Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Human rights and Rule of Law in Haiti: Key Recent Developments

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Human Rights and Rule of Law in Haiti: Key Recent Developments

February 2020

Haiti faces an increasingly challenging human rights, security and rule of law context. In the five months since the operationalization of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) in October 2019, the population has been threatened by acts of repression and private violence committed with apparent impunity.[1] Threats to the independence and functioning of the justice system are undermining the impartial application and consistent enforcement of laws.

Civil liberties have been under risk from acts of violence and repression against protesters by the Haitian National Police (HNP). Amnesty International issued an advisory report on verified evidence of excessive use of force by the HNP against civilians in October 2019,[2] and the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders issued a November 2019 open letter to the Minister of Justice and Public Security to express concern about increasing, targeted violence against journalists and impunity.[3]  More broadly, a deteriorating economic situation and political gridlock continues to have far reaching consequences on human rights, across economic, social, cultural, civil, and political dimensions.[4]

Since January 13, 2020, President Jovenel Moïse has ruled Haiti by decree as a result of the postponement of parliamentary elections scheduled for October 2019, due to failures to achieve a ratified government and budget since March 2019. As of January 13, 2020, one-third of the seats in the Senate, all seats in the lower chamber of Deputies, and all locally elected posts have expired.[5]  To date, no significant progress has been made towards accountability for corruption in the misappropriation of US$1.7 billion in PetroCaribe Funds first reported by the Haitian Senate in 2016 and 2017 reports, later followed by 2019 reports by Haiti’s Court of Auditors.

Following this month’s UN Security Council’s review of BINUH and as UN member states and stakeholders monitor the situation in Haiti in the coming months, continued attention to the rule of law, accountability and the State’s respect for human rights is essential.

Effective engagement by the UN and its member states must also confront the legitimacy deficit of the UN in Haiti, which is marked by the organization’s failure to respect its own legal and human rights obligations in responding to the UN-introduced cholera epidemic and multiple cases of peacekeeper sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA).

Corruption & failures of accountability
Civil society spanning across sectors have mobilized throughout the country against corruption over the past eighteen months, stemming from reports from Haiti’s Senate (2016, 2017) and Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes (CSCCA, 2019) implicating 15 former ministers and senior state officials in the misuse of over $1.7 billion between 2008 and 2016 from a Venezuelan oil loan fund provided to Haiti to support national development (“PetroCaribe”).[6] The 2019 CSCCA report further implicated President Moise in corruption, prompting persistent and widespread calls for his resignation.[7]

Mass mobilizations between August and December 2019 prompted a near total lock down of the country (“peyi lok”). While popular protests have decreased in early 2020, the underlying reasons for the mobilization remain unaddressed.

  • None of the ministers or state officials implicated in PetroCaribe wrongdoing have been held accountable to date.[8]
  • Despite Haiti’s CSCCA finding evidence that suggests President Moïse’s direct implication in the misuse of PetroCaribe funds,[9] in December 2019, Haitian Foreign Minister Edmond Bocchit issued blanket denials of the Moïse Administration’s connections to PetroCaribe corruption.[10] President Moïse has also rejected the findings against him.[11]
  • In February 2020, President Moise issued a presidential decree outlining changes to the rules for government procurement, essentially allowing the Executive to circumvent regular procurement processes for contracts concerning electricity and those touching on the “stability and development” of the country, as determined by the Council of Ministers.[12] These changes have been severely criticized by local media as further enabling corruption and undermining norms of good governance.[13]


Challenges to the effectiveness and independence of the justice system
Threats to the security and independence of the judiciary risk further undermining the fairness, accountability, and equality that are fundamental to functional rule of law.

  • Civil society has raised concerns about the Moïse Administration’s pressure on the justice system in cases that involve the Administration’s political priorities.[14] By contrast, judicial processes in Haiti addressing the November 2018 massacre of 71 civilians in La Saline remain blocked following the request for recusal of the presiding judge in August 2019.[15]
  • Haitian courts were closed for almost two months during October and November 2019 due to political insecurity.[16]
  • On September 30 and December 31, the Prosecutor’s office at the Court of First Instance in Port-au-Prince was robbed of material evidence linked to arrests.[17] Ongoing insecurity prevented hearings before the Port-au-Prince courts in January 2020.[18]


