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. Jovenel Moise was elected as president for a five-year term and took office in February 2017. Due to political gridlock and the failure of parliament to approve an elections law and a national budget, parliamentary elections scheduled for October 2019 did not take place. In January parliament lapsed, leaving only 10 senators and no deputies remaining in office, and President Moise began to rule by decree. In March, President Moise appointed Joseph Jouthe as prime minister to head a new government. The president subsequently reappointed or replaced all elected mayors throughout the country when their terms ended in July. As of November the president was the sole nationally elected leader empowered to act, as the 10 senators remaining in office were unable to conduct legislative activities due to a lack of quorum.
The Haitian National Police, an autonomous civilian institution under the authority of a director general, maintains domestic 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 to the national police force. The Superior Council also 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 generally maintained effective control over security forces. Members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful and arbitrary killings by gangs allegedly supported and protected by unnamed officials; excessive use of force by police; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary and prolonged pretrial detention; a judiciary subject to corruption and outside influence; physical attacks on journalists; widespread corruption and impunity; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; and the worst forms of child labor.
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.
Insufficient steps were taken to apprehend or prosecute gang members, including at least one former police officer, accused of orchestrating killings, rapes, and destruction of property.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
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 members of the government. The Office of the Inspector General of the Haitian National Police (HNP) was responsible for investigating whether killings by police officers were justifiable and referring cases of allegedly unlawful killings to the government prosecutor.
There were 960 reported homicides between January and the end of September, according to the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH). The Catholic Commission for Peace and Justice blamed most deaths on gang warfare and called on the government to investigate the “hidden forces” behind the killings. In June the Eyes Wide Open Foundation reported there were more than 150 active gangs in the country; it alleged active government support for the gangs.
The National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH) reported two gang attacks in the Cite-Soleil neighborhood in May and June that left a total of 34 persons dead. In July gang attacks resulted in 50 deaths, 15 rapes, and 30 persons missing, the organization reported. On August 31, a gang attack in the Bel Air neighborhood of Port-au-Prince killed at least 12 persons, according to press accounts. According to an RNDDH report, former police officer Jimmy Cherizier led one of the key gangs. Press accounts and human rights advocates reported Cherizier had access to government vehicles and equipment and worked to unite several gangs.
BINUH and numerous civil society organizations reported gang violence in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area and Artibonite Department increased as gangs attempted to expand their spheres of control. In June the United Nations reported that arrests of gang members and leaders had risen from 169 in January and February to 232 in March and April. Civil society groups alleged gangs had close ties to political and economic elites who either protected the gangs from arrest or obtained their release if detained.
Attackers killed several prominent public officials and figures, including Port-au-Prince judge Fritz Gerald Cerisierin in June and Monferrier Dorval, president of the Port-au-Prince Bar Association, on August 28. Dorval was killed in front of his home by unknown assailants. Authorities stated they were continuing to investigate the Cerisierin killing but did not have a suspect. The Port-au-Prince prosecutor announced the arrest of three suspects in the Dorval killing.
On October 2, student Gregory Saint-Hilaire was allegedly shot and killed by security officials working for the General Security Unit of the National Palace during a protest at the Ecole Normale Superieure. The government stated it had launched an investigation.
While authorities claimed they continued to investigate the 2018 and 2019 attacks in the La Saline and Bel Air neighborhoods that left dozens dead, as of December the government had not brought any perpetrators to justice. Among those implicated in the violence were Jimmy Cherizier, Fednel Monchery, and Joseph Pierre Richard Duplan, who were government officials at the time of the La Saline attacks.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
While the law prohibits such practices, several reports from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) alleged that HNP officers beat or otherwise abused detainees and suspects. Detainees were subject to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in overcrowded, poorly maintained, and unsanitary prisons and makeshift detention centers.
A May 5 video clip showed Patrick Benoit, with hands and feet tied and bloodied clothing, being dragged on the ground by police. The incident took place after magistrate judge Ricot Vrigneau and police officers attempted to enforce what they claimed was a court judgment. Family members said the case was still before the courts, and a final judgment had not been issued. Benoit was taken to the police station in Petionville on obstruction charges, and then released within hours to be taken to the hospital for emergency surgery. The prime minister condemned the incident, and Vrigneau was suspended a few days later.
