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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Haiti

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1998
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Haiti, 30 January 1998, available at: [accessed 25 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.

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.


Haiti's second democratically elected President, Rene Preval, celebrated his first anniversary in office on February 7, the first time a democratically elected president reached that milestone. The bicameral, 110-member National Assembly showed its independence by amending bills presented by the Government, summoning the Prime Minister in March for a vote of confidence, and not approving the President's nominees for the post of prime minister in August and December. The political situation remained unsettled following the June resignation of the Prime Minister, who still had not been replaced at year's end. Mayors and local councils elected in 1995 reflected broad, popular participation in democratic local government. Elections for some complementary local government bodies called for in the 1987 Constitution were held for the first time beginning in April. These elections culminated on October 3 in the election of an Interdepartmental Council, which is to function as a liaison between the provinces and the executive branch. Members of the communal section assemblies, or ASEC's, took office in August, although the majority party charged that the Provisional Electoral Council had committed fraud in favor of another party in the elections for these bodies and the Senate. At year's end, the April elections remained embroiled in controversy, pending resolution of partisan differences. The judicial system--while theoretically independent--remained weak, disorganized, and corrupt after decades of government interference, financial neglect, and corruption.

The 2-year-old civilian Haitian National Police (HNP) continued to form needed specialized units and formally absorbed the National Penitentiary Administration (APENA) in accordance with the Constitution. In August international military units withdrew from the Palace, and responsibility for the security of the President and Government passed to the HNP palace security units. Over the course of the year, the HNP's leadership, in cooperation with the international community, undertook a serious training and development effort to improve officers' skills, increase accountability, and bring the force into compliance with international standards. The United Nations Support Mission in Haiti (UNSMIH) was converted to the U.N. Transition Mission in Haiti (UNTMIH) in August, with about 1,200 peacekeeping troops and 250 civilian police responsible for assisting the Government to maintain a secure and stable environment and advising the HNP. The UNTMIH's mandate expired on November 30. The U.N. Police Mission in Haiti (MIPONUH), with 290 police officers from 11 countries, succeeded UNTMIH on December 1 with a 1-year mandate to advise, train, and support the professionalization of the HNP. Several mayors maintained quasi-official forces to serve as municipal police. These groups lack legal standing, authority to carry weapons, or legitimate powers of arrest. The Port-au-Prince extralegal force is said to number several dozen persons; that of Delmas, an adjoining suburb, about 30. The mayors of several other towns have much smaller corps. Some members of local government councils (CASEC's) have assumed arrest authority in defiance of the law. Members of the HNP, the other security forces, and the informal municipal police committed some serious human rights abuses.

Haiti is an extremely poor country, with a per capita annual income of about $300. This figure may not fully include significant unrecorded transfers from the estimated 1 million Haitians living abroad, as well as income from informal sector activities that constitute an estimated 70 percent of actual economic activity. The country has a market-based economy with state enterprises controlling such key sectors as telecommunications and utilities. A formal privatization strategy is slowly being implemented for nine parastatal enterprises. About two-thirds of the population work in subsistence agriculture, earn less than the average income, and live in extreme poverty. A small, traditional elite controls much of the country's wealth. A small part of the urban labor force works in the industrial and assembly sectors, with an equal number in government or service sector employment. Assembled goods--textiles, leather goods, handicrafts, and electronics--are a major source of export revenue and employment. Other important exports are mangoes and coffee. The Government relies heavily on international financial assistance.

The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, a significant number of serious abuses occurred, and some abuses increased in frequency during the year. The police summarily executed at least six persons. Police officers shot and killed 11 persons while making arrests or controlling demonstrations and wounded at least 17 others in these situations. Police were also responsible for instances of torture and at least 189 cases of mistreatment of detainees, including repeated, severe beatings, and a mock execution. Poor prison conditions and arbitrary arrest and detention remained problems. The HNP Director General, following the recommendations of his Inspector General, fired at least 21 police agents for human rights abuses; he referred 9 of these cases to the Public Prosecutor. The police leadership made some progress in addressing management weaknesses, which limit accountability for police misconduct, but many senior and midlevel positions remained unfilled.

