IACHR ENCOURAGED BY EFFORTS TO IMPROVE
THE HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN HAITI
Port-au-Prince, 20 April 2007. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has concluded a visit to the Republic of Haiti at the invitation of the government of that country. This visit took place between April 16 and 20, 2007. The delegation was led by Rapporteur for Haiti, Sir Clare K. Roberts, Commissioner, accompanied by staff members of the Executive Secretariat.
The aim of the Commission’s visit was to obtain general information concerning the human rights situation in Haiti, and in particular, to conduct follow-up observations on the issue of administration of justice in Haiti since the Commission published its report on the issue in March 2006, Haiti: Failed Justice or the Rule of Law? Challenges Ahead for Haiti and the International Community, and further to conduct an assessment of the situation of women and children in Haiti. Based upon the information gathered, the Commission considers that the situation of the administration of justice still requires immediate and long-term measures to adequately address structural and institutional weaknesses. The current system and the absence of a state sponsored legal aid service continue to constitute challenges for the respect of human rights and the effective access to justice by the Haitian population. In terms of the situation of women and children, the Commission received information about the prevalence of different forms of violence and discrimination against women and children in Haiti. Particularly in light of a child’s protected status under domestic and international law, the Commission found that a majority of children in Haiti are deprived of their fundamental rights.
Regarding public security, the Commission notes an improvement in the situation in Port-au-Prince from previous months. The Commission commends the Government’s initiative to establish a joint police-justice task force to enhance coordination and cooperation in the state’s fight against kidnapping, which has led to the recent prosecution and conviction of seven individuals for this crime. Further, the delegation was informed of renewed efforts by the police and UN peacekeepers to exert control over once gang-dominated areas of Port-au-Prince, such as Cité Soleil. At the same time, urgent measures remain to be taken by the state to install adequately equipped police stations.
The Commission commends the elected government of Haiti on its efforts with the support of the international community to set an agenda for the strengthening of the rule of law in Haiti and the steps taken to improve the situation of the administration of justice to render justice effective and accessible to the greater population of Haitians. The Commission especially notes the recent presentation to parliament of draft legislation on the independence of the judiciary and the establishment of the school of magistrates and hopes that these bills will be given special priority, in order to ensure the independence of the judiciary, a prime ingredient for building democracy and fostering the effective rule of law. However, many of the deficiencies and obstacles noted in the Commission’s justice report remain to be addressed. In this connection, the Commission underscores the need to increase the budget for strengthening and reform of the justice sector, in order to ensure that sufficient resources are available to undertake a number of these reforms.
Notwithstanding the positive steps taken by the government of Haiti, there exists a critical need to provide basic social services to the population, which constitutes an inextricable link to the enjoyment of civil, political, social and economic rights. The Commission underscores its earlier finding that, without addressing the most immediate social and economic deficiencies, there is little hope of solid and sustained improvements in the state of security, justice and the rule of law.
With respect to prison conditions, the Commission is seriously concerned with the conditions in Haiti’s National Penitentiary and police station holding cells. The National Penitentiary, built to hold no more than 800 people, is currently holding more than 2,500 detainees, some 2418 of which are still awaiting trial. This situation constitutes a flagrant violation of the Haitian criminal code and international human rights obligations. The Commission urges the State of Haiti, with the support of the international community, to take immediate and concerted measures to address the extremely poor detention conditions, as well as to proceed to review the judicial status of the prison population without further delay, so as to evaluate files and organize swift judicial proceedings to dispense with cases presently constituting a flagrant violation of the American Convention.
The Commission expresses its grave concern about the egregious violations of the rights of children to be free from arbitrary detention, whereby boys and girls as young as 10 years of age are being held in prison facilities rather than the legally designated rehabilitation center, Centre d’accueil, which is not functional at present. Consequently, the Commission calls on the State, with the concerted effort and support of the international community, to take prompt and adequate measures to address the high figures of prolonged pretrial detention of minors and the lack of a functioning rehabilitation center for these individuals.
With regard to the situation of women and children, the information received revealed the existence of widespread discrimination in Haitian society. This discrimination is present in all aspects of public and private life and affecting women’s and children’s equal access to basic services such as education, shelter and primary healthcare, as well as equal political participation. Moreover, violence against women and children, including sexual, physical and domestic violence is extremely prevalent in Haitian society. The delegation also received reports of the prevalence of interpersonal and intrafamily violence against women. Both state and non-state sources reported that this is still a silent issue due to the ostracism the victim can face when reporting the crime and a mistrust in the capacity of the justice system to provide an effective remedy. The phenomenon of domestic violence is still widely tolerated in Haitian society and constitutes one of the worst manifestations of discrimination against women.
The Commission commends the measures taken by the Minister of Women’s’ Status and the Rights of Women to improve the condition of women in Haiti, including the implementation of her ministerial plan and ongoing support of the National Network on Violence Against Women. However, the Commission was informed that the lack of legal aid and a shelter for women are pressing needs. In this connection, the Commission welcomes the appointment of a new police commissioner on women’s issues, and the Haitian National Police’s launching of a pilot program in two police stations to provide special services for women, including women victims of violence., The Commission also welcomes the creation of the special unit for minors and encourages the Government to allocate necessary funding to these special units of the police to adequately respond to the rights of women and children.
During the visit, the Commission successfully organized a roundtable event to discuss and debate current conditions and recent developments in the administration and reform of the justice system in Haiti. The event had the full support and participation of the Haitian State, in particular, the President (a.i.) of the Supreme Court and the Secretary of State for Justice made presentations. Presentations were also made by the Forum du Citoyen, a civil society network focusing on judicial reform, and the Rapporteur on Haiti of the Commission. The Commission expects that this event will contribute to the ongoing national dialogue on the administration and reform of justice in Haiti.
Following the onsite visit, Secretariat staff will hold a two-day seminar on the inter-American human rights system with officials and functionaries from various Government ministries and agencies. The seminar will aim to build the capacity of relevant Government authorities charged with the responsibility of responding to communications regarding human rights issues and cases with the inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Commission will continue to provide training and technical assistance to a coordinating body at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to improve communication and reporting procedures between the State and the Commission regarding human rights obligations of the state.
The Commission wishes to express its appreciation to the Government and people of Haiti for the cooperation, facilities and hospitality provided in the course of the Commission’s visit, to the OAS human rights program in Haiti for its invaluable assistance in organizing and executing the visit, and to the nongovernmental organizations, civil society institutions, the press and international organizations concerned for their valuable participation in the Commission’s activities. Finally, the Commission would like to thank the Governments of France and Finland for providing critical financial support to the Commission’s work on Haiti and to protect the rights of women.