2010 State Department Human Rights Report on Haiti – by Stephen Lendman
Haiti’s human rights history is long and abusive, alleviated only during Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s tenure. Besides achieving impressive social, economic and political gains, he respected and promoted justice and human rights initiatives.
For the first time ever, those arrested had formal hearings before a judge in two days. In 1995, a school for magistrates was opened. Courthouses and police stations were constructed and refurbished. Protecting children became paramount, including laws prohibiting all forms of corporal punishment.
A new law repealed child (mostly chattel) domestic service, and another one prohibited trafficking in persons. Haiti’s hated military was disbanded. Ordinary Haitians experienced unprecedented free speech, assembly, and personal safety. A National Commission for Truth and Justice was created to investigate and report on crimes committed during the 1991 – 94 coup period. As a result, former soldiers and paramilitaries were tried, those found guilty convicted in fair proceedings.
Compared to pre and post-Aristide years, it was a renaissance period, erased after the February 29, 2004 coup, ousting the man 90% or more Haitians love, their only leader who cared since their 1791 – 1804 liberating revolution.
Last November, sham presidential and parliamentary elections prevented real democratic change. Stealth Duvalierist Michel (“Sweet Micky”) Martelly, an anti-populist former Kompa singer, was named president in a March runoff against Mirlande Manigat, wife of former right-wing president, Leslie Manigat.
In both rounds, around 80% of Haitians abstained, knowing no candidate represented them. Orchestrated in Washington, the result both times was fraudulent, illegitimate, and predictable, assuring continuing repression and human rights abuses for another five years, even with Aristide home from exile.
Each year, the State Department publishes human rights reports for over 190 countries. Its complete Haiti one can be accessed through the following link:
It covers disturbing human rights violations, explained by category, despite attempts to downplay them.
Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
Haiti’s National Police and UN Blue Helmet paramilitaries commit regular abuses, including random and extrajudicial killings with no accountability. Most often, investigations are shams. Vigilante incidents also occur in some areas, including beatings, shootings, and other abuses. Though dozens of instances were documented, “police made no arrests.”
Current and former police officers participated in kidnappings, nearly double the 2009 total. Over 120 were reported, though true numbers were likely much higher.
“Gonaives Police Commissioner Ernst Dorfeuille Bouquet (was) arrested and charged (with) kidnapping and killing Monica Pierre” (in 2008). In 2010, he awaited trial. Other police officers are part of gangs responsible for multiple kidnappings.
Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Numerous instances occur, notably in Haiti’s notorious prisons. Moreover, UN Blue Helmets sexually exploit and abuse children, besides numerous other offenses, including killings and other forms of mistreatment.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
“Prisoners (report) physical abuse by correctional officers,” at times using lethal force to quell disturbances. Overall, prisons are severely overcrowded, poorly maintained, dangerous, unsanitary, damaged by Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, staffed by repressive guards, and run by repressive officials.
Moreover, “(s)ome prisons (have) no beds for detainees; some cells (have) no access to sunlights. Many prison facilities (lack) basic services” for healthcare, water, electricity, and isolation for contagious inmates, putting them all at risk to disease and death.
Detainees also lack basic hygiene, proper food and enough of it, minimal healthcare, time of out cells for exercise and fresh air, or other basic services. “In some prisons….AIDS, malaria, and drug-resistant tuberculosis (are) serious problem(s).” In addition, Haiti’s cholera epidemic gravely harmed inmates.
At year end 2010, Haiti’s prison population in 17 facilities was triple their capacity. Moreover, pretrial detention in overcrowded conditions is a major unaddressed issue.
Many untried and convicted prisoners are incarcerated for months or years in temporary holding cells. In some cases, male and female prisoners are held together for lack of space, and children 16 or older are confined with adults. However, some as young as 10 are imprisoned, leaving them especially vulnerable to sexual and other abuses.
Overall, Haitian prison conditions are appalling by any standard, affording no safety or justice to those interned.
Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Despite laws prohibiting arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as the Aristide era requirement to grant detainees a judicial hearing within 48 hours of arrest, “(o)fficials frequently (do) not comply (in) practice.”
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
UN Blue Helmets (MINUSTAH) and Haiti’s police are responsible for law enforcement and maintaining order. However, both authorities commit numerous human and civil rights violations, as well as other criminal acts.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention
Often, warrantless arrests are made on unspecified charges. Judicial hearings aren’t provided. Pretrial detention is a serious problem, in some cases “up to five years – without being informed of charges against them.”
Moreover, few Haitians can afford attorneys, and none are provided free. Overall, “discriminatory practices include arbitrary arrests, false accusation, (and) extortion attempts against (detainees) and their families.”