The judiciary is weak and corrupt. The Senate and Chamber of Deputies had not yet taken final action on a judicial reform bill by year's end; however, the draft bill stipulates no precise measures to bring about reform. The near-moribund judicial system remained incapable of processing detainees in accordance with the law, and a large proportion of crimes, including some that may have had political motivations, remain unsolved. The authorities arrested an opposition politician in November on accusations of plotting to assassinate the President; they released him provisionally a month later. The authorities maintained in illegal detention some persons arrested in 1996 who were members of the political opposition. The clogged judicial docket, lengthy pretrial detention, and illegal searches also contributed to widespread human rights violations. Societal discrimination against women, violence against women, and abuse of children remain problems, particularly the widespread practice of rural families sending young children to the larger cities to work as unpaid domestics (restaveks). Vigilante activity--including killings--remained a problem.

The Government's limited effort to redress the legacy of human rights abuse from the 1991-94 period met largely with failure. Important cases, such as those from the 1994 Raboteau killings, languished in the courts. Judicial officials failed to begin processing many other complaints involving human rights abuses, although a few convictions were obtained. The Justice Ministry did not widely disseminate the report of the National Truth and Justice Commission and did not implement its recommendations. In particular, although the budget included funds to compensate victims (and their survivors) of the 1991-94 period of military rule, the Government disbursed none of these funds. However, on November 4 the Government opened the office of Protector of Citizens, an autonomous office established by the 1987 Constitution.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Extrajudicial killings by the authorities decreased compared with 1996, according to UNSMIH reports, the HNP Inspector General, and other sources. In late April and early May, police removed at least three men from detention in the Cite Soleil police station and shot them, according to information collected by the UN/OAS International Civilian Mission (ICM). An ICM investigation also found that two gang leaders from Cite Soleil, reported to have died in the hospital from gunshot wounds suffered in a battle with police in October, were in fact arrested and beaten so severely that they died. On September 22, Port-au-Prince police handcuffed an accused thief on the street and then killed him, according to eyewitnesses. The authorities suspended several police agents, pending an investigation of this killing. The police also shot a gang leader to death in Cite Soleil in unclear circumstances in September. In February a police inspector in Les Cayes, allegedly hired by a local resident, killed a citizen and shot and killed a fellow policeman who pursued him; he was shot and killed himself by a third policeman.

Police were also responsible for 11 additional deaths when officers used excessive force in making arrests or controlling demonstrations. Off-duty police officers shot and killed at least seven people in personal disputes. An off-duty prison guard shot and killed an unarmed escapee in Cap Haitien on June 7, sparking violent demonstrations. On May 28 in Archaie prison, a detainee died after 7 days without medical care (see Section 1.c.).

The police Inspector General completed reports on several cases of summary execution or use of excessive force. On his recommendation, the HNP Director General fired 21 agents for committing human rights abuses, and sent 9 of these cases to the Public Prosecutor. However, few cases against police reached trial. In July in Cap Haitien, a criminal court found that the death of a woman shot in a public conveyance by two police in 1996 was accidental. On May 23 and June 5, an investigative judge in Port-au-Prince released without trial six police officers charged with murder in three separate cases that occurred in 1996. With more supervisors in place, the incidence of officers dismissed for misconduct, who nevertheless returned to duty or continued to draw pay, declined sharply.

The head of the quasi-official security force attached to the Delmas mayor's office shot and killed a fellow employee in the town hall on June 12; town officials refused to hand him over to police. The Delmas mayor confirmed to an international organization that 6 off-duty members of the Delmas force were involved in armed incidents in Cite Soleil in which 6 persons were killed and 14 wounded on February 25. A Parliament security guard shot and killed two supposed criminals near the Parliament building on June 20.

