a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were several reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary and unlawful killings. Allegations of unlawful or arbitrary killings by police, as well as other police abuses, are investigated by the inspector general (IGPNH) of the Haitian National Police (HNP). The allegations generally related to inappropriate use of force in responding to protests. Monitoring organizations asserted, however, that due to the frequency of gunfire during protests, it was often difficult to determine if gunfire from police or from other protesters killed victims. Human rights activists stated strengthening the IGPNH should be one of the government’s priorities to assure investigations are handled appropriately.
The UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) reported that from June to September, 51 persons were killed during HNP operations. The IGPNH received 429 complaints from January to August, including four cases of alleged summary executions. Follow-up for these cases included both administrative and judicial responses, including suspensions, weapon seizures, and training.
On February 21, while covering a textile workers’ protest, photojournalist Maxiben Lazare was killed when men in uniforms drove past the protest and fired into the crowd. Two other journalists and a factory worker were injured. The HNP inspector general opened an investigation into the incident, but at year’s end, there was no resolution to the investigation, and the perpetrator(s) had yet to be identified.
In a June 2 open letter to Minister of Justice Berto Dorcé, the Eyes Wide Open Foundation (FJKL) alleged Miragoane prosecutor Jean-Ernst Muscadin killed an accused gang member. The allegation was based on a video that began circulating on May 30 in which Muscadin approached Elvain Saint Jacques, accused him of being a member of the Village de Dieu gang, told him to “say his last words to his parents,” and shot him at close range. Muscadin was also accused of the March 23 killing of Cambronne Soiman, a clerk from Petite Riviere de Nippes. After FJKL’s letter was published, a video clip began circulating on social media in which Muscadin threatened to arrest FJKL director Marie Yolene Gilles.
A video began circulating on social media in July of a police special weapons and tactics (SWAT) squad allegedly shooting a young man at close range while he fled. The IGPNH investigation into the killing was underway. A SWAT officer was detained and stripped of his weapon and badge, and four officers who witnessed the act were suspended and removed from the unit.
Following nationwide protests against insecurity, fuel shortages, and the high cost of living, BINUH reported that on August 21, one person was killed in Jacmel by officers from the Jacmel Departmental Unit for the Maintenance of Order (UDMO), the HNP unit responsible for crowd control. On August 23, four persons were killed in Les Cayes when UDMO officers fired into a crowd of protesters to prevent them from erecting barricades.
On October 30, Romelson Vilcin, a radio journalist, was killed during a protest at the HNP police station in Delmas 33 when a tear gas canister struck him in the head. The IGPNH opened an investigation into the case immediately after the incident and as of November was interviewing police station staff, witnesses, and HNP members present at the protest.
On January 6, armed gangs reportedly shot and burned alive journalists John Wesley Amady and Wilguens Louissaint in Laboule, in metropolitan Port-au-Prince. The Online Media Collective reported the journalists had visited the area to report on gang violence in Fessard. Prime Minister Henry, Ombudsman Renan Hedouville, and nongovernmental organization (NGO) Reporters Without Borders condemned the killings. There were no allegations of government involvement.
On September 11, journalists Tayson Latigue and Frantzsen Charles, who worked for YouTube-based FS News, were executed and burned by armed groups in Cité Soleil. Latigue and Charles had traveled to the neighborhood with five other journalists, who survived the attack, to interview the parents of a girl, age 17, killed by armed groups on September 10. There were no allegations of government involvement.
On October 24, the body of Gary Tess, a radio host for Radio LeBon FM, was found in Les Cayes, six days after his family initially reported him missing. As of November, the circumstances of his death remained unclear, but there were social media allegations his death was politically motivated.
No significant progress was made in investigating the July 2021 assassination of President Moïse. The fourth and fifth investigative judges assigned to the case faced administrative and security challenges and were not able to make any meaningful progress before the end of their mandates. Many members of civil society organizations and the government continued to believe the judiciary did not have the capacity to handle such a complex, sensitive, and politicized crime.
