Today, August 25, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
(hereinafter “the Commission” or IACHR) concludes its on site-visit to
Haiti, made in response to the invitation extended in due course by the Haitian
Government to observe the human rights situation in that country.
The following IACHR members participated in the mission: Professor Helio
Bicudo, Chair; Ambassador Peter Laurie; and Dr. Julio Prado Vallejo.
It received technical assistance from its Executive Secretary, Ambassador
Jorge E. Taiana; its Assistant Executive Secretary, Dr. David J. Padilla; and
its experts in the area of human rights, Dr. Bertha Santoscoy, the Haitian
affairs specialist; and Dr. Raquel Poitevien Cabral.
It was joined by an OAS interpreter, Rose-Marie Brierre, and by a staff
member from the Department of Public Information, Luiz O. Coimbra.
Administrative support was provided by Martha Keller and Gloria Amanda
The Commission, one of the principal organs of the Organization of
American States (OAS), is entrusted with promoting the observance and defense of
human rights in the Americas. It
performs its functions on the basis of the OAS Charter, the American Declaration
of the Rights and Duties of Man, and the American Convention on Human Rights,
“Pact of San José, Costa Rica” (the American Convention).
To that end, the Commission carries out investigations and decides on
petitions regarding human rights violations, conducts on-site visits (as is
Haiti), and draws up draft treaties and declarations on human rights, as well as
reports on the human rights situation in the countries of the region. The IACHR is made up of seven members elected in a personal
capacity by the OAS General Assembly for a four-year term.
During its visit, the IACHR met with officials from the different
branches of the Haitian Government. It
also met with various sectors of civil society, such as human rights
organizations and other social and humanitarian welfare groups; with
representatives of the Catholic Church; with alleged victims of human rights
violations; and with journalists from the different media. The Commission also
visited the National Penitentiary and the National Fort, a detention center for
women and children.
The Commission met with His Excellency the President of the Republic, Mr.
René G. Préval; the President of the Court of Cassation, Mr. Claudel Débrosse;
the President of the Senate, Mr. Edgard Leblanc; the Minister of Foreign Affairs
and Worship, M. Fritz Longchamp; the Minister of Justice and Public Security,
Mr. Camille Leblanc; and the Director General of the Ministry of the Interior
and Departmental Communities, Mr. Lubraine Bien-Aimé. It also met with the Director General of the Haitian National
Police, Mr. Pierre Denisé; the Director of Prison Administration, Mr. Cliford
Larose; and the Director of the National Penitentiary, Mr. René Jean Daniel, as
well as with the Director of the School of the Judiciary, Mr. Willy Lubin; and
the Assistant Director of the Office of the Ombudsman, Ms. Florence Élie.
Further, the IACHR met with representatives of the different political
parties and with representatives of international organizations, namely, the
United Nations, through the International Civilian Support Mission in Haiti
(MICAH), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United Nations
Children’s Fund (UNICEF), as well as the International Committee of the Red
Cross (ICRC). The Commission was
also able to meet with the representative of the Catholic Church, the Archbishop
of Port-au-Prince, Monseigneur Serge Miott, and several nongovernmental human
rights organizations. It received
support from MICAH in setting up various meetings with different sectors of
Haitian civil society and in organizing a seminar on the inter-American system
for the protection of human rights, in which representatives of diverse
organizations involved in human rights and in social and humanitarian welfare
participated. The Haitian
Government provided the Commission with the greatest possible assistance and
cooperation in all regards to ensure the implementation of its program.
During the Commission’s visit, it received complaints about human
rights violations. It also received additional information on the Guy
Malary case, which it is currently examining.
In this context, it met with the Minister of Justice, Mr. Camille
Leblanc, and with the petitioner in the case, the Lawyers Committee for Human
Rights, represented by Mr. John Beaglehole.
The Commission’s current on-site visit, which is taking place five
years after its last visit, allowed it to establish closer ties with the
Government and civil society to enable them to continue to join forces in the
ongoing task of protecting and promoting human rights.