The Special Investigative Unit (SIU) of the National Police served over a dozen arrest warrants in the 1994 Raboteau massacre case and continued to investigate other notorious human rights abuses from previous years. In January, responsibility for investigating the August 1996 killings of political opposition activists Antoine Leroy and Jacque Florival passed to the SIU, which arranged autopsies of the bodies and collected other evidence. In July the Government dismissed the suspended chief of palace security, his deputy, and eight members of the presidential security unit who allegedly were at the scene of the shootings. The police killed Eddy Arbrouet, the chief suspect in the Leroy and Florival killings, during a raid on his home on December 14. The SIU was not present at the scene of the raid. The raid occurred nearly 1 year after an arrest warrant had been issued for Arbrouet, a former informal palace security operative. Information about operational details of the raid remained unclear at year's end. Investigators made only minor progress on other high-profile killings, such as the March 1995 murder of Mireille Bertin, which were committed following then-President Jean Bertrand Aristide's return in 1994. None of these cases was brought to trial.

At year's end, the Government continued to hold on undetermined charges the two suspects acquitted by a jury 1n 1996 for the killing of Minister of Justice Guy Malary.

Assailants killed 20 police officers, most of whom were off duty, including several cases in which robbers killed them after finding their police identification. The police arrested several suspects in these murders. Instances of mob killings of suspected criminals exceeded 147. Police made at least 36 arrests in 10 cases of mob killings.

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 the use of unnecessary force or restraint, psychological pressure, or brutality by the security forces. However, members of the security forces frequently violated these provisions. Police officers used excessive--and sometimes deadly--force in making arrests or controlling demonstrations, wounding more than 17 people in such situations. The police were responsible for more than 189 cases of mistreatment of detainees. They also continued to beat demonstrators without arresting them in several instances.

Members of the HNP tortured suspects in isolated incidents. In late July, the U.N. Civilian Police reported that beating of detainees had become common in the Cite Soleil police station, with some persons also being tortured. On August 8 in the Cite Soleil station, police undressed and whipped three women detainees. In mid-April Cap Haitien police took four detainees to a ruined fort outside town and carried out a mock execution. In September an off-duty policeman in Port-au-Prince seized a man, handcuffed him, and tortured him with a hot iron, rather than taking him to a police station. The policeman was later arrested.

Cases in which the HNP mistreated detainees--sometimes severely--increased. The ICM recorded a noticeable rise in the number of complaints of beatings by the police. Such violations of human rights continued throughout the year. Most often, police beat suspected members of armed gangs during arrest or in the course of interrogation, usually with firearms or police batons. In a few cases, police forced detainees to lie prone, then walked on their backs. On other occasions, police encouraged some detainees to beat others or failed to intervene when detainees beat each other. Another problem was the failure to provide medical treatment to ill or injured detainees; the Government provides no budget for medical treatment (or food) for detainees in police holding cells. In sporadic cases, off-duty officers used their weapons in disputes with taxi drivers or in nightclubs. Several police officers wounded themselves or others through negligent handling of firearms.

The quasi-official forces connected to the Port-au-Prince mayoralty on several occasions beat female vendors who allegedly were violating market rules. Members of local government councils, illegally assuming police functions such as arrest, beat at least 11 people. On May 28, one such beating victim died in Archaie prison, and two CASEC members were arrested for causing the death (see Section 1.a.). A mob had beaten him severely before turning him over to police. Despite his obvious injuries when police took him to prison on May 19, prison officials did not obtain treatment for him.

Prison conditions remained very poor. Prisoners and detainees, held in overcrowded and inadequate facilities, continued to suffer from inadequate basic hygiene, poor quality health care, and 24-hour confinement to cells in some facilities. The increase in the prison population posed a threat to the health and life of prisoners. The 17 prison facilities held 3,328 inmates in early December, up from 2,540 in March. The rate of increase in the prison population slowed from that of 1996, due in part to foreign-supported programs of legal assistance for indigent detainees. Prison observers noted that, on occasion, prisoners claimed that guards beat their charges.

Fort National prison in Port-au-Prince is the only prison facility expressly for women and juveniles. In other prison facilities, women are housed in cells separate from the men. However, overcrowding often prevents strict separation of juveniles from adults, convicts from those in pretrial detention, or violent from nonviolent prisoners.