The government and judiciary made minimal progress on a growing list of emblematic killings. 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 Cité Soleil (2020), each of which left dozens dead, the government had yet to bring any perpetrators to justice. There has been no investigative judge assigned to the La Saline case since January 2021, when then President Moïse declined to renew the mandate of the assigned judge.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and Other Related Abuses
The constitution prohibits such practices, but there were credible reports from human rights NGOs that HNP officers occasionally beat or abused detainees and suspects. BINUH and the Office of Citizens’ Protection (OPC), an independent government ombudsman, documented cases of abuse in prisons. The UN Secretary-General’s June report on the country documented several confirmed allegations of sexual assault by prison officers against women prisoners, for example, some of which resulted in pregnancies.
On February 21, the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH) reported that during minimum wage protests on February 9-17 in Port-au-Prince, police brutality and use of tear gas injured 15 persons.
On May 26, the online newspaper RezoNòdwès posted a video of 18 Colombian citizens detained in connection with the 2021 assassination of President Moïse. The detainees stated that during their 10 months in prison, they had been “tortured” and denied access to food, water, and sanitary facilities for as long as 72 hours at a time.
Impunity was a significant problem in the HNP. 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 HNP allegedly maintaining gang connections.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, severe overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, and poorly maintained structures. The UN Secretary-General’s June report on the country condemned deteriorating conditions in prisons and detention centers.
Abusive Physical Conditions: Overcrowding at prisons and detention centers was severe. In June the UN Secretary-General’s report estimated the nationwide occupancy rate of prisons was nearly three times the designed capacity; however, individual prisons’ occupancy rates were much higher. Nearly half of the cells in the Les Cayes prison, for example, were destroyed by the August 2021 earthquake and were unusable. This doubled the rate of occupancy in individual cells. The National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince was designed to hold 800 prisoners; as of July, it held more than 3,700. Prison overcrowding grew worse due to high rates of pretrial detention. As of July, 83 percent of prisoners nationwide were in prolonged pretrial detention, or held without charges for longer than the 48 hours allowed by the constitution, most for years at a time; in South Department, the figure was as high as 91 percent.
There was one prison designated for juveniles, the Rehabilitation Center for Minors in Conflict with the Law in Port-au-Prince. Juveniles held elsewhere were typically held in adult detention centers, although the Directorate of Prison Administration (DAP) and individual prison staff attempted to provide separate cells for juveniles when possible. The Mobile Institute for Democracy, which provided educational programming and advocacy for youth detainees, stated most juveniles in prison were in pretrial detention.
In a February documentary that included interviews with several juvenile prisoners and gang members, the online news source New Humanitarian highlighted the large number of juveniles who developed gang alliances while in prison. Some of these juveniles were arrested because of their gang activity, but others became gang members while imprisoned.
The DAP reported most prisoners did not have two meals a day; many prisoners received only one meal daily, of low nutritional quality. The NGO Health Through Walls reported 83 prisoners died between January and September. Most deaths were caused by starvation and poor living conditions. BINUH and other human rights representatives stated the low initial budget allocated to the DAP for prisoners’ food, as well as diversions of those funds for other purposes including alleged corruption, aggravated nationwide prison food shortages. On July 21, the director of the Saint Marc civil prison appealed to media, saying there was no food or water available for the 500 prisoners held there.
In July a video of severely malnourished prisoners at the Les Cayes prison was widely circulated on social media and attracted widespread condemnation. On August 1, the FJKL reported prisoners at the National Penitentiary attempted a “mutiny” on July 28 in protest of being deprived of food, water, or access to bathing facilities for four days.
Medical care for prisoners was provided nearly exclusively by the NGO Health Through Walls, which had limited capacity to treat serious and life-threatening conditions. There was inadequate medical care to stop the spread of infections such as tuberculosis or scabies. A cholera outbreak that began in September was especially dangerous in the prison environment due to the lack of general sanitation and prisoners’ poor health. Outbreaks occurred in six prisons during the year.
Prisoners in many prisons and detention centers, including the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince, did not have regular access to sanitary facilities and were required to relieve themselves in plastic bags that they had to purchase. Prisoners at the National Penitentiary and at Les Cayes had extremely limited opportunities to leave their cells.
