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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Haiti

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Haiti, 30 January 1996, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


For the first full year in its history, Haiti was governed by a democratically elected President. The Government brought an end to the massive, state-sanctioned human rights violations which had characterized the preceding 3 years. Although the 1991 coup d'etat which ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide after only 7 months in office continued to affect the country's institutions even after his return, the Government--assisted by the international community--made significant progress in addressing many of the nation's most glaring systemic and institutional needs.

Haiti's 1987 Constitution provides for a parliamentary democracy, but the Government was unable to meet the constitutionally mandated schedule for legislative elections a month after Aristide's return. The Government thus operated without its legislative branch for much of the year. Nonetheless, the country was eventually able to hold peaceful elections for all of the nearly 2,100 parliamentary and local offices nationwide. President Aristide convoked the new National Assembly in October. A presidential election was held on December 17, despite pressure from some popular organizations and influential individuals for Aristide (who was constitutionally barred from seeking a second consecutive term) to stay in office to "recover" his 3 years of exile. In the end, Rene Preval, the candidate of the Lavalas platform defeated his 13 opponents with 88 percent of the vote. Preval took office on the constitutionally mandated date of February 7, 1996. The period of crisis from 1991-94 also affected the judicial system, theoretically independent, but weak and corrupt after decades of governmental interference under the Duvaliers and subsequent governments. President Aristide and his Government began the task of rebuilding the justice system.

The U.S.-led Multinational Force (MNF), which had entered Haiti peacefully in September 1994 under the authority of the United Nations Security Council, was replaced in March by the U.N. Mission in Haiti (UNMIH). Under its mandate, UNMIH's approximately 6,000 peacekeeping troops and 900 civilian police were responsible for assisting the Government to maintain a secure and stable environment.

Haiti continued its transition towards a constitutionally mandated national police force under civilian control, the Police Nationale d'Haiti (PNH). In revoking the commissions of the majority of members of the Haitian Armed Forces (FAd'H) at the beginning of 1995, President Aristide left in place those serving as part of the interim police. The newly established police academy, charged with training the civilian police, enrolled its first class in January. The Ministry of Justice deployed these cadets at the beginning of June, and classes of cadets graduated each month thereafter, replacing members of the interim police on a one-for-one basis. In December the Government issued a decree incorporating into the PNH the remaining members of the interim police, some 1,500 persons including both former FAd'H personnel as well as interim police members who had been recruited from among Haitian migrants being held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba. A small number of the ex-FAd'H personnel were credibly implicated in human rights abuses. There were some incidents of arbitrary arrest and beating, as well as the killing of several suspects, by the interim police. The PNH gained a greater level of public confidence than the interim police had, but were often inclined to use excessive force, resulting in the beating and killing of several suspects. The authorities are investigating these incidents. Nonetheless, the PNH bears little resemblance to the FAd'H, long an instrument of repression and violence.

In September the UN/OAS International Civilian Mission (ICM) cited the "clear determination of the Government to improve the quality and performance of judicial officials, and to supervise the conduct of the new security agents," which had already resulted in "a dramatic decrease in the number of complaints." There is much room for improvement, however, as the PNH continues to suffer from equipment problems, poor leadership, and political interference. President Aristide wanted the new Parliament to abolish the army, a remnant of which still exists in compliance with a constitutional mandate, but provisions do not allow amendment of the Constitution until the end of Parliament's 4-year term.

Haiti is an extremely poor country. It has a market-based economy with state enterprises controlling some sectors, such as telecommunications and energy. Two-thirds of the work force are employed in the agricultural sector, most in subsistence production. Although less than 1 percent of the work force is in the assembly sector, it is a major source of export revenue and added about 10,000 jobs in the last year. The country exports mangos, coffee, and sisal as well. Per capita gross domestic product increased 5 to 6 percent during 1995, but stands at only $260 annually. Most of the population subsists on substantially less than this, remaining in extreme poverty. Much of the country's wealth is still concentrated in the hands of a tiny, traditional elite.