The Government, with the help of the international community, made some progress in improving prison conditions. Prisoners nationwide generally received two adequate meals per day--a substantial improvement over 1995, when seven persons in the national penitentiary died of a vitamin deficiency. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) funded the installation of rudimentary clinics in the country's prisons. The Government failed, however, to keep these facilities adequately stocked with medicines and other health care supplies. The APENA drafted internal regulations to standardize overall prisoner care; the regulations awaited approval by the Ministry of Justice at year's end.

Persons detained in politically sensitive cases were often kept in police station holding cells, rather than in regular prison facilities. These and other holding cell detainees depended largely on their families for food and medicine. In some cases, police officers used their personal funds to buy food for such persons.

The authorities freely permitted the ICRC, the Haitian Red Cross, the ICM, and other human rights groups to enter prisons and police stations, monitor conditions, and assist prisoners with medical care, food, and legal aid. The only interruption to this access occurred when the APENA director issued a directive in late January barring the ICM from freely visiting prison facilities. The Minister of Justice canceled the directive 2 weeks later and accepted the long-pending resignation of the director. The ICM resumed unimpeded prison visits.

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. However, the authorities frequently ignored these provisions in practice.

Arbitrary arrests continued to occur. A few of those arrested complained that police wore masks during their arrest. The police also made arrests based on flawed warrants or in the presence of a justice of the peace in lieu of a warrant, which is legally insufficient. In August the ICM found that a few judges began interpreting any arrest within 24 hours of the crime as occurring during commission of the crime or the immediate investigation of it, and hence not requiring a warrant. Nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) providing legal assistance to the indigent reported the number of illegal arrests decreased in several cities. The Government released 18 persons--members of the political opposition or former soldiers--who had been arrested in August 1996 on poorly substantiated charges of threatening state security. Of 57 persons the ICM considered to be in detention on such charges in September 1996, 14 remained in custody at year's end.

There were a few arrests related to the April 6 elections. However, these occurred at the instigation of local party organizations, not of the Government, and the judicial system released all those arrested within a day or two. In Mirebalais on March 17-18 following a clash among members of several political parties, the HNP crowd control unit arrested 10 people without warrants. The dean of the court released them after a special hearing on March 18. In Jeremie on March 30, a justice of the peace under pressure from one political party issued warrants (which he had no authority to do) for five members of a rival party. Members of the rival party successfully pressed a different judge to release those detained. On April 6 in Savanette-Cabral, police arrested five persons without warrants on suspicion of blocking poll workers the day before; the Hinche prosecutor declared the arrests illegal and released the five the following day.

The authorities arrested Leon Jeune, former presidential candidate and occasional critic of the Government, on November 16 on charges of plotting against the security of the State and possession of illegal weapons. Jeune stated that he had been struck three times on the back of the neck at the time of his arrest with the criminal intention of killing me, and that his investigations had revealed that his assailant was Aramic Louis, HNP Director in the Western department. Judge Gabriel Castor ordered Jeune's release on November 27, but Judge Onel Cadet remanded him to prison shortly thereafter. Judge Cadet granted Jeune provisional release on December 5. After apparent problems with paperwork authorizing his release, Jeune was finally freed on December 11, after nearly a month in jail.

In Cap Haitien, following the fatal shooting of a policeman, police arrested family members when they could not find the suspects, despite the constitutional prohibition against arresting any person in place of another. Judicial officials or police subsequently released the family members. In another case, the brother of a former police chief continues to be kept in a police holding cell for his own protection, according to the police officer in charge.

Arbitrary arrests by those lacking arrest powers--some elements of the security forces, quasi-official forces, and local government councils--occurred sporadically.

Detainees who had never seen a judge or whose cases stagnated in the judicial system continued to crowd the prisons nationwide. An overburdened and inadequate judicial system frequently detained suspects well beyond the 48 hours permitted for arraignment, although respect for the 48-hour rule increased in general. In June and July, the ICM detected an increase in the practice of judges permitting extension of detention in police custody beyond the legal limit of 48 hours in several jurisdictions, in the mistaken belief that they had the authority to do so. Cases bound over to higher courts also languished. About 80 percent of the inmates in the prison system were awaiting trial.