Violence against protestors

  • The Haiti-based National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) documented at least 35 deaths during protests from September 17 to October 17, with nine at the hands of police, and more than 200 people injured.[19]
  • The Bureau des Avocats Internationaux’s (BAI) legal observation and human rights defense program, which monitors and provides legal assistance to protestors, assisted 21 people who had been arrested during protests in September 2019. On October 4 and 9, 2019, BAI lawyers monitoring protests also directly observed eight instances of police abuse against protesters, resulting in severe injuries and even death.[20]
  • An October 31 report from Amnesty International verified that law enforcement had been unlawfully using live ammunition during protests, including from semi-automatic rifles and combat weapons, and excessive use of tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets.[21]
  • On November 1, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated that the U.N. had verified at least 42 killings and 86 injuries since September 15 from the escalating violence, including 19 killings by Haitian security forces.[22]


Violence against the press

  • On November 14, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) wrote to the Haitian government to express their concern about increasing threats and violence against the press in Haiti and the failure of government officials to adequately respond.[23]
  • At least four journalists were shot after covering corruptions issues between June and October 2019.[24] On January 18, 2020, Radio Mega reported that two people were arrested for the murder of one assassinated journalist, Nehemie Joseph, and that one suspect confessed to being hired by a Senator.[25] The next day, a group of armed attackers shot into the home of one of the BAI lawyers, Job Gene, representing Mr. Joseph’s widow.[26]
  • On October 17, police from the USGPN (the unit responsible for the President’s security) beat Raynald Petit-Frere, a journalist with Radio Signal FM covering the protests.[27] The same day, police from the Departmental Unit for the Maintenance of Order (UDMO) beat Jacquelin Francois of Radio Tele Zenith after he reported that the UDMO officers were wearing ski masks while policing protests in contravention of new rules.[28]


Widespread Insecurity

A. Rising insecurity and politically linked violence
The past five months have been marked by a climate of growing insecurity, including a sharp increase in kidnappings since the start of 2020.[29]

  • Violence has included targeting of women, with several instances of sexual violence and gang rapes reported.[30]
  • Media reports suggest that government officials are directly involved in arming and funding street gangs to carry out state sanctioned violence.[31]
  • Local news reports implicatedPresident Moïse’s representative in the Department of the North, Pierrot Augustin, in orchestrating violence in Cap Haitien between September 27 and October 24 2019, in which at least 30 homes were burned.[32]


B. Impunity

  • Survivors of the November 2018 La Saline massacre, in which over 70 people were killed by armed gangs, report having received no humanitarian assistance from the government[33] and are surviving in dire conditions, without access to shelter, health services, food or education and with continued threats to their security.[34] On December 31, 2019 the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights granted precautionary measures to members of the “La Saline Victims’ Committee” in recognition that members of the Committee trying to seek justice were being subjected to threats or acts of violence.[35] Two then senior government officials directly implicated in the massacre remain free.[36]
  • Between November 4 and 8 2019, at least 24 people were killed and five more wounded in Port-au-Prince’s Bel-Air neighborhood with the aim of stifling demonstrations in the area, according to a December 17 report by RNDDH. The RNDDH report, along with a subsequent report by BINUH released in February 2020, reveal the consequences of impunity for the La Saline Massacre in enabling ongoing attacks: both investigations identify Jimmy Chérizier, one of the gang leaders responsible for the November 2018 massacre at La Saline, as one of the main perpetrators of the Bel-Air attacks, while also implicating HNP officers and suggesting the implication of senior Moïse Administration officials in the events.[37]

Deteriorating social and economic rights landscape
The current situation continues to severely undermine social and economic rights against a pre-existing background of vulnerability affecting 60% of the population.[38]

  • There has been a 60% depreciation in the national currency over the past two years and inflation reached 20% in November 2019.[39] On December 12, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) noted that Haiti’s economy recorded negative growth of -0.7 per cent in 2019. According to ECLAC, this is the first of year negative growth since the 2010 earthquake.[40]
  • The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) warned that the political and macroeconomic crisis is projected to further reduce the already low purchasing power of households in the coming months, and that “[m]ass demonstrations and episodes of violence could persist” as a result.[41]
  • On November 1 2019, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern about the impact the protracted crisis on the population’s access to healthcare, food, education and other needs, noting rural areas have been particularly affected.[42]
  • On December 30, 2019, the UN predicted that 4.6 million Haitians will require emergency humanitarian assistance in 2020.[43]

Haiti remains at a crossroads, with the persistent civic movement laying bare clear demands from the population for an end to corruption, stronger accountability and rule of law, and transformative changes to governance towards a state that respects and fulfills the rights of the people.[44]  Moving forward, it is essential that all stakeholders are responsive to these clear demands, while ensuring that the Haitian population’s fundamental human rights to free expression, life and personal security are respected and protected as they exercise their democratic freedoms to call for a better future.