Haiti's human rights climate improved dramatically. The Aristide Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, in stark contrast to the record of the military regime removed from power in 1994. In the past, widespread abuses such as judicial corruption, arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention of suspects, and excessive use of force by the authorities, punctuated by short, dramatic periods of extrajudicial killings and other violent attacks with clear political motives, were common. The Aristide Government took great strides towards breaking this pattern, and such practices have become the object of sweeping Government reform efforts, although abuses still occur occasionally.

Most troubling was the occurrence of more than 20 execution- style killings in which theft was apparently not a motive. Information including that developed by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the investigation of one of these cases, the March 28 killing of Mireille Durocher Bertin, suggests that this killing was linked to several others and that persons associated with the Government may have been implicated in them. Near the end of the year, the Government established a Special Investigative Unit (SIU) comprising PNH investigators working under the direction of several magistrates to look into notorious homicides dating back to the mid-1980's.

Little progress on other investigations had been made.

The moribund judicial system was incapable of processing detainees in compliance with the law, and a large proportion of crimes, including many which might have been politically motivated, remained unresolved. Improper arrests and warrantless searches, a clogged judicial docket, poor prison conditions, and vigilante activity condoned by the authorities also contributed to ongoing human rights violations. Societal discrimination against women and abuse of children are problems, most notably the widespread practice of rural families sending young children to the larger cities to work as unpaid domestics.

The Government made limited headway in investigating the murders of pro-Aristide activists and others which took place during the coup period. The President created the independent Presidential Commission of Truth and Justice to investigate and determine the extent of human rights abuses during the tenure of the de facto regime, but the Commission's mandate excluded scrutiny of human rights abuses which took place during Aristide's 7 months in office in 1991. The President also established a committee in the Ministry of Justice to address several of the high profile killings of the same period, again, excluding examination of his own earlier tenure.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Political and extrajudicial killings by the authorities or security forces dropped dramatically with the return of the legitimate Government and its decision to dismantle virtually the entire pre-existing security structure. Nevertheless, some people associated with the Government were implicated in execution-style killings. There were a number of cases in which the interim police or PNH killed suspects, over 100 instances of mob justice resulting in death, and several cases of suspected executions by vigilante organizations, some of which appear to have been inspired by statements of Aristide. The Government opened investigations into several high profile assassinations which took place during the coup period but by year's end had not launched adequate investigations into the execution-style killings which occurred in 1995.

In the last week of December 1994, three men were killed when military officers fired on dismissed FAd'H members who were rioting near the general headquarters. There were several reports of suspects killed by the interim police, and in at least three cases, by the PNH. The interim police and PNH contend that the suspects were killed while attempting to escape. The PNH's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) opened investigations into both these and other lesser PNH incidents. By year's end, the OIG had taken 12 disciplinary actions; 20 other investigations remained pending.

With a generally ineffective interim police, a fledgling national police, and a national focus on grassroots organizations, vigilante brigades made a renewed appearance. The ICM expressed concern that an Aristide call in February for "community vigilance" might have been misinterpreted by some Haitians to mean they could take the law into their own hands. Although most of these served as neighborhood defense mechanisms, observers and international forces reported instances where they suspected vigilante groups were responsible for killings. In February a group of local gang members attacked the newly installed interim police contingent in Limbe and killed a lieutenant. Later in the year, however, vigilante groups turned suspects over to the authorities.

There was no evidence of national leadership of vigilante brigades, which were localized phenomena, but such organizations appeared in all nine provinces. Killings also resulted when mobs angered by a crime attacked the perpetrator immediately. For example, crowds in Port-au-Prince killed a man who had stabbed a woman in a taxi and two juveniles who had snatched a purse. Provincial citizens killed two men in September on suspicion of having used voodoo to cause the death of a newly elected deputy (the ICM believes the man died of AIDS). In November at least seven people were killed in violent clashes after Aristide, in an emotionally charged eulogy, encouraged citizens to assist the police in disarming perceived opponents of the Government.