The Constitution prohibits involuntary exile of citizens. Some persons left the country for personal or political reasons. One person detained in July 1996 on the accusation of plotting against the State was released in May and left the country immediately, after a government official made it clear that his release was conditional on his going abroad. Otherwise, the Government is not known to have used exile as punishment.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but it is not independent in practice. Years of rampant corruption and governmental neglect have left the judicial system poorly organized and nearly moribund. The Constitution sets varying periods of tenure for judges above the level of justice of the peace. In practice, however, the Ministry of Justice exercises administrative oversight of the judiciary, prosecutors, and court staff. The Minister of Justice fired several judges for incompetence or corruption; however, none was prosecuted on such charges.

At the first level, the justices of the peace issue warrants, adjudicate minor infractions, take depositions, and refer cases to higher judicial officials. Investigating magistrates and public prosecutors cooperate in the development of more serious cases, which are tried by the judges of the first instance courts. Appeals court judges hear cases referred from the first instance courts, and the Supreme Court deals with questions of procedure and constitutionality.

The judicial apparatus follows a civil law system based on the Napoleonic Code; the Criminal Code dates from 1832. The Constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial, but this right was widely abridged. The Constitution also 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. While trials are public, most accused persons cannot afford legal counsel for interrogation or trial, and the law does not require that the Government provide legal representation. Despite the efforts of local human rights groups and the international community to provide legal aid, many interrogations without counsel continued to occur. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to be present at trial, to confront witnesses against them, and to present witnesses and evidence in their own behalf, and the Government respects these rights in practice.

Unaddressed systemic weaknesses continued to contribute to a huge backlog of criminal cases, with some detainees waiting years in pretrial detention for a court date. Under the Code of Criminal Procedure, responsibility to investigate crimes is unclear and authority to pursue cases is divided among police, prosecutors, and investigating magistrates. The Code stipulates two criminal court sessions per year in each of the 15 first-instance jurisdictions, each session generally lasting 2 weeks, to try all major crimes requiring a jury trial, primarily murder. Although the court system held more such sessions in more locations than in 1996, a significant backlog of cases remains. Moreover, if an accused person is ultimately tried and found innocent, he has no recourse against the Government for time served.

The Government devoted some effort to the task of reforming the judicial system. The Justice Ministry cooperated with international donors in providing training to sitting magistrates, improving the administration of the public prosecutors' offices, improving documentation and case presentation, strengthening judicial supervision, and establishing prison registries. The Senate and the Chamber of Deputies did not complete action on a draft law on judicial reform by year's end. The bill contains no precise measures to implement reform.

There were no reports of political prisoners, although the Government continued to hold some political opponents on charges of threatening state security (see Section 1.d.).

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

The Constitution prohibits interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence. Police and other security force elements did, however, conduct illegal warrantless searches. Members of quasi-official forces also conducted illegal searches and seizures of property. There was at least one instance in which the police arrested and detained family members of suspects (see Section 1.d.).

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press and the Government generally respects these rights. The press energetically exercises this freedom. Print and electronic media from opposite ends of the political spectrum often criticize the Government.

With an illiteracy rate of approximately 80 percent, broadcast media, especially Creole-language radio, have an unusual importance, and some 35 radio stations operate in the capital alone. Uncensored satellite television is available. Broadcast media tend to criticize the Government less than the press but freely express a wide range of political viewpoints. There were no reports of censorship, nor did the media appear to practice self-censorship. The government-sponsored daily newspaper remained closed following a 1995 dispute between the former Information Minister and the paper's editor.

Foreign journalists generally circulate without hindrance. There are occasional reports of domestic journalists experiencing rough treatment at the hands of the police; however, there were no clear indications that these resulted from motives other than personal disputes. In December the police notified the host of a radio call-in program, whose callers often criticize the Government, that they had heard of a plot to kill him and advised him to take precautions. The host and several colleagues also received threats by telephone.

The Government respects academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the authorities generally respected these rights in practice. Political parties across the spectrum were able to meet and recruit members. New popular organizations, including several opposed to the Government or its policy, formed and held demonstrations. A stray bulled fired by police killed a man in Port-au-Prince in mid-May when demonstrations by students, allegedly joined by provocateurs, turned violent and the police responded with gunfire.