At year end 2010, of the (reported) 5,331 persons in custody, only 1,722 were tried and sentenced. Of those awaiting trial, one-third have been incarcerated for a year of longer. Moreover, prison populations don’t include many others held in police stations for prolonged periods with no hearings or filed charges.
Denial of Fair Public Trials
Although an independent judiciary is mandated, “in practice the executive and legislative branches exert significant influence on the judicial branch.” In addition, judicial corruption is common. Longstanding problems include poorly trained judges, justices of the peace, and prosecutors, as well as failure to convene court sessions on schedule as required. In fact, the nation’s entire criminal justice system affords little to ordinary Haitians.
“In practice, authorities widely ignore” constitutionally mandated fair trial provisions, including the right to counsel.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Claiming “no reports of political prisoners or detainees” is patently false in a country notorious for holding many hundreds, including Aristide Fanmi Lavalas supporters.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Legal redress for civil and human rights abuses is difficult to impossible for most Haitians even though numerous cases proliferate.
Freedom of Speech and Press
Though mandated by law, activists, human rights workers, independent journalists, and pro-democracy advocates face possible harassment, arrest, or assassination. It bears repeating, important gains achieved during Aristide’s years were lost post-coup. Democracy eludes Haitians, because Washington’s iron boot, allied with local oligarchs, denies them.
Though unrestricted, most Haitians can’t afford access. In addition, poor infrastructure limits others.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Though mandated by law, only demonstrations by hard to get permits are allowed. Violators are routinely assaulted, arrested, or otherwise abused.
Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons
Those challenging government authorities face losing all their rights, including to life.
Internally Displace Persons
Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake displaced 1.5 million or more. To date, little has been done to help them, those affected forced to mostly survive on their own, as well as cope with an ongoing cholera epidemic.
Protection of Refugees
Rarely is refugee status or asylum granted.
Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Understating Haiti’s repressive governance, the State Department said Haitians aren’t “always able….to change their government” freely. In fact, “November elections were marred by fraud, flawed voter registration lists, ballot stuffing, intimidation, and some violence at the polls.”
Elections and Political Participation
Serious irregularities make Haiti’s electoral process illegitimate, including by banning its most popular party by far – Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas.
Official Corruption and Government Transparency
“According to the World Bank’s worldwide governance indicators, government corruption (is) a severe problem.” In fact, it’s “widespread in all branches and at all levels of government.” However, few are held accountable.
Governmental Attitude Regarding International Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
“The Chamber of Deputies and Senate (have) human rights committee(s).” However, neither published any reports or introduced relevant legislation.
Discrimination, Societal Abuses and Trafficking in Persons
No law prohibits discrimination with regard to race, gender, disability, language or social status. Moreover, trafficking in various forms is rampant, especially affecting women and children. Rape is also a major problem, notably in quake affected areas. Women are mostly unprotected, on their own, and extremely vulnerable.
Persons with Disabilities
Laws don’t protect hundreds of thousands of physically, emotionally or mentally disabled persons. In fact, only 3% of disabled children have access to schools.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Haiti’s large HIV/AIDS population faces considerable discrimination, especially affecting women.
The Right of Association
Though nominally Haitians may form and join unions, mass privatizations dilute effective representation. According to some, Haiti is now a laboratory for neoliberal politics and the interests of multinational corporations, affording none to impoverished workers. Moreover, mass unemployment negates the right to organize and bargain collectively. As a result, employers set wages and establish working conditions arbitrarily.
Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Though prohibited by law, violations are commonplace, including against children afforded no rights in practice. Moreover, under Haiti’s century-old Restavek system, impoverished families unable to adequately provide for their children send them to live with better off ones in return for food, shelter, education, and a better life in return for forced servitude – de facto slaves subjected to verbal and/or physical abuse.
As a result, some as young as three are beaten, required to do anything asked, request nothing, speak only when spoken to, display no emotion, and receive none of the benefits parents expect, just exploitation and often severe mistreatment, including from relatives.
Afforded no government protection, they experience horrific treatment, including whippings, days without food, being attacked by rodents during sleep or street predators any time, and being easy prey for kidnappers who seize them for prostitution or forced labor, internally or abroad. Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake exacerbated conditions.
Haitians are the region’s lowest paid, earning sub-poverty wages for those lucky enough to have jobs with no rights afforded them with regard to health, safety and other workplace conditions.
A Final Comment
Overall, the State Department’s report reveals disturbing civil and human rights violations, despite understating them. As a result, ordinary Haitians are at risk in a nation spurning democracy because Washington and local oligarchs won’t tolerate it.
At least for the next five years, expect no change under Martelly, America’s selected stooge in Port-au-Prince.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.