a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were isolated allegations of police and other government officials’ involvement in arbitrary or unlawful killings. Some of these resulted in arrests, but there were no reports of criminal convictions.
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Haitian National Police (HNP) investigated 10 police officers for homicide while on duty through August. The OIG found that six of the officers were not justified in their use of force and recommended them for immediate dismissal and criminal investigation.
Human rights groups continued to criticize the Departmental Brigade of Operations and Interventions (BOID), a special unit of the HNP tasked with fighting crime in difficult environments.
As reported by the National Network of Human Rights Organizations in Haiti, in September members of BOID publicly shaved the head of a suspected criminal in Lilavois, a neighborhood in the town for Croix-des-Bouquets just outside the capital. The suspected criminal allegedly arranged for the assassination of BOID officer Watson Jean as revenge. In response BOID officers raided the Lilavois neighborhood, where they arrested 12 persons. The corpse of one of the arrested men was found near the site of his arrest. The dead bodies of two other arrested men were photographed and circulated widely on social media, although their corpses had not been found as of October. Additionally, BOID officers allegedly burned three homes, two shops, a vehicle, and a motorcycle.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
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.
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 the lawfulness of his/her arrest or detention in court. The constitution stipulates that authorities may arrest a person only if apprehended during the commission of a crime or based on a warrant issued by a competent official, such as a justice of the peace or magistrate. Authorities must bring the detainee before a judge within 48 hours of arrest. By routinely holding prisoners in pretrial detention, authorities often failed to comply with these provisions.
The law requires that authorities refer to the HNP’s OIG all cases involving allegations of police criminal misconduct. Senior police officials acknowledged receipt of several complaints alleging abuses committed by officers during the year but noted that financial, staffing, and training limitations prevented the institution from readily addressing all reports of such misconduct.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Internal security is maintained by the HNP, an autonomous civilian institution under the authority of a single director general and 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 HNP took steps toward imposing systematic discipline on officers found to have committed abuses or fraud, but civil society representatives continued to allege widespread impunity. The HNP held monthly press conferences that served as awareness campaigns to inform the public of their roles and responsibilities and to report on cases of misconduct. The OIG maintained a 24-hour hotline to receive public reports of police corruption or misconduct. The OIG sends these complaints to the Haitian National Police Director General for approval, and then to the Ministry of Justice, which decides whether to accept or not accept their recommendation. While government officials stated that the Ministry of Justice nearly always accepted their recommendations, human rights groups complained that there was no way to verify the complaints because there is no official case tracking after they leave the OIG.
As of August the OIG for the HNP had recommended 11 officers for dismissal, compared with 27 such recommendations by the OIG at the same time in 2016. The most common reasons for the recommendation of dismissal were homicide and assault. While it was unclear what caused the downward trend in allegations, anecdotal evidence from human rights groups suggested that new cadets were better disciplined and better trained, resulting in a positive change in HNP culture. A lack of well-trained internal investigators in the HNP slowed case investigations and impeded final resolutions.
The HNP Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) unit remained under resourced and understaffed. The unit had two satellite offices at Fort National and Delmas 33. The HNP assigned officers who received SGBV training to serve as regional SGBV representatives in all 10 departments. These officers had minimal links to the SGBV unit in Port-au-Prince.
MINUSTAH’s military component withdrew completely on October 15. Its successor, the UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH), consisted of seven FPUs, comprising 295 individual police officers and 980 other personnel. MINUJUSTH has a mandate to focus on developing the HNP, strengthening the rule of law, and promoting human rights. MINUSTAH had operated since 2004 with a mandate to assist and advise the government on security-related matters.
Foreign governments and other entities continued to provide a wide variety of training and other types of assistance to improve police professionalism, including increasing respect for human rights. The HNP continued to expand its outreach to and relations with local populations in Port-au-Prince by supporting the community policing unit. The unit aimed to implement policing strategies oriented toward crime reduction and to foster positive police-populace communication over aggressive interdiction.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law permits police officers to make arrests with a court or prosecutor-authorized warrant, or when officers apprehend a suspect in the process of committing a crime.
While authorities generally acknowledged the right to counsel, most detainees could not afford a private attorney. Some departmental bar associations and legal assistance groups provided free counsel. Some NGO attorneys also provided free legal services. The criminal procedure code does not allow for a functional bail system.
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. Persons arrested reported credible instances of extortion, false charges, illegal detention, physical violence by HNP personnel, and judiciary officials’ refusal to comply with basic due process requirements. The judicial system rarely observed the constitutional mandate to bring detainees before a judge within 48 hours. In some cases detainees spent years in detention without appearing before a judge.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a serious problem. 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. Of the approximately 11,400 total prison inmates, authorities held an estimated 8,300 (or 73 percent) in pretrial detention. Government strikes by court clerks and bailiffs likely contributed to a slight increase in the pretrial detention rate from 71 percent in 2016. Pretrial detention was significantly more prevalent in Port-au-Prince–as of August authorities had yet to try an estimated 90 percent of Port-au-Prince’s inmates.
Many pretrial detainees had never consulted with an attorney, appeared before a judge, or been given a docket timeline. Time spent in pretrial detention varied significantly by geographic jurisdiction.