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, and the Government respected this right.

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

The Government respects the right of freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation. An unknown number of undocumented migrants put to sea seeking better economic opportunities in other countries.

The Government operated, with international support, a national migration office to assist citizens involuntarily repatriated from other countries, notably the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.

The Government has no policy regarding foreign nationals seeking refuge or asylum from third countries. The question of provision of first asylum did not arise.

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. President Rene Preval, elected in late 1995 in an election regarded by the international community as free and fair, continued in office. The Parliament, most of whose members were chosen in 1995 in elections regarded as administratively flawed but free and fair, continued to operate independently of the executive branch.

The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), which took office in late 1996, scheduled elections for local assemblies and nine senate seats. These elections were delayed twice before taking place on April 6. An OAS observer mission noted instances of irregularities and fraud at polling places and questioned the CEP's decision, made after the vote count was complete, not to count blank ballots. This decision resulted in the first-round victory of one senate candidate who would otherwise have had to proceed to the second round.

After making credible allegations of irregularities and of bias on the part of the CEP, two parties announced their intention to boycott the second round of the elections: The Lavalas Political Organization (OPL), whose candidates had advanced to the second round in six senate races, and the Open the Gate Party, whose senate candidate had advanced to the second round in the Port-au-Prince area. The second round was postponed indefinitely and had not been rescheduled by year's end. The resignation of Prime Minister Rosny Smarth, and the Parliament's refusal to approve the President's first candidate for a replacement, became linked to the elections dispute, further complicating the political situation. Late in the year, the political parties and the President engaged in negotiations aimed at ending the political and electoral impasse. These discussions resulted in several steps aimed at improving the credibility of the elections, including the resignation of six of the nine CEP members and establishment of a presidentially appointed commission to examine the April 6 elections. However, the OPL was not satisfied that these measures would ensure the credibility of the electoral process. The Parliament had not approved the President's second nominee for Prime Minister at year's end, and the impasse remained.

Members of the local assemblies elected on April 6 took office, and an indirect election process took place to select municipal, departmental (provincial), and inter-departmental assemblies. The departmental assemblies are constitutionally mandated to participate in the selection of candidates for the Permanent Electoral Council. The controversy surrounding the April 6 vote extended to these elections as well. By year's end, a Permanent Electoral Council had not been selected.

No legal impediments to women's participation in politics or government exist. In the recent past, Haiti has had a female President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and Minister of Finance. The generally lower status of women, however, limits their participation in these fields. Of the 80 sitting members (3 seats are vacant) of the Chamber of Deputies, 3 are women. The Senate (which usually has 27 members but at year's end, due to the electoral dispute, had only 18 members) had none, although one leading candidate in the delayed election is a woman. The election law provides that the deposit required of female candidates for political office is half that required of male candidates, if the woman is sponsored by a recognized party. There are a few women in prominent positions in the Government, including the Women's Affairs Minister and the Secretary of State for Tourism.

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

A wide variety of human rights groups operate without government restriction, commenting on human rights cases. The Government tolerates their views but is rarely responsive to their recommendations. The exception is the HNP Inspector General's office, which opened a number of investigations at the request of human rights groups. About a dozen local human rights groups monitor conditions in the country, with some working on civic education and legal aid as well.

On November 4, the Government opened the office of the Protector of Citizens, an autonomous ombudsman-like office established by the 1987 Constitution. Its purpose is to investigate complaints of government malfeasance where judicial or administrative recourse is not available. Dr. Louis Roy was appointed the nation's first Protector of Citizens.

In July and December, the Government requested and received extensions of the UN/OAS International Civilian Mission's mandate to December 31, and then for an additional year to December 31, 1998. The ICM investigated all reports of human rights violations, issued periodic reports and press releases, conducted civic education, and trained local human rights groups. The ICM also worked with the Government in a variety of ways to develop its institutional capacity to prevent and provide redress for human rights abuses.