Gang members continued to experience special treatment in detention and were sometimes released without proper cause. Before Germine Joly’s extradition to the United States on May 3, civil society sources reported Joly, leader of the 400 Mawozo gang, allegedly managed 400 Mawozo operations, planned attacks and kidnappings, threw parties, and hosted Facebook Live streaming sessions from his cell at the National Penitentiary in clear violation of prison rules. According to RNDDH and local media, throughout April and May the 400 Mawozo gang threatened to attack the Croix-des-Bouquets prison to free detainees associated with 400 Mawozo; no such attack materialized.
Local media reported alleged gang member Jean Samy Dorvil was released in April from Fort-Liberte prison without due process. On April 4, the head of the prison, Desrosiers Joseph, was arrested with three police officers and imprisoned for his involvement in Dorvil’s improper release.
Administration: The OPC has the right to inspect any prison throughout the country at any time without express authorization. OPC staff confirmed prison leadership throughout the country respected this right and facilitated visits to the best of their ability. The OPC regularly visited prisons and detention facilities and worked closely with NGOs and civil society groups. These visits allowed the OPC to investigate credible allegations of inhuman conditions in prisons and facilitate recommendations to the DAP, Ministry of Justice and Public Security, Council of Ministers, and the prime minister. Despite these interventions, however, prison conditions nationwide remained extremely difficult.
Human rights organizations and prisoner testimonies stated prisoners had extremely limited opportunities to leave their cells for any reason, including to receive visitors or for religious observances.
Independent Monitoring: The DAP 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.
Improvements: On June 29, after a video showing emaciated prisoners in Cap-Haitien circulated on social media, the minister of justice and public security visited the prison and ordered humanitarian release on July 1 for 37 inmates convicted of minor offenses. After a similar video circulated of prisoners in Les Cayes in July, an additional 40 prisoners were released on humanitarian grounds.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. The government generally failed to observe these requirements.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The constitution states authorities may arrest a person only if that person is in the act of committing a crime or if the arrest is 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 unlawfully in prolonged pretrial detention, authorities failed to comply with these requirements.
The OPC’s national and eight departmental offices worked to verify 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 when possible to expedite the process. The OPC was unable to intervene in all cases of unlawful detention, and OPC staff stated authorities generally did not respect the 48-hour rule.
RNDDH and other human rights organizations confirmed that although many arrests did not follow proper legal procedures and some detainees were held longer than the law allowed, these detentions were generally not politically motivated.
While authorities generally acknowledged the right to counsel, most detainees could not afford a private attorney. The Office of Legal Assistance (BAL) is required to provide free legal assistance to anyone, regardless of “nationality, sex, age, or any other consideration,” who the BAL’s coordinator determines cannot afford legal assistance in any judicial proceeding, including civil cases. OPC staff and human rights contacts reported, however, shortages of funding, a limited number of lawyers, and the small number of actual court hearings hampered the BAL’s effectiveness.
The criminal code has a bail procedure that was rarely used. The law contains explicit and defendant-friendly provisions, but those provisions rarely protected detainees and prisoners. The right to see a judge within 48 hours of detention was rarely respected.
The law requires prosecutors to routinely visit detention centers and police stations to provide for proper treatment of detainees and respect for arrest procedures; OPC staff stated these visits rarely occurred.
Arbitrary Arrest: Independent observers confirmed instances of police arresting individuals without warrants or with improperly prepared warrants even when those individuals were not apprehended in the process of committing a crime. Authorities frequently detained individuals on unspecified charges. Human rights organizations reported police sometimes arrested large groups of persons attending protests or near crime scenes without attempting to ascertain who was committing a crime.
The OPC may file complaints on the legality of an arrest if it receives notice from a detainee, community member, or other source that a questionable arrest has occurred. The OPC accepted claims via telephone, in person in their regional and national offices, and on their website.
Civil society and human rights organizations alleged some repatriated citizens were detained after their repatriation despite having committed no crime in Haiti. These organizations alleged the individuals were held illegally by government officials, who sought to secure bribes in exchange for their release.