In addition to incidents of summary justice and murders committed in connection with other crimes, there was a series of execution-style murders, about 20 according to an ICM press release in September, in which victims were either former members of the FAd'H (including a retired general and two retired colonels), attaches, members of the Revolutionary Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH--a notorious paramilitary organization during the 1993-94 period), persons connected to the petroleum or automotive industry, or persons whose affiliations were unknown. In these cases, robbery was apparently not the motive.

One of the victims was a well-known attorney and former public prosecutor, Mireille Durocher Bertin, who had been spokesperson for the former military regime. President Aristide had requested the FBI to investigate Bertin's murder, but government officials impeded the operation by failing to cooperate fully with the FBI. The FBI investigation produced evidence linking the Bertin case to several other killings, as well as information suggesting that government security officials may have been implicated in some of these deaths.

Jean Hubert Feuille, a pro-Aristide member of Parliament and cousin of the President, was killed in a November shooting. A substantial sum of money was taken by the perpetrators, and theft may have been the motivation. Feuille's colleague, a parliamentarian from the same party, survived the attack and claimed publicly that it was the work of unnamed presidential advisers allegedly angered that he was attempting to expose their corruption.

In October, in response to domestic and international pressure to solve the recent execution-style killings, the Government announced the creation of the SIU to investigate certain high profile killings which had taken place since the mid-1980s. The SIU, which comprises a group of PNH investigators under the direction of a magistrate, was tasked with the investigation of over 70 such cases, the majority of which occurred during the period of military rule following President Aristide's overthrow in September 1991.

President Aristide regularly and emphatically stressed the need for both reconciliation and justice following the repression and human rights trauma of the prior 3 years. To this end, he created a Presidential Commission of Truth and Justice and a special lawyers' committee to investigate four high profile murders during the coup period: those of Antoine Izmery, Guy Malary, Jean Marie Vincent, and Claudy Musseau.

The Government began investigations into the killings during the coup period of these four well-known Aristide supporters. One suspect was tried and convicted in the case of the assassination of Antoine Izmery. Also in the Izmery murder, a court found guilty in absentia several members and supporters of the Cedras regime, including former chief of police Michel Francois, the former captain of the police investigative service, known for its brutality, and the second in command of FRAPH. However, the cases of Guy Malary, Jean Marie Vincent, and Claudy Musseau remain unsolved. Haitian authorities requested the deportation of Emmanuel Constant, the founder of FRAPH, who had escaped to the United States in December 1994. Constant appealed the initial deportation order entered against him. At the end of the year, he remained in U.S. custody.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The 1987 Constitution prohibits unnecessary force or restraint, psychological pressure, or physical brutality. After years of systematic abuse under prior regimes, the legitimate authorities largely respected these constitutional protections in 1995. There were several reports of police beating suspects or detainees. In at least one case, a local "casec" (rural section council member) allegedly authorized the plaintiff to beat the defendant. In an incident in June, prison guards at Fort National beat approximately 12 juveniles after the young men attacked a guard. However, there were no reports of the use of rape as a means of torture and intimidation, a practice which was widely reported under the military regime.

Records of the Human Rights Fund, a U.S. Government project to assist victims of human rights abuses, highlight the vast improvement in treatment by authorities: in the 3 months before President Aristide's return, it assisted 49 acute trauma victims, provided over 3,000 medical consultations, and gave psychological counseling to nearly 100 people. In early 1995, the relief portion of the fund was terminated due to a lack of new cases.

Prisoners and detainees, held in overcrowded and inadequate facilities, continued to suffer from a lack of the most basic hygiene facilities as well as from inadequate food and health care, including necessary medical treatment. Prisoners and detainees had to rely on family or friends for food and medicine. At the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince, nine prisoners died from malnutrition in a 2-week period at the end of the year.