The National Coalition for Haitian Rights was the only other international human rights organization to maintain a permanent presence. Representatives of other international human rights organizations visited freely from time to time. The ICRC was active throughout the year, particularly in prison renovation and assistance to prisoners.

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 provide for equal working conditions regardless of sex, beliefs, or marital status. However, there is no effective governmental mechanism to administer or enforce these provisions.


According to women's rights groups, rape and other abuse of women is common, both within and outside marriage. The Haitian Center for Research and Action for the Promotion of Women in 1996 published a preliminary report of a survey of 1,705 women interviewed in 1995. Thirty-seven percent of respondents stated that they or someone they knew had been raped or otherwise sexually abused; a third of respondents reported that they or someone they knew had been the victim of other types of physical violence. Nearly two-thirds had not reported the abuse, most due to fear of public shame or of retribution from their assailants, but some because they believed that judicial penalties were insufficient. The law provides penalties for these crimes, but the authorities do not enforce these provisions adequately. One law excuses a husband if he murders his wife or her lover upon catching them in the act of adultery in the home. A wife who kills her husband upon discovering him in the act of adultery is not excused.

An International Tribunal for the Elimination of Violence against Haitian Women was held in Port-au-Prince November 24-26. The seminar was organized by some 90 women's rights and human rights organizations and assembled women's rights specialists from Haiti as well as other countries. The experts heard testimony from women who had suffered domestic, sexual, or political violence, or who had been targeted because they were disabled. An estimated 300 people attended the proceedings. In the meeting's final document, the experts noted serious shortcomings in several areas: In the judicial system's ability to punish those who commit violence against women; in the capacity of the police to conduct investigations of sexual crimes or protect women who are victims of violent crime; in social and public health services; in protection of girls of all ages against molestation; and in nonsexist education. The experts also observed that many women (often the very poor) who have been victims of violence have a profound fear of reprisal and lack confidence that the legal system can provide them with justice.

The international panel recommended revision of several laws, including making rape a crime against the person instead of a crime against morals; shifting adultery from the criminal to the civil code; and revising the civil code to recognize the rights of women in common law marriages. The panel also recommended revisions of school curriculums; free legal aid for victims of violence; training for judges, prosecutors, and police in handling crimes against women; and ratification of the international convention against torture.

The Ministry of Women's Affairs is charged with promoting and defending the rights of women and ensuring that they attain an equal status in society, but it did little in this regard. There are no government-sponsored programs for victims of violence.

Women have the same legal status as men. However, women do not enjoy the same social and economic status as men. In some social stratums, tradition limits women's roles. Peasant women, often the breadwinners for their families, remain largely in the traditional occupations of farming, marketing, and domestic labor. Very poor urban women, who head their families and serve as their economic support, also often find their employment opportunities limited to traditional roles in domestic labor and marketing. Female employees in private industry or service jobs, including government jobs, are seldom promoted to supervisory positions. Laws governing child support recognize the widespread practice of multiple-father families but are rarely enforced. Well-educated women have, however, occupied prominent positions in both the private and public sector in recent years. Women's rights groups are small, localized, and receive little publicity.


The Government's programs do not promote or defend children's rights. Government health care and education programs for children are inadequate or nonexistent. Poorer families sometimes ration education money to pay school fees for male children only.

Rural families continued to send young children to serve as unpaid domestic labor for more affluent city dwellers, a practice cited by a 1991 U.N. study as an example of slavery in the 20th century. One international organization estimated that 250,000 to 300,000 children, 85 percent of them girls, may be victims of this practice, called restavek (which means lives with in Creole). It is primarily lower-middle and lower class families who use restavek children, as the more well-to-do prefer paid adult employees. The Ministry of Social Affairs believes that many employers compel the children to work long hours, provide them with little nourishment, and frequently beat and abuse them.

Local human rights groups do not report on the plight of restavek children as an abuse or seek to improve their situation. The Ministry of Social Affairs believes that it can do little to stop this practice, regarding it as economically motivated; the Ministry assigned five monitors to oversee the welfare of restavek children. Society holds such children in little regard, and the poor state of the economy worsened their situation. Port-au-Prince's large population of street children includes many runaway restaveks.