Pretrial Detention: Illegal and prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem due to the arbitrary application of court rules, arbitrary judicial discretion, corruption, and poor recordkeeping. 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 estimates in September from BINUH, 83 percent of detainees were in unlawful pretrial detention. In some prisons, the rates were much higher; in October, the DAP reported all prisoners in Gonaives were in pretrial detention. Local human rights groups reported prisoners were often held even after completing their sentences due to difficulty obtaining release orders from the prosecutor’s office. Some prisoners were held longer in pretrial detention than the required sentences for their accused crimes.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary; however, the government did not respect judicial independence and impartiality. Judicial independence continued to erode during the year, according to all major national magistrate and judges’ associations and human rights activists. Only a quarter of the seats in the Supreme Court remained filled following the expiration of three judges’ terms in mid-February; as a result, the Supreme Court lost its quorum and could no longer function. The OPC and the Superior Court of Accounts and Administrative Litigation remained the only government bodies outside of the executive branch’s direct control.
Senior officials in the executive branch exerted significant influence on the judicial branch and law enforcement, according to local and international human rights organizations. 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 police, and judicial officials refusing to comply with basic due-process requirements. The executive branch has the power to name and dismiss public prosecutors and court clerks at will. Judges faced less direct pressure from the executive branch since judges served for fixed-term mandates, but civil society organizations and judges themselves reported a fear of ruling against powerful interests due to concern for job security and personal safety.
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 charges involving major, violent crimes. During a jury trial session, the court may decide for any reason to postpone the hearing to the next session, most often due to the unavailability of witnesses. In these cases, defendants returned 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. As of August, only six of the 18 jurisdictions held criminal trials; all were nonjury trials. There were no jury trials held in any jurisdiction.
Corruption and a lack of judicial oversight severely hampered the right to a fair public trial. Human rights organizations reported several judicial officials, including judges and court clerks, arbitrarily charged fees to begin criminal prosecutions. Observers also claimed judges and prosecutors ignored defendants who did not pay the fees.
There were credible allegations of unqualified and nonprofessional 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 this practice except when teaching. Human rights organizations highlighted corruption by judges, court staff, and lawyers as a significant hindrance to court operations and proceedings. Human rights organizations reported many judges decided very few cases or rarely came to work due to limited oversight and a lack of consequences.
Judges must order a trial or dismiss the case within six months. Judges and other judicial actors frequently did not meet this deadline due to insecurity, corruption, or other noncompliance problems, resulting in unlawful and prolonged pretrial detention for many detainees.
Persistent strikes by clerks, lawyers, judges, and prosecutors continued to hinder timely court proceedings. Lawyers’ unions and professional organizations staged demonstrations throughout April to protest insecure working conditions. A nationwide strike by court clerks prevented most courts from conducting hearings from April 12 to May 25.
The lack of an elected president since the assassination of Jovenel Moïse and the absence of a quorum in Parliament were major obstacles to maintaining a functioning judiciary. Individual lawyers, judges, and clerks in the Port-au-Prince area also reported believing they were unsafe traveling to work, which led to delayed trials and exacerbated pretrial detention. Human rights groups stated corruption and demands for bribes delayed the trial process.
On June 10, the Village-de-Dieu Baz 5 Segond gang briefly took control of Port-au-Prince’s main courthouse, the Court of First Instance. Gang members shot a security guard, broke windows, vandalized courtrooms, seized court files, and stole computers, safes, and four vehicles. Although the HNP regained control of the courthouse shortly after the attack, court staff continued to express concerns regarding the building’s security and location. In July, the Chief Prosecutor’s Office was relocated to the headquarters of the OPC in an effort to allow it to resume normal functions. OPC staff stated this was a temporary move while violence prevented the Chief Prosecutor’s staff from accessing their usual office space at the Court of First Instance.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the judiciary did not uniformly enforce this right. Authorities widely ignored constitutional trial and due-process rights.
Defendants have the right to the assistance of an attorney of their choice, but 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 specifically provide a defendant time to prepare an adequate defense. Defendants have the right to confront hostile witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence, but judges often denied these rights. The perception of widespread impunity discouraged some witnesses from testifying at trials.
