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: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4920.html [accessed 30 July 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
HAITIHaiti'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.