Haiti

Executive Summary

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, and he took office in February 2017. The most recent national legislative elections were held in 2016; international observers considered the elections free and fair. Prime Minister Jean Henry Ceant departed office in March after a vote of no confidence in the lower house of parliament. Legislative elections planned for October 2019 did not take place. As of December, parliament had not approved a new prime minister and cabinet, nor a budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

The Haitian National Police (HNP), an autonomous civilian institution under the authority of a director general, maintains domestic security. The HNP 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 HNP. The Superior Council of the National Police, chaired by the prime minister, provides strategic guidance to the HNP. The Superior Council also includes the HNP director general, HNP chief inspector general, minister of the interior, and minister of justice. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over security forces.

Significant human rights issues included allegations of unlawful killings by police; excessive use of force by police; arbitrary and prolonged pretrial detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; a judiciary subject to corruption and outside influence; physical attacks on journalists; widespread corruption and impunity; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with physical, mental, and developmental disabilities; and sexual and gender-based violence and discrimination.

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.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The constitution grants broad freedom of expression to citizens and protection to journalists. Civil society observers noted those rights were not always upheld or respected.

Violence and Harassment: Journalists reported a deteriorating security climate for journalists and said some journalists were resorting to self-censorship to avoid being publicly targeted by political or gang leaders. Complaints against police for assaults and attacks on journalists increased, compared with 2018.

Gedeon Jean, director of the Research and Analysis Center for Human Rights, claimed that members of a security detail accompanying former president Michel Martelly assaulted and threatened to kill Jean in March. The incident occurred as he was leaving a radio station. A fervent critic of the former president, Jean filed a complaint with authorities on March 25. As of September it was unclear if the case had been assigned to an investigative judge.

In December 2018 a fire destroyed the headquarters of Radio Quisqueya. The station’s co-owner was Lilianne Pierre Paul, a well known critic of the majority PHTK Party, who on several occasions had been publicly vilified by former president Martelly. Pierre Paul filed a complaint demanding that authorities investigate the “real causes” of the fire. The government offered assistance to rebuild the station, but Paul and her business partner declined the offer in order to maintain their journalistic independence. As of September the station had resumed programming.

On October 10, the body of journalist Nehemie Joseph was found in Mirebalais. Joseph had been working for Panic FM, a local radio station, and for radio Mega, located in Port-au-Prince. Eleven days later, the government fired Mirebalais prosecutor Faublas Romulus, who publicly declared knowing the perpetrators with “90 percent certainty” but failed to make any arrests.

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.

There were no reports of the government restricting academic or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The constitution provides for freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

Under the constitution, citizens have almost unlimited rights to peaceful gatherings. Police must be informed in advance of planned gatherings but cannot prevent the gatherings. The RNDDH reported that approximately 40 persons were killed and 82 injured during violent anticorruption and antigovernment protests in February. The report did not allege HNP responsibility for these deaths or injuries, and it also highlighted that 20 officers were among those injured. The RNDDH reported HNP officers were responsible for the deaths of four protesters during antigovernment protests in June.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting refugee status or asylum through Haitian missions or consulates abroad. Third-country nationals can petition for asylum through the local office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

At least five state agencies play key roles in providing identity documents to Haitians. Bureaucratic obstacles and a lack of coordination between these agencies made obtaining official documentation complex and costly for most citizens. Due to these systemic deficiencies, many Haitians living abroad without other citizenship or permanent residency were effectively stateless or at risk of statelessness in their country of residence. The International Organization for Migration reported that 65 percent of Haitians who went through their four resource centers along the border with the Dominican Republic in 2018 had no official documentation.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.

Recent Elections: Legislative, municipal, and presidential elections were completed in 2016. While there were isolated allegations of voter fraud, the elections were generally regarded as credible by international and domestic observers. Although voter turnout was low, citizens generally accepted the elections, and public demonstrations against the election results were muted, compared with previous years. Legislative and local elections scheduled for October did not take place and as of December had not been rescheduled.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Some political parties exercised undue influence at the local level, including through threats to journalists and civil society organizations.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, but social norms and the threat of electoral violence discouraged women from voting and, to a much greater extent, from running for office. The constitution requires that at least 30 percent of elected officials be women, but both chambers of Parliament fell well short of this quota (3 percent in the Senate, 2.5 percent in the Chamber of Deputies). Local elections, in which candidates run in groups where women must be at least 30 percent of the candidates on the ballot, did reach the quota. Civil society organizations noted female political candidates had little access to campaign financing and that female participation in politics was hindered by cultural norms rejecting female participation in politics.

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.

Corruption: The constitution mandates that the Senate (vice the judicial system) prosecute high-level officials and Parliament members accused of corruption, but the Senate has never prosecuted a high-level official for corruption.

On January 31 and May 31, the Audit Bureau issued reports on the government’s spending of $1.6 billion in Petro Caribe funds between 2008 and 2018. The two reports identified numerous current and former government officials and private-sector contractors involved in questionable disbursement of government funds, overbilling, collusion, favoritism, and embezzlement. The reports implicated past administrations for alleged misappropriation of public funds, as well as President Moise for alleged misappropriation of contracts worth $1.2 million prior to his presidency. Based on the Audit Bureau’s report to the chief prosecutor, on February 4 then prime minister Jean-Henry Ceant announced a formal complaint against several former government officials. On March 13, the chief prosecutor transferred the case to the judiciary, noting the involvement of several high-level officials in potentially corrupt actions. On July 15, the investigative judge assigned to the Petro Caribe case issued subpoenas for former prime ministers Jean Max Bellerive and Laurent Lamothe and several other high-level officials to answer questions regarding government spending of Petro Caribe funds.

In a separate case, in October 2018 a judge ordered the arrest of former HNP director general Godson Orelus in connection with his role in illegally smuggling arms and ammunition into the country in 2016. Orelus was charged with a number of crimes, including money laundering. After Orelus appealed the charges, a judge released him from custody in April, and an appellate court dropped the charges in May.

In November 2018 unknown assailants fired numerous gunshots into the home and vehicle of Dieunel Lumerant, the presiding judge in an arms-trafficking case involving then chief of the National Palace Security Vladimir Paraison. In January, Judge Lumerant fled the country due to fear for his safety.

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.

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