People With Disabilities

The Constitution provides that disabled persons shall have the means to ensure their autonomy, education, and independence. However, there is no legislation to implement these constitutional provisions or to mandate provision of access to buildings for people with disabilities. Although they do not face overt mistreatment, given the severe poverty in which most 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 distinction based on race. Longstanding social and political animosities are often tied to cultural identification, skin color, and overlapping issues of class in this starkly inegalitarian society. Some of these animosities date back to before Haiti's revolutionary period.

The Government recognizes two official languages: Creole, which is spoken by virtually all Haitians; and French, which is spoken by about 20 percent of the population, including the economic elite. The inability to communicate in French has long limited the political and economic opportunities available to the majority of the population. The Government prepares most documents only in French, and, despite the Justice Minister's order to use Creole in the courts, judges conduct most legal proceedings exclusively in French. Creole was, however, the language chosen for parliamentary debate in the lower house.

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, with the right to form and join unions without prior government authorization. The law protects union activities and prohibits a closed shop. The law also requires a union, which must have a minimum of 10 members, to register with the Social Affairs Ministry within 60 days of its formation.

Unions are independent of the Government and political parties. Unionized public school teachers, doctors and nurses in government hospitals, and employees of the government-owned telephone company went on strike during the year. Loosely organized mass transit drivers went on strike as well. Rather than impose sanctions, the Government negotiated with the strikers. Six principal labor federations represent about 5 percent of the total labor force, including about 2 to 3 percent of labor in the industrial sector.

Each of the principal labor federations maintained 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. Unions were generally free to pursue their goals, although the Government made little effort to enforce the law. Union leaders assert that some employers in the private industrial sector dismiss individuals who participate in union organizing activities. Organized labor activity was concentrated in the Port-au-Prince area, in state enterprises, the civil service, and the assembly sector. The high unemployment rate and antiunion sentiment among some factory workers limited the success of union organizing efforts.

Collective bargaining continued to be nonexistent, and employers set wages unilaterally. The Labor Code does not distinguish between industries producing for the local market and those producing for export. Employees in the export-oriented assembly sector enjoyed better-than-average wages and benefits. Female workers in the assembly sector report that some employers sexually harass female workers with impunity. Women also assert that, while the vast majority of assembly sector workers are female, virtually all the supervisors are men.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Labor Code prohibits forced or compulsory labor and applies equally to minors. Such labor is not known to occur among adults. However, the Government failed to enforce this law for children, who continued to be subjected to forced domestic labor as restaveks in urban households (see Section 5).

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age of Employment

The minimum employment age in all sectors is 15 years. The Labor Code prohibits minors from working under dangerous conditions, and it prohibits minors under the age of 18 from working at night in industrial enterprises. Fierce adult competition for jobs ensures that child labor is not a factor in the industrial sector. Children under the age of 15 commonly worked at informal sector jobs to supplement family income, despite the legal prohibition. Primary education is supposed to be free and compulsory, but there are far too few public schools to accommodate the country's children, especially in rural areas. The Labor Code prohibits forced or compulsory labor, which applies equally to minors, but some children are forced to work as domestic servants (see Sections 5 and 6.c.)

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The legal minimum daily wage, established in June 1995, is about $2.18 (36 gourdes). Annually, a minimum wage worker would earn about $680, an income considerably above the national average but sufficient only to permit a worker and family to live in very poor conditions. The majority of citizens work in subsistence agriculture, a sector where minimum wage legislation does not apply.

The Labor Code governs individual employment contracts. It sets the standard workday at 8 hours, and the workweek at 48 hours, with 24 hours of rest on Sunday. The Code also establishes minimum health and safety regulations. The industrial and assembly sectors largely observed these guidelines. The assembly sector published a voluntary code of conduct in April, committing signatories to a number of measures designed to raise industry standards, including paying the minimum wage and the prohibition of child labor. The Ministry of Social Affairs did not, however, enforce work hours or health and safety regulations.

With more than 50 percent of the population unemployed, workers were not able to exercise the right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment.

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