The Government, with the assistance of the international community, began to address prison inadequacies. The President implemented legislation creating the National Penitentiary Administration (APENA), Haiti's first civilian prison administration. APENA, which includes a corps of prison guards, has posted agents at 13 of the country's 15 prisons, including at least 1 female prison guard at each facility to address the needs of female prisoners. To accommodate women and juveniles previously held in close quarters with the adult male prisoners in the National Penitentiary, the Ministry of Justice refurbished a former military facility in Port-au-Prince to serve as a prison for them. The Government, with help from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other donors, made some initial efforts to refurbish the National Penitentiary, which housed approximately 60 percent of the prison population, by restoring some burned-out cell blocks, improving kitchen facilities, reopening previously unusable latrines and showers, and restoring prisoner access to unused courtyard space. Nonetheless, overcrowding at the National Penitentiary had become an acute problem by the end of the year.

Authorities permit the ICRC, the Haitian Red Cross, the ICM, and other human rights groups to enter prisons, monitor conditions, and assist prisoners with medical care, food, and legal aid.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution stipulates that a person may be arrested only if apprehended during the commission of a crime, or if a judicial warrant has been issued. The authorities must bring the detainee before a judge within 48 hours of arrest.

There were no reported cases of the previously common practice of secret detention. The number of arbitrary arrests decreased significantly. Some occurred in connection with land disputes in Artibonite province. In another instance, a justice of the peace arrested the brother of someone accused of wounding a third party, when the alleged culprit went into hiding. There were also some cases in which authorities made arrests based on flawed warrants, including illegal group warrants and those based on verbal denunciations; or on documents which were essentially subpoenas, not arrest warrants. Some arrests were also made in the presence of a justice of the peace without a warrant, which is legally insufficient. For example, in early March, the Minister of Justice named a new state prosecutor for Port-au-Prince, who promptly issued a warrant for 12 people on the grounds of plotting against the Government. The interim police subsequently arrested two men listed, Dieumaitre Lucas and Patrick Bastien, and authorities released the men only after holding them illegally for 6 months. Police detained a prominent opposition politician, Duly Brutus, in July, using a warrant which gave authority only to bring him in for questioning. Police also arrested Carl Denis, a well-known anti-Aristide activist, based on a denunciation by an organization of former soldiers. Colonel (ret.) Christophe Dardompre was arrested in November without a warrant; he remained in detention at the end of the year even though a judge had ordered his release.

At the beginning of 1995, detainees who had never seen a judge or whose cases stagnated in the legal system crowded the prisons, particularly the National Penitentiary. The Ministry of Justice made a sincere effort to correct this failure, assigning judges to "triage" the cases, and releasing those who had already served more time in detention than they would have served if sentenced for the crime in question. In the absence of any system of public defenders, the Ministry also established a project by which law students assisted detainees to prepare their cases. During the first month of the triage program (August), participants reviewed the cases of 559 detainees, resulting in 7 being brought to trial and convicted, and 85 being freed by justices of the peace. Nevertheless, an overburdened, often corrupt, and inadequate judicial system regularly detained suspects well beyond the 48 hours permitted for arraignment. Cases bound over to higher courts also continued to languish. In September 87 percent of the inmates in the National Penitentiary were in pretrial detention.

The Constitution prohibits involuntary exile of citizens. While some have left the country voluntarily for personal or political reasons, the Government did not make use of exile as punishment. Most senior FAd'H officers chose voluntary exile, many departing due to fear for their safety after several former officers were murdered. In November former military strongman Prosper Avril took asylum in the Colombian Embassy after the police illegally raided his home and arrested his daughter and son-in-law; at the end of the year, the Government had not allowed Avril safe passage out of the country.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the right to a fair public trial. However, the former is virtually nonexistent, and the latter is widely abridged. Two hundred years of rampant corruption and governmental neglect have left the judicial system poorly organized and virtually moribund. Under these circumstances, citizens often do not bring criminal cases to the police or judicial authorities, and most crimes go unprosecuted.