Impunity was a significant problem in the security forces. Between October 2019 and August, according to the United Nations, the HNP Inspector General’s Office opened investigations into 172 accusations of human rights abuses allegedly committed by security forces. The HNP took steps to impose systematic discipline on officers found to have committed abuses or fraud, but some civil society representatives continued to allege widespread impunity. Impunity was alleged to be driven largely by poor training and a lack of police professionalism, as well as rogue elements within the police force allegedly having gang connections. Reportedly more than 150 gangs were active in the country and allegedly received government support. To address impunity, the government provided training to police and investigated and punished allegations of wrongdoing.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prisons and detention centers throughout the country were life threatening due to being overcrowded, poorly maintained, and unsanitary, and providing insufficient nutrition. BINUH reported that prisons and detention centers had an occupancy rate of 345 percent.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding at prisons and detention centers was severe, especially at the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince and the prison in Cap Haitien, where each prisoner had 8.6 square feet of space. In many prisons detainees slept in shifts due to the lack of space. Some prisons had no beds for detainees, and some cells had no natural light. In other prisons the cells often were open to the elements or lacked adequate ventilation. Many prison facilities lacked adequate basic services such as plumbing, sanitation, waste disposal, electricity, ventilation, and lighting.
Prison conditions generally varied by gender; female inmates had more space per person in their cells than their male counterparts.
As of November approximately 365 prisoners were held 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 these facilities, sometimes for extended periods, without registering them with the HNP’s Directorate of Prisons.
Authorities in Port-au-Prince maintained separate penitentiaries for adult men, adult women, and minors. In Port-au-Prince all male prisoners younger than 18 were held at the juvenile facility at Delmas 33. Due to the lack of documentation, authorities could not always verify the ages of detainees. At times authorities mistakenly detained minors believed to be 18 or older, 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. Outside the capital, due to lack of prison space and oversight, authorities sometimes did not 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 age 13 are not held responsible for their actions. Until age 16, children may not be held in adult prisons or share cells with adults. Juvenile offenders (anyone younger than 18) are placed in re-education centers with the objective of having the offender successfully rejoin society. There were two rehabilitation centers, both in Port-au-Prince, which held offenders up to age 18.
Because of poor security, severe understaffing, and a lack of adequate facilities in some detention centers, prison officials often 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 bathe before returning to their cells.
International and local observers said prisoners and detainees suffered from malnutrition. Approximately 1,000 inmates within the penitentiary system were acutely malnourished. Prisoners’ access to adequate nutrition was problematic. The HNP was responsible for the delivery of food to prisons. Human rights observers 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 or two meals a day, consisting of broth with flour dumplings and potatoes, rice and beans, or porridge. None of the regular meals provided sufficient calories, according to medical standards. Authorities allowed regular deliveries of food to prisoners from relatives and friends.
International and local observers also reported a lack of basic hygiene, poor health care, and waterborne illnesses within the prison system. The NGO Health through Walls reported that unsanitary conditions and overcrowding led to high rates of 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 Public Health regarding payment for treatment.
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 throughout the country and worked closely with NGOs and civil society groups.
Independent Monitoring: Authorities permitted representatives from the United Nations, local human rights NGOs, and other organizations to monitor prison conditions. These institutions and organizations investigated allegations of abuse and mistreatment of prisoners.
Improvements: To decrease the number of inmates in prisons, 415 detainees received a presidential pardon in June and were released. Following special court hearings, the government released an additional 627 detainees to reduce the prison population and avoid mass infection.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but it does not provide for the right of any person to challenge in court the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention. The constitution stipulates that authorities may arrest a person only if the person is apprehended during the commission of a crime, or if the arrest is based on a warrant issued by a competent official such as a justice of the peace or a magistrate. Authorities must bring the detainee before a judge within 48 hours of arrest. By routinely holding prisoners in prolonged pretrial detention, authorities often failed to comply with these requirements.