The program established by the Commission made it possible for it to
assess, albeit on a preliminary and provisional basis, the overall human rights
situation in Haiti.
The abundant and complex data that it received will be examined in depth
during its next meeting, at its headquarters, with a view to preparing a report
on the human rights situation in Haiti. It
should be noted that when the Commission receives, processes, and decides on
individual petitions regarding human rights violations, it is exercising
jurisdictional powers. For that
reason, it refrains from issuing specific declarations that might prejudge the
merits of the individual cases submitted to it for consideration.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, at the conclusion of the Commission’s
visit, it would like to make the following general comments:
The Commission would like to underscore the dramatic day-to-day
circumstances experienced by the Haitian people. Absolute poverty among the majority of the population, who
are victims of unemployment or underemployment; high illiteracy rates; low life
expectancy; high maternal and child mortality rates; and malnutrition are all
aspects of a critical social situation that has repeatedly been underscored in
Haiti by different social and political sectors and that is confirmed in every
report issued by an international organization.
This situation is further exacerbated by the chronic weakness of
government institutions. Scarce
budget resources and a long history of abuse and corruption make the country’s
infrastructure obsolete and unable to provide services to the broad sectors of
the population: electricity, communications, security, the administration of
justice, education, and health–all of which are subject to extreme
constraints, the most critical in the Americas.
In this context, the effective observance of human rights–civil and
political as well as economic, social, and cultural–constitutes a major
challenge which can only be coped with if a deep commitment is made by various
sectors of Haitian society and the Haitian Government, with the joint support of
the international community.
The Commission would like to express its satisfaction with the acceptance
by the Haitian Government, on March 3, 1998, of the adjudicatory jurisdiction of
the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. As
a result, the protection of human rights has been strengthened.
The Commission would also like to point out the importance that it
attaches to the Office of the Ombudsman, established by the Constitution in
1987. This institution is able to
play an important role in protecting the rights of citizens, and the IACHR hopes
that the Office’s mandate and working autonomy will be strengthened.
The Commission considers that the most critical and troublesome aspect of
the present human rights situation in Haiti is the deterioration of the
political climate, to such an extent that there appears to be no political
consensus on how to consolidate the country’s fledgling democracy.
Since 1997, Haiti has been experiencing a protracted political crisis,
which has left the country without an established constitutional government for
three years and without a parliament for 18 months.
The national and international community hoped that the legislative and
municipal elections held, at last, on May 21, 2000, would lead to a solution of
the political crisis, with the installation of a new parliament.
It was heartening to note that 90% of eligible Haitians had registered to
vote and that 60% of them had voted in the first round.
According to national and international election observers, there were
several irregularities in the electoral process.
However, there was a consensus that the elections of May 21, 2000, had
essentially taken place in a free and transparent manner.
Nonetheless, the decision made by the election officials and supported by
the Government to determine the results of the Senate elections by a means other
than that established by the law on elections was considered illegal and
unacceptable by the national and international observers.
This situation caused an immediate crisis within the Provisional
Electoral Council (CEP), which resulted in the resignation of two of its members
and the departure into exile of its Chair. Although deep concern was expressed
both in Haiti and in the international community over the legality of the Senate
elections, the Haitian officials proceeded to organize a second round
exclusively for the Chamber of Deputies, on July 9, as an attempt to validate
the results of the Senate elections.
The Commission noted that, following these irregularities in the
legislative elections, there was an increase in political polarization and in
the climate of intimidation in Haiti, which stands in the way of the
consolidation of the fragile democracy in the country.
Various social and political sectors apprised the Commission of their
serious concern about the rule of law, the impartiality of the Judiciary and the
police, and the intimidation by organized bands against freedom of expression
and assembly. The dismissal or resignation of people holding important
positions in the community, including their departure from the country, are
testimony to the growing intolerance and the feeling of personal insecurity.