The Constitution vests judicial power in a supreme court, courts of appeal, courts of first instance and courts of peace. Court proceedings are generally public but may take place in closed session in the interest of public order. In cases of political offenses or offenses involving the press, sentences must be delivered in open session. Examining magistrates known as juges d'instruction try cases in the courts of first instance. Commissaires or public prosecutors supervise the Judicial Police, which investigate crimes, gather evidence, and deliver suspects to the courts.

Under Haiti's criminal justice system, all legal proceedings begin with either an official inquiry by a member of the Judicial Police or with a recorded denunciation known as a proces verbal. A legal arrest may follow a police report accompanied by a proces verbal; a citizen's complaint, whether or not accompanied by a proces verbal; or when a perpetrator is caught in a criminal act.

The Government has acknowledged that judicial reform is critical, and has worked with the international community to address some of the problems plaguing the system, including understaffing, untrained and incompetent staff, and inadequate compensation. In July the Ministry of Justice opened the constitutionally mandated magistrates' school. During its first 3 months, the school put over 100 judges and prosecutors through intensive 2-week training courses, and will continue to focus on short and long term training for justices of the peace and trial judges. Some human rights organizations complain, however, that corrupt judges from the coup period continue on the bench and that many are irredeemable.

The Constitution expressly denies police and judicial authorities the right to interrogate persons charged with a crime unless the suspect has legal counsel present or waives this right. Nevertheless, not all accused can afford counsel and the law does not require that the Government provide legal representation; interrogation without counsel present continues to occur frequently. Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, responsibility to investigate crimes is unclear and authority to prosecute is divided among police, prosecutors, and investigating magistrates. The Code stipulates two criminal court sessions per year, each lasting 2 weeks, to try all major crimes requiring a jury trial. Failure to reform this aspect of the Code has contributed to a huge backlog of cases inherited from years past, with some detainees having waited years in pretrial detention for a court date. In addition, for the last several years, the Ministry of Justice held only one assize in Port-au-Prince, and there were districts in which it held no assize at all. However, there were some improvements, as assizes took place in several districts, and the Minister of Justice committed himself to a second session in Port-au-Prince in December. During its August session, the assizes in Port-au-Prince ruled on 12 cases, while those in Les Cayes handed down decisions in 10. If the accused is ultimately tried and found innocent, he has no recourse against the Government for time already served.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference With Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution prohibits such practices, and government authorities generally respected these prohibitions. In November, however, the Government ordered the police to carry out a number of warrantless searches of private residences as part of an effort to search for weapons. Most of these searches took place in middle-class and wealthy neighborhoods and more frequently in the cities than in rural areas.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the Government generally respects these rights in practice.

The press energetically exercised this freedom, with the print media often openly critical of the Government (from both the left and the right ends of the political spectrum). There are two independent dailies in Port-au-Prince, as well as a journal published by Tilegliz, a Catholic group associated with liberation theology. Foreign-based pro- and anti-Aristide newspapers circulate in Haiti as well. All freely published reports on negative reactions by Haitians and others on the elections, security, violence, the efforts to abolish the army, the economy, and other political issues. Foreign journalists circulated throughout the country without hindrance. There were no reports of censorship, nor did there appear to be self-censorship, except in the case of an electoral debate which the government television station edited, in contravention of the agreement between its organizer, the National Democratic Institute, and the station. The station subsequently rebroadcast the debate in its entirety.

With an illiteracy rate of approximately 80 percent, broadcast media, especially Creole-language radio, have unusual importance. Thirty-two radio stations operate in Port-au-Prince, 17 of which offer news programming. There is one government-owned radio and television station. These totals represent a significant increase in the number of stations that were operating during the 1991-94 period. Broadcast media tended to be neutral or supportive of the Government.