Local human rights groups reported detainees were often held in detention after completing their sentences due to difficulty obtaining release orders from the prosecutor’s office.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
While authorities generally acknowledged the right to counsel, most detainees could not afford a private attorney. By law the National Legal Assistance Program provides free assistance to criminal defendants and victims of crimes who cannot afford a lawyer. In September, President Moise appointed the members of the National Legal Assistance Committee charged with overseeing the program, which was in the process of being implemented. The law has a bail procedure that was rarely used.
Arbitrary Arrest: Independent reporting confirmed instances in which, contrary to law, police without warrants or with improperly prepared warrants apprehended persons not actively committing crimes. Authorities frequently detained individuals on unspecified charges.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a serious problem due to the arbitrary application of court rules, court discretion, corruption, and poor record keeping. The judicial system rarely observed the constitutional mandate to bring detainees before a judge within 48 hours. Many pretrial detainees never consulted with an attorney, appeared before a judge, or received a docket timeline. In some cases detainees spent years in detention without appearing before a judge. According to the RNDDH, pretrial detainees constituted 78 percent of the prison population in October, up from 72 percent at the same time in 2019. Prison population statistics did not include the large number of persons held in police stations around the country for longer than the 48-hour maximum initial detention period. Statistics were not available on the average length of stay in pretrial detention.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution stipulates that it is illegal for an individual to be detained more than 48 hours without being seen by a judge. The OPC’s national and 12 regional offices worked to verify that law enforcement and judicial authorities respected the right to due process. When authorities detained persons beyond the maximum allotted 48 hours and OPC representatives learned of the case, the OPC intervened on the detainee’s behalf to expedite the process. The OPC was unable to intervene in all cases of unlawful detention.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Human rights organizations alleged politicians routinely influenced judicial decisions and used the justice system to target political opponents. Detainees reported credible cases of extortion, false charges, illegal detention, physical violence by HNP personnel, and judicial officials refusing to comply with basic due-process requirements.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but senior officials in the executive and legislative branches exerted significant influence on the judicial branch and law enforcement authorities. Local and international NGOs repeatedly criticized the government for attempting to influence judicial officials. Since executive-appointed prosecutors could prevent cases from being seen by judges, judges themselves faced less direct executive pressure in making decisions. Nonetheless, civil society organizations reported judges often feared ruling against powerful interests due to concerns for the judges’ personal security.
The Superior Council of the Judiciary (CSPJ) is responsible for independently overseeing appointments, ethics, transparency, and accountability in the judicial system, and managing the judiciary’s financial resources. Internal political divisions as well as organizational, funding, and logistical problems often hampered the CSPJ. Observers stated the CSPJ was ineffective in providing judicial accountability, transparency, and judicial vetting. The terms of trial judges and investigative judges are renewable by the president, on the recommendation of the CSPJ. As of November the CSPJ had submitted the names of at least 60 judges for renewal of their terms, but the president had not acted on those submissions. Consequently the judges were unable to carry out their duties.
Strikes by essential judicial actors hobbled the right to fair trials. On June 2, the Association of Magistrate Judges launched a one-week strike, requesting better working conditions. Its president, Michel Dalexis, stated the work stoppage would be renewed one week at a time until their demands were met. They were joined one week later by trial judges, who were protesting the judicial budget. The combined strikes lasted until July 2. On July 28, clerks and other court personnel went on strike, also demanding better work conditions.
Judges frequently closed cases without bringing charges and often did not meet time requirements. By law the chief prosecutor generally launches criminal investigations by transferring a case to the chief judge of the jurisdiction, who then assigns it to an investigative judge who takes control of the case. The investigative judge must order a trial or dismiss the case within three months, although this time period was often extended to six months. Judges and other judicial actors frequently did not meet time requirements, resulting in prolonged pretrial detention for many detainees.
The law requires each of the country’s 18 jurisdictions to convene jury and nonjury trial sessions twice per year, usually in July and December, for trials involving major, violent crimes. During a jury trial session, the court may decide for any reason to postpone the hearing to the next session, often because witnesses are not available. In these cases defendants return to prison until the next jury trial session. Human rights groups highlighted poor treatment of defendants during criminal trials, saying defendants in some jurisdictions spent the entire day without food or water.