The Ministry of Justice launched “Plan Themis” in June with the objective of conducting 10 weeks of intensive hearings between June and August to process 280 criminal cases. A prolonged strike by court clerks and bailiffs, however, interfered with the effort and resulted in 55 criminal hearings.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: There is no explicit habeas corpus law, although the constitution stipulates that it is illegal for an individual to be detained for more than 48 hours without being seen by a judge. The OPC’s national and 12 regional offices worked on behalf of citizens 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 the OPC learned of the case, they intervened on the detainee’s behalf to expedite the process. The OPC did not have the resources to intervene in all cases of arbitrary detention.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
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. MINUSTAH and international and local NGOs repeatedly criticized the government for attempting to influence judicial officials. The new government replaced the chief prosecutors in all 18 judicial jurisdictions, as well as the head of the government’s two anticorruption bodies: the Anticorruption Unit, and the Central Financial Intelligence Unit. Judges commented this created a new venue for executive influence on judicial decisions because executive appointees can prevent cases from being investigated or brought before a judge altogether. As executive-appointed prosecutors could prevent cases from being seen by judges, the judges themselves actually faced less direct executive pressure in making decisions.
Internal political divisions as well as organizational, funding, and logistical problems often hampered the efficient functioning of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary (CSPJ). The CSPJ is charged with independently overseeing judicial appointments, the discipline of judges, ethics issues, and management of the judiciary’s financial resources.
Pervasive and longstanding problems, primarily stemming from a lack of judicial oversight and professionalism, contributed to a large backlog of criminal cases. Judiciary personnel were paid haphazardly, with arrears often running into months, and worked in facilities that often lacked basic supplies. The failure to appoint or reappoint judges at the expiration of their terms further slowed the functioning of the judiciary. Judges, court clerks, and bailiffs went on strike intermittently to protest poor wages and working conditions, further stifling judicial capacity.
The code of criminal procedure does not clearly assign criminal investigation responsibility, which it divides among police, justices of the peace, prosecutors, and investigating magistrates. As a result authorities often failed to question witnesses, complete investigations, compile complete case files, or conduct autopsies. While the law provides investigative judges two months to request additional information from investigators, they often did not follow this requirement and frequently dropped cases or did not return them within the two-month limit. This resulted in extended pretrial detention for many detainees.
By law each of the country’s 18 jurisdictions should convene a jury trial session twice per year for trials involving major violent crimes. Many jurisdictions, however, convened only one jury per year because they lacked the resources to pay for them. During a case heard at a jury trial session, the court can decide to postpone the hearing to the next session for any reason–often because witnesses were not available. In these cases defendants are returned to prison until the next jury trial session.
Corruption and a lack of judicial oversight also severely hampered the judiciary. Human rights organizations reported that several judicial officials, including judges and court clerks, arbitrarily charged fees to initiate criminal prosecutions and that judges and prosecutors failed to respond to those who could not afford to pay. There were credible allegations of unqualified and unprofessional judges who received 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 figures in the executive and legislative branches. Many judicial officials also held full-time occupations outside the courts, although the constitution bars judges from holding any other type of employment except teaching.
While the CSPJ was not effective in providing judicial accountability and transparency, it held 12 disciplinary hearings for judges, of which six were sanctioned. Local judicial sector observers said the CSPJ struggled to function because it focuses on solving political crises in the executive and legislative branches instead of focusing on its mandated tasks. Additionally, poor management, such as repeated reviews of old procedures by new members that slowed the institution’s work, its hesitation to sanction fellow judges, and a poor relationship with the Ministry of Justice contributed to inefficiency.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not enforce this right. The judiciary follows a civil law system based on the Napoleonic Code that has remained 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, however, widely ignored certain constitutionally provided trial and due process rights.
The constitution provides defendants a presumption of innocence, as well as the right to attend trial, confront hostile witnesses, and call witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. Judges often denied these rights. The perception of widespread impunity also discouraged some witnesses from testifying at trials. Defendants have the right of appeal. Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice; however, legal aid programs were limited, and those who could not pay for attorneys were not always provided one free of charge. While French and Haitian Creole are both official languages of Haiti, the majority of legal proceedings and all laws are in French, despite the most commonly spoken language being Haitian Creole. Free interpretation was not provided for defendants.
The functioning of justice of peace courts (tribunaux de paix), the lowest courts in the judicial system, was inadequate. Judges presided in chamber 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. Bribes were often the principal factor in a judge’s decision to hear a case.
In many communities, especially in rural areas, elected communal administrators (CASECs) took the place of state judges and asserted powers of arrest, detention, and issuance of legal judgments. Some CASECs 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 their cases before a judge. Courts can award damages for human rights abuse claims brought in civil forums, but seeking such remedies was difficult and rarely successful.
Cases involving violations of an individual’s human rights may be submitted through petitions by individuals or organizations to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, which in turn may submit the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
There were several highly publicized reports that the government failed to provide proportionate and timely restitution or compensation for governmental confiscation of private property.
In June a human rights group reported that a police swat team attempted to remove a domestic NGO, Fondation L’Athletique d’Haiti, from a property in the Port-au-Prince neighborhood of Cite Soleil forcibly. The property was the subject of a land dispute between the NGO and a wealthy local family. Despite the NGO having won several court cases concerning the land, police agents allegedly arrived with a land surveyor, forced NGO workers off the premises, and threatened individuals who tried to film their activity. After a large public rally formed to support the NGO with international press coverage, the alleged police activity stopped. HNP authorities stated there had been no authorized police operations at the time of the incident.
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.