There was a handful of confrontations between authorities and the media. In March presidential security agents manhandled journalists trying to film the agents arresting and allegedly beating a man who had climbed the wall of the National Palace. Thirty journalists subsequently boycotted coverage of events at the Palace, until the President met with them to hear their concerns. In June authorities in Les Cayes closed a local radio station after it broadcast a freewheeling political discussion. They based their action on the fact that its license was still pending; the journalists who moderated the event were summoned for questioning, but were not detained. The station was subsequently allowed to resume broadcasting. In August the Minister of Information closed the daily government newspaper L'Union for "renovation," after public disagreements with the editor.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Authorities respected the constitutional rights of freedom of assembly and association, after years of restriction. Political parties across the spectrum were able to meet, recruit members and candidates, and hold election rallies for their partisans. Nongovernmental organizations and grassroots and popular groups, many of which had had to suspend their activities under threat from the military regime and its agents or go underground, emerged from hiding and resumed their activities. New organizations also formed, including one dedicated to the rights of former soldiers.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for the right to practice all religions and faiths, provided that practice does not disturb law and order. President Aristide met officially not only with Catholic religious officials but with Protestants and Vauduisants (adherents of vaudoun or voodoo, a mix of African religions and Catholicism) as well. There are currently no government restrictions on missionary activities, affiliation with overseas coreligionists, or religious instruction or publishing.

In contrast to numerous incidents during the previous regime, there were no reports of attacks against religious figures.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

There are no legal restrictions on the movement of citizens within the country.

An unknown number of undocumented migrants put to sea seeking better economic opportunities in other countries. The U.S. Coast Guard interdicted and returned approximately 1,800. Hundreds of others succeeded in landing illegally in the Bahamas, the Turks and Caicos Islands, or Florida, while several drowned. The Government created a National Migration Office to assist repatriates. It also reached an agreement with the Bahamas for repatriating Haitians who lacked legal status there.

There have been no cases of asylum seekers or refugees in Haiti, and, accordingly, the Government has not formulated a policy to deal with the question of refugees.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change their Government

The Constitution provides for regular elections for local and parliamentary offices and for the presidency. Legislative elections scheduled for November 1994, but delayed because President Aristide did not return until October of that year, took place over three rounds in June, August, and September. The Presidential election scheduled under the Constitution for the end of November was held successfully on December 17.

The terms of all members of the 83-member Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Parliament, and of two-thirds of the 27-member Senate, expired on February 4, as did the mandates of all local government officials. The Parliament ended its deliberations on that date, resulting in a legislative void. President Aristide, however, appointed mayors throughout the country to manage local government. Most of these were incumbents, but critics of the President accused him of replacing members of opposition political parties with his own adherents.

A provisional electoral council (CEP), created by a political compromise in late 1994, administered the legislative and municipal elections, which filled the vacant seats of 101 of 110 parliamentarians and 2,094 local government officials. CEP incompetence marked the period preceding the Parliamentary elections, and widespread logistical problems, poor administration of the voting and counting process, and isolated cases of violence and intimidation marred the first round, resulting in anger and an eventual boycott of the second round by most opposition political parties. However, most international observers called the election a significant step forward, and agreed that the serious flaws which existed had not altered the election's outcome. After a major change of CEP leadership, it was able to correct many irregularities before holding runoffs and restaging about 20 percent of the first round contests. It also agreed to reimburse a portion of the candidates' registration fees and campaign expenses, although this in fact never occurred.

As the date for the presidential election neared, many of President Aristide's supporters urged him to postpone the election for 3 years to make up for the period he was in exile. Ambiguity over this issue clouded the process through election day. The December 17 election, in which 14 candidates competed, was deemed by international electoral observers to be free, fair, and peaceful, with the CEP showing further marked improvement in the administration of the election. Turnout for the election nationwide was 28 percent. Rene Preval of the Lavalas platform won an absolute majority and was inaugurated as President on the constitutionally mandated date of February 7, 1996.