Corruption and a lack of judicial oversight severely hampered the judiciary. Human rights organizations reported several judicial officials, including judges and court clerks, arbitrarily charged fees to begin criminal prosecutions. These organizations also claimed judges and prosecutors ignored those who did not pay these fees. There were credible allegations of unqualified and unprofessional judges who received judicial appointments as political favors. There were also persistent accusations that court deans, who are responsible for assigning cases to judges for investigation and review, at times assigned politically sensitive cases to judges with close ties to the executive and legislative branches. Many judicial officials reportedly held full-time jobs outside the courts, although the constitution bars judges from holding any other type of employment except teaching.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not uniformly enforce this right. The judiciary follows a civil law system based on the Napoleonic Code, largely unchanged since 1835. The constitution denies police and judicial authorities the right to interrogate suspects unless legal counsel or a representative of the suspect’s choice is present or the suspect waives this right. Authorities widely ignored constitutional trial and due-process rights.
The constitution provides defendants a presumption of innocence, as well as the right to attend their trial and to be informed promptly of their charges. Defendants also have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice. Legal aid programs were limited, and those who could not pay for attorneys were not always provided one free of charge. The law does not clearly provide a defendant time to prepare an adequate defense. Defendants have the right to confront hostile witnesses, call witnesses, and provide evidence on their own behalf. Judges often denied these rights. The perception of widespread impunity discouraged some witnesses from testifying at trials. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. Defendants have the right of appeal.
While French and Haitian Creole are both official languages, with Haitian Creole being the most commonly spoken language, all laws and most legal proceedings are in French. Observers noted judges often spoke to defendants in Haitian Creole to facilitate comprehension. Interpreters were used only in cases involving foreigners. Judges generally ensured that defendants fully understood the proceedings.
The functioning of justice of the peace courts, the lowest courts in the judicial system, was inadequate. Judges presided based on their personal availability and often maintained separate, full-time jobs. Law enforcement personnel rarely maintained order during court proceedings, and frequently there was no court reporter. Defendants would often bribe judges to get their cases heard.
In many communities, especially in rural areas, elected communal administrators with no legal judicial authority took on the role of state judges and asserted powers of arrest, detention, and issuance of legal judgments. Some communal administrators turned their offices into courtrooms.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no credible reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Victims of alleged human rights abuses may bring a civil or criminal complaint before a judge. Courts may award damages for human rights abuse claims brought in civil court, but seeking such remedies was difficult and rarely successful.
Human rights cases may be submitted directly through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
In February the El-Saieh family complained that authorities were attempting to confiscate arbitrarily their property in West Department to build a school and that authorities had not followed the appropriate legal procedures. President Moise subsequently declared the property would be confiscated; however, he promised the appropriate legal procedures for expropriation of land would be followed. As of October the situation was not resolved.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
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 that the Senate (rather than the judicial system) prosecute high-level officials and members of parliament accused of corruption, but the Senate has never done so. The government’s previous anticorruption strategy expired in 2019, and as of November the government did not have a formal anticorruption strategy.
Corruption: There were many reports of widespread corruption associated with the Petro Caribe petroleum importation program. In July, Youth Minister Max Athys resigned after publicly stating he had found little evidence of the sports facilities for which Petro Caribe funds had been disbursed under the supervision of Olivier Martelly, son of the former president. An August report by the Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes stated more than 140 billion Haitian gourdes (HTG) ($2 billion) in Petro Caribe funds had been embezzled or wasted in worthless projects.
On August 10, the Center for Human Rights Research and Analysis reported aid worth hundreds of millions of Haitian gourdes meant for the government’s response to COVID-19 had been misappropriated, accusing the government of a vast “operation of corruption, pauperization, and human rights violation.” The center alleged the government had spent at least 2.4 billion HTG ($34 million) in the “greatest opacity” without the approval of the High Court of Public Accounts, the state entity responsible for reviewing and approving government contracts, including during states of emergency.
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 them. 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 to implement programs to improve human rights. The government increased OPC funding by approximately 30 percent in the 2019-20 budget, compared with the previous period. In July the president named former tourism minister Colombe Jessy Menos as the minister-delegate, responsible for human rights.
When in session, the Chamber of Deputies has a justice, human rights, and defense commission and the Senate has a justice, security, and defense commission to cover human rights.