INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND UNICEF REGIONAL OFFICE IN LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN CONCLUDE THEIR VISIT TO HAITI
Today, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and UNICEF’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean concluded their joint visit to Haiti. The purpose of the visit was to gather information on the situation of children and adolescents in Haiti and to try and draw greater domestic and international attention to the grave violations of the human rights of this segment of the Haitian population. The delegation was headed by Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, IACHR Commissioner and Children’s Rapporteur and the United Nations Secretary General’s Independent Expert for the Global Study on Violence against Children, and by María Jesús Conde, UNICEF’s Regional Advisor on Child Protection for The Americas and the Caribbean. During its visit from November 2 to 5, 2005, the delegation met with the Minister of Justice, United Nations agencies, representatives of international organizations and of civil society, and with Haitian children and adolescents. The delegation visited children’s detention centers and the border with the Dominican Republic.
At the end of its visit, the delegation expresses its profound concern at the grave violations of the human rights of Haitian children and adolescents being committed as part of the ongoing violence in the country. A number of different sources related cases of murder, the use of children by armed bands, torture, kidnapping, abuse, assault, and sexual exploitation, abandonment, trafficking, smuggling, and corporal punishment. Haitian children and adolescents live in fear, in circumstances marked by extreme poverty and by an increasingly generalized absence of the State. Health, proper food and nutrition, education, and protection services are lacking throughout the country. Under such circumstances, children and adolescents – especially street children and the restaveks -- are extremely vulnerable and exposed to various forms of violence.
In the words of one of the children interviewed by the delegation: “We understand that this is one of the least advanced countries, but you have to understand that we cannot live in hunger and fear.”
The delegation wishes to draw attention to the effects on children of the lack of an adequate justice system. It means prolonged periods of detention without charges being brought against them and virtually without judicial controls, including the imprisonment of 10-year-old children, in flagrant violation of Haitian law. In the Delmas prison, the delegation observed that, even though the recently inaugurated physical installations are in good shape, there is not enough space to house the number of people there. It noted, too, that children deprived of their liberty have scant access to health care, sufficient and nutritious food, or education and they are not allowed sufficient time for recreational activities or to prepare for their reinsertion in society. The mission points out that the imprisonment of children should be used only as a measure of last resort.
In its visit to the town of Ouanaminthe, on the border with the Dominican Republic, the delegation observed the lack of control and of legal parameters for transit between the two countries. In that connection, we express our concern at serious denunciations we have received regarding repeated trafficking and smuggling of children and adolescents, who are used for domestic labor, sexual exploitation, and other degrading activities.
Mindful of the risks to the lives and bodily integrity of human rights defenders, the delegation recommends supporting their efforts and guaranteeing the minimum conditions needed for them to go about their work, which is indispensable for the restoration of democracy in Haiti.
The delegation expresses its concern at the existence of the zones de non-droit (areas where state security forces are not present), in which hundreds of thousands of citizens, most of whom are children and adolescents, are utterly defenseless victims of increasingly blatant violations of their rights, including the right to life. We consider it crucial to bring the influence of the United Nations and of international cooperation to bear on this situation to insure access to it and humanitarian protection.
The delegation considers that proper attention to the rights of Haitian children and adolescents cannot wait until Haiti’s complex political and social problems are resolved. In that connection, it is important to bear in mind the potential contribution of the country’s civil society organizations.
The delegation wishes to express its gratitude for the hospitality and facilities provided by the Government of Haiti and for the cooperation provided by Haitian nongovernmental organizations. The delegation would also like to thank the OAS Special Mission to Haiti and the national office of UNICEF for their assistance.
Port-au-Prince, Haiti, November 5, 2005