There are no de jure impediments to women's participation in politics or government. The generally lower status of women, however, limits their role in these fields. Of the 83 members in the Chamber of Deputies, only 3 are women, and there are no women in the 27-member Senate. President Aristide named several women to prominent positions in his Government including a foreign minister (who was later elevated to prime minister), a finance minister, and the head of the Presidential Commission of Truth and Justice and has relied on female advisors on his palace staff.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

About a dozen local human rights groups exist in Haiti. Most have continued to monitor conditions in the country, with particular emphasis on the activities of former members of the armed forces, attaches, section chiefs, and members of the notorious paramilitary group FRAPH. Some have changed their focus, at least in part, to issues of justice and civic education, as the numbers of violations decreased drastically with the return of the constitutionally elected Government.

Many of the local groups worked with the Presidential Commission of Truth and Justice formally established in late March. The Commission had a 9-month mandate to take complaints and investigate the human rights tragedy of 1991-94 in order to determine what kinds of abuses occurred and their magnitude. It gathered testimony throughout the country, and accepted written records compiled by human rights groups during the 3-year crisis. The Commission completed the investigatory phase of its work in December and was expected to release its final report in early 1996.

The International Civilian Mission, operated jointly by the United Nations (U.N.) and the Organization of American States (OAS), investigated reports of human rights violations, assisted in monitoring the elections, and issued periodic reports and press releases. Representatives of international human rights organizations visited Haiti from time to time. During the General Assembly of the OAS in June, delegates elected the Haitian Minister of Justice to a seat on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, beginning in 1996. The ICRC was active throughout the year, particularly in the area of prison renovation and assistance to prisoners. The authorities allowed the ICRC and the ICM free access to prisoners. The National Coalition for Haitian Refugees also maintained a presence.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The 1987 Constitution does not specifically prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, religion, disability, language, or social status. It does, however, provide for freedom of religion and equal working conditions regardless of sex, beliefs, or marital status. There is no effective governmental mechanism to administer or enforce these provisions.


Knowledgeable local authorities report that both criminal and domestic violence, including rape, occur but are rarely reported or prosecuted. Most of this violence goes unreported, and authorities have been ineffectual in prosecuting complaints (see Section 1.e.).

Although women are often the breadwinners for poor families, they do not enjoy the same economic and social status as men. In some social strata, tradition limits women's roles; peasant women, for example, remain largely in the traditional occupations of farming, marketing, and domestic tasks. Poorer families sometimes ration education money to pay school fees for male children only. Nonetheless, women have occupied prominent positions in both the public and private sectors in recent years.


The Parliament ratified, at the end of December 1994, the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the President signed the bill 2 weeks later. The Government expressed public concern over the plight of children and welcomed international assistance for them. It did not have the resources, however, to implement effective mechanisms for their protection.

Rural families continued to send young children to serve as unpaid domestic labor for more affluent city dwellers. The use of children in this manner is not limited to the wealthy class; middle and lower class families also follow the practice, called "restavek". The Government has not enacted any legislation to curb this abuse. A 1991 U.N. study cited the restavek children as an example of slavery practiced in the 20th century. The Government does not compile official statistics, but observers estimate that--due to greater internal displacement during the period of illegal military rule--the number of restaveks now far exceeds the 109,000 reported by the U.N. in 1991. The Ministry of Social Affairs believes that as many as 20 percent of restaveks are mistreated. Employers compel the children to work long hours, provide them with little nourishment, and frequently beat and sexually abuse them.

Port-au-Prince's large population of street children includes runaway restaveks, as well as children orphaned or separated from their families. The abysmal state of the economy only worsens the plight of such children, whom society holds in little regard. Local human rights groups do not view the plight of restavek children as a priority and do not report on abuses of children or actively seek to improve their situation. The Government's efforts to deal with restaveks have centered on monitoring some of the children working as domestics and intervening to move them to other homes if they are being mistreated. The Government does not take any action against abusive employers.

People With Disabilities

The Constitution provides that disabled persons shall have the means to assure their autonomy, education, and independence. Despite the constitutional provision for means of autonomy for the disabled, there is no enacting legislation mandating provision of access for people with disabilities. There is no overt ill-treatment of people with disabilities, but given the desperate poverty in which the vast majority of Haitians live, those with disabilities face a particularly harsh existence.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Some 99 percent of Haitians are descendants, in whole or in part, of African slaves who won their war of independence from France in 1804. The remaining population is of European, Middle Eastern, North American, or Latin American origin. The law makes no distinctions based on race. There are longstanding social and political animosities among Haitians, however, often tied to cultural identification and skin color, and issues of class, in this starkly inegalitarian society. Some of these animosities date back to before Haiti's revolutionary period.