On the other hand, the Commission in no way questions the irrevocable
commitment of the Haitian people to realizing its democratic aspirations.
The Commission therefore urges all sectors in Haiti, particularly the
Government, to seek a consensus on the strengthening of democracy.
A satisfactory solution to the controversy arising from the legislative
elections should be a basic factor in finding this consensus.
The enjoyment of human rights can only become a reality as part of an
effective democracy that seeks to be inclusive, not exclusive.
Democracy is based not only on the right of the majority to govern but
also on the right of the majority to dissent.
If these rights are to be guaranteed, their institutional context must be
one of respect for the rule of law, due process, and absolute freedom of
expression and assembly.
HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE
The administration of justice in Haiti has traditionally been
characterized by the weakness of its structures, the scarcity of its resources,
a lack of proper training for many of those responsible for it, and its lack of
autonomy vis-à-vis the Executive. All
these characteristics are reflected in a high rate of impunity in the commission
of crimes and the inability of half of the population to have access to justice.
The subordination of the Judiciary to the Executive is also seen in the
appointment and dismissal of justices of the peace by the Minister of Justice,
as set forth in the 1987 Constitution, and the secondary role conferred on them
by government prosecutors. The
IACHR was informed that, in many cases, judicial decisions are not acted upon,
which in practice strips the Judiciary of its independence and effectiveness.
The IACHR received several complaints of noncompliance, in Haiti, with
the rules of due process provided for by Haitian legislation and by the American
Convention on Human Rights. They include the following: (a) There is no
investigation of the offenses committed. (b)
The 24-hour deadline for a detained individual to be brought before a judge for
a ruling on the legality of the arrest, as established in Article 26 of the
Constitution, is often violated. (c)
The right to a defense is hampered to a large extent because the state does not
provide public defenders, and most of those being tried are unable to pay for
private counsel. (d) Most of those
on trial are under preventive arrest for periods longer than the reasonable
period established by Article 8 of the American Convention.
(e) The habeas corpus is not
effective. (f) Pressure is exerted
on judges when they have to adopt decisions that affect the interests of the
political sector. The IACHR
reiterates that the right to due process is an essential condition for the
protection of human rights and is fundamental to democracy.
The information received on these matters is of great concern to the
IACHR, in view of its broad hemispheric experience, and consequently it will
examine this important topic in detail in its final report.
The IACHR has learned of various initiatives intended to reform the
Judiciary to modernize it and make it more efficient.
It hopes that these initiatives can be carried out in the short term and
highlights the importance of a competent, independent, and impartial judicial
system. It wishes to underscore the
important role played by the School of the Judiciary in training new judges.
The IACHR was also informed of the tragic events that occurred on May 28,
1999, when 11 people died as a result of the violence perpetrated by officers of
the Haitian National Police against a crowd in the neighborhood of
Carrefour-Feuilles, located south-east of the capital.
The Commission expresses its satisfaction that the trial began on August
21, 2000, and hopes that it will come to a proper conclusion, the guilty parties
will be punished, and the victims will receive compensation.
In addition, the IACHR urges the Haitian Government to continue its
efforts to combat impunity for the acts investigated by the National Truth and
Justice Committee of Haiti. In this regard, it also received information that, in October
1999, the judge investigating the case of Raoul
Cedras and Other High Officials–most
of whom live outside the country–brought charges against those accused of
planning the homicides committed during his term. The IACHR urges that efforts to extradite, try, and punish
these persons continue until justice in this case has been served.
The IACHR also received information that the trial in the Raboteau
case–dealing with a massacre in 1994–will begin on September 12, 2000;
however, it has not received any news on action taken in the case of the 1993
Cité Soleil massacre. At this
time, the Commission reiterates the principle that, in the case of human rights
violations, the state has the inescapable obligation to investigate, punish
those responsible, and compensate the victims.