While French and Haitian Creole are both official languages, with Haitian Creole being the most commonly spoken language, all laws and most legal proceedings were in French. Observers noted judges generally ensured defendants fully understood the proceedings.
The functioning of justice of the peace courts, the lowest courts in the judicial system, was inadequate. Justices presided based on their personal availability and often maintained separate, full-time jobs. Law enforcement authorities rarely maintained order during court proceedings, and frequently there was no court reporter. To avoid lengthy waits, defendants would often bribe judges to have 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 reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Victims of alleged human rights abuses may file 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 because a variety of problems throughout the year prevented most civil hearings from occurring.
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.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
g. Conflict-Related Abuses
The government was not party to any conflict. Armed gangs, some alleged to be supported by political and business actors, fought for control of territory throughout the metropolitan Port-au-Prince area, typically in the most disadvantaged and impoverished areas. These conflicts killed hundreds of residents. Reports emerged of serious human rights abuses, including the targeted use of gender-based violence, cannibalism and violent destruction of human remains that were publicized for maximum psychological effect, and deliberate blockage of humanitarian aid. BINUH reported gang violence killed 1,248 persons and displaced thousands more between January and June.
From April 24 to May 16, the G-Pep-allied 400 Mawozo gang and the G-9-allied Chen Mechan gang fought for control of territory in the Plaine du Cul de Sac region. According to RNDDH, the conflict began when 400 Mawozo attacked Chen Mechan-held territory to broaden its revenue base.
From July 7-17, the G-9-allied Belekou gang and the G-Pep-allied Brooklyn gang fought for control of the Cité Soleil neighborhood. Clashes were worst in the Brooklyn, Soleil 17, and Soleil 19 areas, the most populated portions of Cité Soleil, that were controlled by G-Pep at the fighting’s outbreak.
Killings: From April 24 to May 16, large multiday battles among rival gangs killed approximately 190 persons, including an estimated 96 gang members, according to BINUH and RNDDH. Reports emerged of rapes, injuries, retaliatory killings, killings of children, and mutilation of human remains.
From July 7-17, multiday battles between two other rival gangs killed between 150 and 300 persons, according to BINUH and RNDDH. Reportedly, Belekou gang members distributed machetes to neighborhood residents on July 10 and encouraged them to seek revenge for family members and friends who had been killed. Human rights sources documented retaliatory killings and mutilation of human remains.
Abductions: Armed gangs in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area and around the country continued the practice of kidnapping for ransom. BINUH reported 1,236 kidnappings for ransom in the year, 86 percent of which occurred in West Department, which includes Port-au-Prince. These data, however, only included those kidnappings reported to authorities; the actual number was likely higher. Human rights organizations reported gangs subjected those they kidnapped to poor treatment, including deprivation of food, physical and sexual violence, and other abuses. There were several reports of gangs videotaping sexual violence against victims to pressure families to pay ransoms more quickly.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Human rights and UN sources confirmed that from April 24 to May 16, armed gang members used sexual violence to inflict suffering on the residents of the neighborhoods in which gangs fought. BINUH reported armed actors broke into homes and raped young women, girls as young as 10, and at least one boy.
Armed groups filmed acts of decapitation, butchery, and cannibalism that were then circulated on social media to terrorize members of the law enforcement community as well as members of rival gangs.
Both BINUH and RNDDH confirmed that from July 7-17, gender-based violence was widely used as a tool of conflict for both gangs. As a result of 40 interviews, BINUH and RNDDH concluded G-9 and G-Pep gangs used sexual violence to inflict maximum suffering on rival communities. Several survivors recounted their assailants explicitly said the survivors were being raped as “punishment” or to be “hurt” for living in areas under G-9 control. All survivors recounted being severely beaten and collectively raped; several survivors stated armed gang members executed the survivors’ husbands and partners in front of them before raping the survivor.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: At the beginning of the July 7-17 conflict, humanitarian organizations, including Doctors Without Borders, reported the conflict completely isolated the Cité Soleil neighborhood, and they were unable to deliver aid or evacuate wounded residents for medical care. On July 19, the World Food Program was able to begin delivering commodities to the neighborhood with an HNP escort.