There are two official languages: Creole, which is spoken by virtually all Haitians, and French, which is spoken by about 20 percent of the population. The inability to read, write, and speak French, or read and write Creole, has long limited the political and economic opportunities available to the majority of the population. In the past, the country's French-speaking elite effectively used language requirements as an additional barrier to the advancement of the country's Creole-speaking majority. However, Creole use in political discourse increased dramatically in 1995.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution and the Labor Code provide for the right of association and provide workers, including those in the public sector, the right to form and join unions without prior government authorization. Although union activities are protected, the law prohibits a closed shop. The law requires a union, which must have a minimum of 10 members, to register with the Ministry of Social Affairs within 60 days of its establishment. Union membership is estimated at 5 percent of the total labor force. There are six principal labor federations, each of which maintains some fraternal relations with various international labor organizations.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Labor Code protects trade union organizing activities and stipulates fines for those who interfere with this right. After years of having their activities curtailed by the authorities, the unions are now free in fact as well as in law to pursue their goals. Nonetheless, the high unemployment rate has had a profoundly damaging impact on union activities. In addition, militant union activity between 1987 and 1991 led to the closure of some industrial firms, making many factory workers antiunion. Organized labor activity is generally concentrated in the Port-au-Prince area, primarily in the assembly sector, and in state enterprises. Observers estimate that only 2 to 3 percent of the industrial labor force is unionized. Many union activists militantly oppose privatization of state enterprises, fearing the effect on employment and union membership.

Collective bargaining, which has never been widespread, was nonexistent in 1995. Employers generally set wages unilaterally.

There are no export processing zones. Prior to 1991 and the imposition of the OAS trade embargo, Haiti did have a sizable export-oriented assembly sector. The Labor Code does not distinguish between industries producing for the local market and those producing for export. Many assembly sector companies were the focus of developmental efforts; they received greater outside scrutiny and were consequently somewhat more generous with benefits and wages. Employment in the export assembly sector, however, declined from almost 35,000 jobs in September 1991 to fewer than 1,000 in September 1994, before rebounding in the subsequent 12 months to about 10,000. As the assembly sector contracted, unions that were particularly strong in this sector declined accordingly.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Labor Code prohibits forced or compulsory labor, but enforcement of these provisions is practically nonexistent. Children continued to be subjected to forced domestic labor (see Section 5).

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum employment age for minors in all sectors is 15 years. Fierce adult competition for jobs ensures that child labor is not a factor in the industrial sector. Children under age 15 commonly work at odd jobs in both rural and urban settings to supplement family income. Enforcement of child labor laws is the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Affairs, but the International Labor Organization has criticized the Ministry's enforcement as inadequate.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

President Aristide raised the minimum daily wage, which applies to industrial, commercial, and agricultural workers, from $1.00 (15 gourdes) to $2.40 (36 gourdes) effective June 1. While sufficient to support a single worker, the minimum wage cannot adequately support additional family members. Although they are considerably better off than the rest of the population, most minimum wage earners live in slum conditions. In addition the majority of Haitians work in subsistence agriculture where minimum wage legislation does not apply.

The Labor Code governs individual employment contracts. The Code sets the normal workday at 8 hours and the workweek at 48 hours with 24 hours of rest on Sunday. It also establishes minimum health and safety regulations. The industrial sector, which is concentrated in the Port-au-Prince area and more accessible to outside scrutiny, observes these laws and regulations in practice. However, the Ministry of Social Affairs has inadequate resources to enforce work hours and Labor Code provisions on health and safety. With more than 50 percent of the population unemployed, workers are not able to exercise the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment.


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