The IACHR met with prison officials and visited the National Penitentiary
and the National Fort. It confirmed
the efforts made in recent years to improve conditions for prisoners.
Nonetheless, it should be noted that the scarcity of resources and the
overcrowding of prisoners in subhuman conditions have an adverse effect on their
integrity, health, and dignity. The
number of prisoners in 19 prisons throughout the country totals 3,800 and, of
this number, 2,200 or 48% are in the National Penitentiary, which has a capacity
of 1,200. Likewise, the IACHR found
three children under 18 years of age in cells in the National Penitentiary, one
of whom was in a cell for special punishment.
The Commission is concerned about this situation and urges the state to
With regard to citizen security, the IACHR was informed of improvements
made in the National Police, and in its forces, training plans, and supervisory
mechanisms. The IACHR should point
out that the existence of a police force of 5,600 members to ensure the security
of 8 million inhabitants throughout the territory is patently insufficient.
The same police officials admit that the police is concentrated in urban
areas, with scant police presence in rural areas.
This absence has resulted in abuses and cases of lynching by the
population, as occurred in Belle Fontaine from August 5 to 8, 2000, where more
than 1,000 farmers got together to lynch a group of youths whom they held
responsible for numerous cases of cattle rustling. The IACHR also received complaints of the existence of cases
of abuse and degrading treatment, as well as of torture and extrajudicial
execution by the National Police that involved crimes against humanity, which
have no statute of limitations.
RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
The Commission attaches the highest possible importance to freedom of
expression, a fundamental right essential to guaranteeing the full exercise of
democracy and the rule of law and, in that context, it established the post of
Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.
It has observed a pluralistic debate in Haiti among the media, resulting
in the airing of diverse views, which enrich the news available to the people
and the Government. However, the
Commission received several complaints from journalists concerning the threats
against them, which increase during the run-up to elections and create an
atmosphere of inhibition, which fosters self-censorship.
The Commission received information about the circumstances of the
assassination of the renowned journalist Jean Dominique on April 3, 2000, and on
the status of the investigation. It
attaches the highest possible priority to clearing up this crime against freedom
RIGHTS OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN
The IACHR received information on the status of women in Haiti, in
particular, on domestic violence and various forms of discrimination against
women. The maternal mortality rate
from childbirth continues to be high as a result of deficiencies in health
conditions. Discrimination in
education is apparent in reduced access to higher levels of education.
The IACHR also accords great importance to the status of the rights of
the child and, within this context, has just established the post of special
rapporteur for the rights of the child. Likewise the Commission received
complaints of serious situations affecting the rights of the child, among them
the lack of schooling, child labor, and sexual exploitation and the abuse of “reste-avec”
children (Translator’s note: category
of children generally sent by their families in the country to live with
relatives or acquaintances in the city who are often obliged to work as domestic
servants in the harshest conditions). It
will carefully examine the complaints and other situations affecting the rights
of Haitian children.
Lastly, the IACHR wishes to express its thanks to the Government of the
Republic of Haiti, through its President, René Préval; the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs; and the other government officials for their hospitality and
cooperation and for the facilities they provided to the Commission in order to
make its visit a success. It would also like to thank the other sectors of civil
society, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals who, in a candid and
open manner, gave their testimony and provided documentation to contribute to
the efficiency of the mission.
In keeping with the functions conferred on it by the Charter of the OAS,
the American Convention, and other applicable international legal instruments,
the Commission will continue to follow up on the human rights situation and, in
the coming months, will prepare a final report,
containing the conclusions and recommendations which the Commission will
make to the Haitian Government in light of the actual situation of the country
and its culture. After completion
of the regulatory procedures, the report will be published and thus brought to
the attention of Haitian society and the other OAS member states. The Commission reiterates its desire to continue to cooperate
with the officials and the people of Haiti, within the framework of its
competence, so as to further strengthen domestic and international mechanisms
for the defense and protection of human rights within the framework of the
democratic and constitutional rule of law.
Haiti, August 25, 2000