[1] Jacqueline Charles, U.S. reiterates call for elections in Haiti as U.N. Security Council receives grim report, Miami Herald (Feb. 20, 2020),
[2] Amnesty International, Haiti: Amnesty International verifies evidence of excessive use of force against protestors (October 31, 2019)
[3] Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, RSF call on Haitian authorities to investigate attacks on journalists (Nov. 14, 2019); Committee to Protect Journalists, Haitian photojournalist missing in Port-au-Prince (Mar. 28, 2018),
[4] Medicins Sans Frontieres, Ten years after Haiti earthquake, medical care is deteriorating (Jan. 9, 2020),
[5] Robenson Geffrard, Les élections « techniquement » impossibles cette année…, Le Nouvelliste (July 10, 2019),; Jacqueline Charles, Haiti adrift as president faces impeachment hearing, prime minister in Twitter scandal, Miami Herald (Aug. 6, 2019),
[6] Thomas Laline, PetroCaribe : une excellente opportunité ratée par Haïti, Le Nouvelliste (June 17, 2019),; Tania Karas and Amy Bracken, The fight for transparency in Haiti, THE WEEK (June 1, 2019),
[7] Hillary Leung, Haiti: President Says He Won’t Step Down as Violent Protests Grip the Capital, TIME (Feb.15, 2019),
[8] Philippe H. Buteau, Haitians seek answers about PetroCaribe, rising prices, The Miami Times (Oct. 9, 2019),
[9] Sandra Lemaire, Haiti Braces for Anti-Corruption Protests Sunday, Voice of America (VOA) (June 8, 2019),
[10] Haiti – PetroCaribe : Chancellor Edmond’s response to Congressman Albio Sires, HaitiLibre (Dec. 12, 2019),
[11] Bocchit Edmond, President Moise is committed to ending corruption and rebuilding Haiti, The Guardian (Dec. 12, 2019),
[12] Roberson Alphonse, L’exécutif saute les verrous légaux des accords internationaux et de la passation des marchés publics, Le Nouvelliste (Feb. 13, 2020),; Roberson Alphonse, Nouvel arrêté sur les marchés publics : levée de boucliers et contre attaque de l’exécutif…, Le Nouvelliste (Feb. 17, 2020),
[13] Roberson Alphonse, L’exécutif saute les verrous légaux des accords internationaux et de la passation des marchés publics, Le Nouvelliste (Feb. 13, 2020),; Roberson Alphonse, Nouvel arrêté sur les marchés publics : levée de boucliers et contre attaque de l’exécutif…, Le Nouvelliste (Feb. 17, 2020),
[14] Bernard Fils-Aimé, President Jovenel Moïse moves to trample the Haitian justice system, Miami Herald (Dec. 7, 2019),; Jacqueline Charles, Haiti wants to reform its energy sector. So police showed up to arrest power providers, Miami Herald (Dec. 15, 2019),
[15] Woovins St Phard, Massacre de La Saline: le juge d’instruction récusé par Fednel Monchéry et Pierre Richard Duplan, Le National (Aug. 20, 2019),
[16] Haïti : Le règne de l’impunité est officialisé, Rezo Nodwes (Feb. 10, 2020),; Caleb Lefèvre, Les tribunaux rouvrent leurs portes graduellement, Le Nouvelliste (Nov. 25, 2019),
[17] Ricardo Lambert, Cinq millions de gourdes évaporées dans le bureau du doyen du tribunal civil de Port-au-Prince, Le Nouvelliste (Feb. 6, 2020),
[18] Caleb Lefèvre, «Le tribunal ne peut fonctionner au gré des bandits», s’indigne Jean Wilner Morin, Le Nouvelliste (Jan. 22, 2020),
[19] Amnesty International, Haiti: Amnesty International verifies evidence of excessive use of force against protesters, Amnesty International (Oct. 31, 2019),
[20] Internal report of BAI Legal Observation Program, on file with Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti and BAI.
[21] Amnesty International, Haiti: Amnesty International verifies evidence of excessive use of force against protesters, Amnesty International (Oct. 31, 2019),
[22] Jacqueline Charles and Nora Gámez Torres, U.S. giving more food to Haiti as roadblocks, violent protests worsen hunger crisis, Miami Herald (Nov. 1, 2019),
[23] Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, RSF call on Haitian authorities to investigate attacks on journalists (Nov. 14, 2019),
[24] Haïti – Sécurité : Le journaliste Rospide Pétion assassiné, HaitiLibre (June 12, 2019),; Jacqueline Charles, Haiti at a standstill as street clashes continue over demands for president’s ouster, Miami Herald (June 10, 2019),; Gesner Jean Marie, ASHAPS consternée par cette cascade de violences contre la presse, Connection Info News (June 14, 2019),; Committee to Protect Journalists, Journalist Luckson Saint-Vil survives shooting attack in southern Haiti, Committee to Protect Journalists (Aug. 13, 2019),
