare and distribute food. Prison authorities generally provided prisoners with one or two meals a day, consisting of broth with flour dumplings and potatoes, rice and beans, or porridge. None of the regular meals served to prisoners provided sufficient calories, according to medical standards. Authorities allowed prisoners regular deliveries of food from relatives and friends. Human rights groups reported that families sometimes paid prison staff to deliver supplemental meals and clothing to prisoners.
In the first eight months of the year, 97 inmates died due to illness or malnutrition. Most died from starvation, anemia brought on by malnutrition, tuberculosis, or other communicable diseases. A government commission was created in February to investigate deaths due to prison conditions, but as of November the commission’s findings were not published.
Most detention facilities had only basic clinics for treatment of illnesses and diseases contracted while in custody. 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 take prisoners, as there was no formal arrangement between the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health regarding payment for treatment. According to statistics from Health Through Walls, an NGO providing health services in the prisons at intake, the prevalence rate of HIV among the prison population was more than eight times higher than the prevalence rate nationally. The intake prevalence rate for tuberculosis was more than 38 times higher than the national rate–more than three times the discrepancy in previous years.
Administration: The country’s independent human rights monitoring body, the Office of the Citizen Protector (OPC), maintained a presence at several prison facilities and advocated for the rights and better conditions of prisoners, especially juveniles in preventive detention, and investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions. The OPC regularly visited prisons and detention facilities throughout the country and worked closely with NGOs and civil society groups.
Independent Monitoring: The DAP permitted MINUSTAH, local human rights NGOs, and other organizations to monitor prison conditions. These institutions and organizations investigated allegations of abuse and mistreatment of prisoners, resulting several times in the improvement of their situations.
Improvements: DAP officials created a strategic development plan in April and started a long-needed organizational restructuring process to better respond to inmate needs. The DAP also hosted a business forum in April where several local businesses committed to training prisoners while incarcerated and hiring them upon release.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The 2014 Law on Prevention and Repression of Corruption, the country’s first anticorruption law, criminalizes a wide variety of corruption-related offenses by officials, including illicit enrichment, bribery, embezzlement, illegal procurement, insider trading, influence peddling, and nepotism. The law imposes sentences of three to 15 years of imprisonment and gives legal authority to the government’s Anticorruption Unit and its Central Financial Intelligence Unit, among others, to combat corruption.
Despite these efforts, there were numerous reports of government corruption and a perception of impunity for abusers. Law enforcement authorities and the government’s anticorruption agencies launched several corruption investigations, but there were no convictions during the year. The perception of corruption remained widespread in all branches and at all levels.
Corruption: The constitution mandates that the senate prosecute high-level officials and parliament members accused of official corruption instead of handling such cases within the judicial system.
In July, President Moise was criticized for firing Sonel Jean-Francois as director general of the Central Financial Intelligence Unit. The unit had launched a money laundering case against Moise during his 2016 electoral campaign, but the investigation never led to formal charges. The decision to fire Jean-Francois was criticized by human rights groups, who claimed Moise was trying to muzzle the investigation against him.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires all senior officials of the government to file financial disclosure forms within 90 days of taking office and within 90 days of leaving office. There is no requirement for periodic reporting. Disclosure reports are confidential and not available to the public. The sanction for failure to file financial disclosure reports is a withholding of 30 percent of the official’s salary, but the government did not apply this sanction in previous years. Government officials stated that the requirements were generally followed.
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 in addressing the views of various 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.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The constitution provides a seven-year mandate to the head of the OPC, which is the country’s independent human rights body, a post held by Florence Elie until November, when she was replaced by Renan Hedouville. The OPC investigated allegations of human rights abuse and worked collaboratively with international organizations. The OPC’s regional representatives implemented its assistance programs throughout the country. Elie stated that despite its budget and international donor support, the institution did not possess the necessary funding or physical or human capacity to implement its strategic development and advocacy plan in each of the 10 departments. Human rights advocates and international partners noted that the OPC remained one of the country’s most important national institutions responsible for independently monitoring potential human rights abuses, especially in detention centers.
In 2014 the government eliminated the position of minister delegate for human rights and the fight against extreme poverty. The minister delegate was tasked with coordinating the work of the Interministerial Human Rights Commission. Without a minister delegate to coordinate its work, the commission continued to function sporadically and only on a technical level.
The Chamber of Deputies has a Justice, Human Rights, and Defense Commission, while the senate has a Justice, Security, and Defense Commission that also covers human rights issues.
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.
Victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence faced major obstacles in seeking legal justice, as well as access to protective services, such as women’s shelters.
Attorneys who represented rape survivors said that authorities were reasonably responsive to cases involving the rape of minors, as the law is clear and judicial measures exist to deal with such cases. Due to the lack of clear legal or administrative structures to deal with such cases, however, authorities frequently dropped or did not pursue cases when the offender was also a minor or the survivor was an adult.
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 that sexual harassment occurred frequently.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: .
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.
Education: Constitutional provisions require the government to provide free and compulsory education for all children up to age 15; however, the government did not effectively enforce these provisions.
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.
A study launched by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor, published in 2015 in collaboration with national and international organizations, estimated there were 286,000 children working in indentured domestic servitude (referred to as “restaveks”). Host families often abused restaveks and subjected them to domestic servitude, a form of trafficking in persons.
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. 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 HTG (Haitian Gourdes) to 1.5 million HTG ($3,750 to $28,140). The penalty for human trafficking with aggravating circumstances, which includes cases involving the exploitation of children, is up to life imprisonment.
Recruitment of children for sexual exploitation and pornography is illegal, but the United Nations reported that criminal gangs recruited children as young as 10 years of age.
Institutionalized Children: The IBESR has official responsibility for monitoring and accrediting the country’s orphanages and residential care centers. IBESR reported that children in orphanages were frequently victims of sexual or physical abuse, were malnourished, did not receive an education, and were often trafficked to work as domestic labor, sex workers, or farm workers. IBESR has tried to close the worst of these orphanages, but can only do so as quickly as they can find other placement for the children in the abusive orphanages. The government has not apportioned appropriate resources to develop transitional centers or other temporary housing and care facilities that would allow the rapid pace of deinstitutionalization needed.
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 travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.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. The government did not enforce these legal protection mechanisms. Government officials took steps to include protections for persons with disabilities to vote.
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. 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.
The BSEIPH had several departmental offices outside the capital and continued to refine a strategic development plan to guide the institution’s efforts. It provided persons with disabilities with legal advice and job counseling services. The BSEIPH regularly convened meetings with disabilities rights groups in all of its regional offices.
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, nor were there any reports of police officers actively perpetrating or condoning violence against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.
While no laws criminalize the changing of one’s gender or sex, local attitudes remained hostile to outward LGBTI identification and expression, particularly in Port-au-Prince. Some societal leaders and organizations actively opposed the social integration of LGBTI persons and discussion of their rights.
No antidiscrimination laws protect LGBTI persons and minority groups. Some civil society advocates claimed that in the greater Port-au-Prince area, HNP authorities were inconsistent in their willingness to document or investigate LGBTI persons’ claims of abuse.
LGBTI advocacy groups in the capital reported a greater sense of insecurity and less trust of government authorities than did groups in rural areas.
HNP academy instructors teach 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.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
In the country’s most recent demographic and health survey (2012), 61 percent of women and 55 percent of men reported discriminatory attitudes towards those with HIV.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
According to MINUSTAH reports, vigilante reprisals, including by lynching or burning persons alive, remained a problem, especially in rural areas outside the capital. Limited or nonexistent presence of law enforcement and judicial authorities meant that, in practice, such reprisals had few or no legal repercussions.