No. 24/03

Today, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), principal organ of the Organization of American States (OAS) mandated to promote and protect human rights in the Hemisphere, completed a five-day visit to the Republic of Haiti. The delegation of the Commission was composed of Ms. Marta Altolaguirre, President of the Commission, Mr. Clare K. Roberts, Vice-President of the IACHR and Rapporteur for Haiti, Mr. Mario Lůpez Garelli, Attorney and Senior Human Rights Specialist and Mr. Bernard Duhaime, Human Rights Specialist.


The Commission visited Haiti from August 18th to 22nd 2003 at the invitation of the State and in accordance with its mandate provided for in the OAS Charter and in the American Convention on Human Rights and with the OAS Resolutions CP/Res. 806 and AG/Res. 1841. The IACHR traveled to the cities of Port-au Prince, Cap Haitian and GonaÔves to observe the situation of human rights. On this visit, the Commission focused more particularly on the issues of administration of justice, rule of law and impunity.


During its visit, the delegation met with officials from the Haitian government as well as representatives of civil society, of political organizations and of human rights organizations. The delegation met the Prime Minister, Mr. Yvon Neptune, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Justice and Public Security, the Director General of the National Police of Haiti, the Inspector General of the National Police, the President of the Supreme Court, the President of the Appeals Court, the Chief Prosecutor and the Chief Justice of the First Instance Tribunal of Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haitien and GonaÔves, as well as the Departmental Delegate and Chief of Police of Cap-Haitien et GonaÔves. The delegation also met with the Human Rights Ombudsman and representatives from the School of Magistrates. It also met, in all three cities, the representatives of many human rights non-governmental organizations, of the Bar Associations, of associations of magistrates and of certain political parties.


The Commission has taken note of the current difficulties facing the Republic of Haiti, more particularly the severe economic hardship and a long-lasting and tense political crisis, as the backdrop to observing the Stateís performance relating to respect for human rights and in ensuring that all persons under its jurisdiction are free to exercise such rights fully.


Notwithstanding the above, and as noted repeatedly in the recent past, the IACHR is very concerned by the situation of human rights in Haiti, more specifically with respect to the right to liberty and security of the person, the right to judicial guarantees and the right to judicial protection, as provided for in the Inter-American Human Rights instruments. The Commission wishes to emphasize the importance of such rights and their necessary inter-relation with the proper functioning of democratic institutions and the existence of the rule of law, as emphasized in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.


The IACHR considers that serious problems still exist in Haiti as to the respect of the right to personal liberty and security. More specifically, the Commission has noted that arrests are not always accomplished in accordance with the law and applicable procedures and that persons are often subsequently detained for periods longer than those provided by domestic law.  Moreover, the Commission has also noted that persons often have difficulty to in obtaining recourse to a competent court to decide on the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention


The IACHR has also observed severe problems as to the right of a person to a hearing, within a reasonable time, by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal.

The Commission is still concerned about the number of persons who are detained in jails without having been brought before a judge.  The Commission was informed that as many as 70 to 80 percent of the persons detained in Haiti have not been brought before a judge.  While the Commission has taken note of the considerable efforts undertaken by the State to train judges and magistrates, it also considers that more needs to be done in order to ensure that the other constraints to timely processing of arrested persons becomes the norm rather than the exception.  The Commission also recommends that legislation be passed to properly structure the School of Magistrates.


The Commission is particularly concerned by the significant limitations existing on the independence of the Haitian judiciary. The IACHR has noted that Haitian legislation and administrative practices, particularly those dealing with the appointment, promotion and sanction of magistrates and judges and those dealing with budgetary and managerial aspects of the judicial institutions can result in  dependency on the executive branch. More alarming, the Commission has received credible information according to which certain judges and magistrates have been pressured by authorities, by gangs or violent and sometimes armed groups seeking to influence the outcome of certain cases, particularly when they are dealing with politically charged matters. Some judges and magistrates have even admitted fearing for their lives or physical integrity when dealing with such cases. Similar fears have been expressed by human rights defenders and attorneys, who, along with the judges and magistrates, are at the front line of the protection of human rights.


As to the due process guarantees, the IACHR notes, that some persons subjected to criminal judicial proceedings do not enjoy the right to be assisted without charge by a translator or interpreter, if he or she does not understand or does not speak the language of the tribunal or court. Similarly, certain individuals subjected to criminal prosecution, do not enjoy the right to be assisted by counsel provided by the state if the accused is unable to  engage his or her own counsel within the time period established by law.


In addition, the IACHR has observed serious problems dealing with the right to judicial protection. The Commission is particularly concerned by the fact that warrants and judicial orders, particularly release orders, are sometimes not executed by the competent authorities. Similarly, the IACHR has noted that, while some progress have been made by the State to end impunity dealing with certain cases, the problem remains a severe one.  Several high profile cases have yet to be resolved, particularly those dealing with the events of December 17th 2001, the Jean Dominique and Brignol Lindor cases, to name a few.


The IACHR is also very concerned by reports of the existence in Haiti of armed groups who act unlawfully and with impunity, sometimes terrorizing the population in certain areas. The Commission considers that the Stateís failure to guarantee the populationís security in certain areas of the country and to end impunity and guarantee the right to judicial protection hinders the rule of law.


It must be noted that a significant number of State officials has denied the existence of most of the problems mentioned above, or have blamed them entirely on the economic crisis or on the biases of the local human rights community, of the press and of political opponents.  The Commission considers that the first step to amelioration of the human rights position in Haiti is for the State and state agencies to recognize that certain of their practices may constitute infringements of the fundamental rights of its citizens. Accordingly, it must be cognizant of its duty to investigate efficiently such allegations.


The Commission is particularly pleased with the very active participation of the persons who appeared before it, both from State agencies and from civil society, and reiterates in this respect that, in accordance with the Commissionís Rules, the State must grant all appropriate guarantees of protection to those who provided the delegation with information, testimony or evidence of any kind.


The IACHR is grateful to the Government of the Republic of Haiti for its assistance in the preparation of the visit, for the facilities that it has provided as well as for ensuring the Commissionís security. The Commission is grateful for the hospitality of the Government and people of Haiti.  It is also indebted to the non-governmental organizations, the institutions of civil society and the international organizations, in particular the OAS Special Mission in Haiti, for the success of the visit. The Commission wishes to emphasize, once more, its offer to cooperate with governments of the Hemisphere to promote, ensure, and protect human rights. 




Port-au Prince, August 22, 2003