[25] Arrestation de 2 suspects dans l’assassinat du Journaliste Néhémie Joseph, Radio Television Caribe (Jan. 18, 2020),
[26] Report from BAI. On file with Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti .
[27] Jean Daniel Sénat, Raynald Petit-Frère, journaliste de Signal FM, agressé par des agents de l’USGPN, Le Nouvelliste (Oct. 18, 2019),
[28] Haïti/Presse : Un Journaliste de la Radio Télé Zénith Tabassé par des Policiers, Vant Bèf Info (Oct. 18, 2019),
[29] Frantz Duval, Remontée spectaculaire des cas de kidnapping, Le Nouvelliste (Feb. 11, 2020),
[30] Marc-Evens Lebrun, À Cabaret, un gang aurait violé plus de 50 femmes en une semaine, Loop News (Nov. 13, 2019),; Alexis Abdias, Viol sur la route menant à Cabaret: un cri d’alarme est lancé, Trip Foumi (Nov. 8, 2019),; Haïti-Droits humains : L’organisation féministe Nègès mawon condamne le viol de 13 femmes à la prison civile des Gonaïves, AlterPresse (Nov. 12, 2019),
[31] Peter Beaumont, Killers lurk in the shadows as Haiti chaos takes a sinister turn, The Guardian (Dec. 5, 2019),; Samuel Maxine, VIDEO Haiti Terrorist Gangs Return On Time for President’s UN General Assembly Trip, The Haiti Sentinel (Sept. 20, 2019),; Andre Paultre and Sarah Marsh, Haitian slums descend into anarchy as crisis sparks worst violence in years, Reuters (Dec. 10, 2019),; Renel Exentus and Ricardo Gustave, Haïti-Insécurité : La terreur comme politique d’État, AlterPresse (May 7, 2019),; Frances Madeson, Pro-Democracy Movement in Haiti Swells Despite Lethal Police Violence, Truthout (Oct. 16, 2019),; see also Elana Gordon, From the ashes, a Haitian business owner wonders, ‘How long can we continue?’ PRI (Oct. 30, 2019),
[32] Jésula Simon, Cap-Haïtien: des maisons incendiées dans un conflit entre 2 quartiers, Loop News (Oct. 25, 2019),
[33] Mission des Nations unies pour l’appui à la justice en Haïti (MINUJUSTH) and Haut-Commissariat des Nations unies aux droits de l’homme (HCDH) , La Saline: Justice pour les victimes. L’Etat a l’obligation de protéger tous les citoyens (2019),
[34] Judith Mirkinson, National Lawyers Guild & Seth Donnelly, Haiti Action Committee, The Lasalin Massacre and the Human Rights Crisis in Haiti (2019),
[35] Haiti – FLASH : Decision of the IACHR in favor of the victims of the La Saline massacre, HaitiLibre (Jan. 30, 2020),
[36] Edwidge Danticat, Demonstrators in Haiti are Fighting for an Uncertain Future, The New Yorker (Oct. 10, 2019),
[37] Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH), Massacre au Bel-Air : Banalisation du droit à la vie par les autorités étatiques (2019),; Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights & United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti, Rapport sur les allégations de violations et abus des droits de l’homme lors des attaques dans le quartier de Bel-Air, à Port-au-Prince, du 4 au 6 novembre 2019 (2020),; Jacqueline Charles, While Haiti police take frustrations out on streets, UN sounds alarm on gangs, bad cops, Miami Herald (Feb. 18, 2020),
[38] World Bank, Haiti: Providing Opportunities for all Haitians (Jan. 8, 2020),
[39] Evens Sanon and Danica Coto, Protests subside, but economic aftershocks rattle Haitians, The Associated Press (Dec. 7, 2019),; Gérard Junior Jeanty,  BRH a estimé à 20,30% l’inflation en octobre et en novembre 2019, Le Nouvelliste (Feb. 4, 2020),
[40] Patrick Saint-Pré, Croissance négative, hyperinflation, décote de la gourde… le mauvais carnet de l’ économie haïtienne en 2019, Le Nouvelliste (Dec. 20, 2019),
[41] Ricardo Lambert, 4,1 millions de personnes menacées d’insécurité alimentaire en Haïti, Le Nouvelliste (Feb. 5, 2020),
[42] Press Release, United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, Press briefing note on Haiti unrest, (Nov. 1, 2019),
[43] Patrick Saint-Pré, En 2020, 4,6 millions d’Haïtiens auront besoin d’une aide humanitaire d’urgence, selon les Nations unies, Le Nouvelliste (Dec. 30, 2019),
[44] BAI and Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, IACHR Thematic Hearing: Violence and Security in the Context of the Social Protests in Haiti, A Submission of the Institute of Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) (2019),

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