PORT-AU-PRINCE — Human Rights Watch has released its country profile for Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, as part of its 2017 World Report. In it, the international watchdog organization has outlined numerous abuses of human rights in Haiti.
Haiti has been historically plagued by political corruption and human rights abuses, and numerous rebellions and outbreaks of political violence throughout the years have necessitated the U.N.’s on-and-off involvement as peacekeepers in the Caribbean nation since 1990. Natural disasters, hurricanes and earthquakes have only added to the humanitarian problems in Haiti.
The current United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has been active in protecting human rights in Haiti since 2004. MINUSTAH was originally extended to April 2017 after contested elections with allegations of fraud brought rioting to the country in January. Now, MINUSTAH operations have been extended to October 2017, as the U.N. hopes to see Haiti’s lull in political violence become a permanent reality.
In October 2015, Haiti held presidential elections to find the replacement for President Martelly, whose term was coming to a close and who was constitutionally barred from running again. Haiti has a two-round system of presidential elections; if a candidate does not win more than 50 percent of the vote in round one, then run-off elections are held at a later date.
The round one elections in October 2015 were followed by allegations of election fraud, inciting riots throughout the country. The riots, in which police are alleged to have used excessive force, caused the original round two run-off elections in January 2016 to be postponed.
As the run-off elections were postponed until April 2016, President Martelly’s term ended in February 2016 with no President to take his place. A provisional president, Jocelerme Privert, served for 120 days and then stayed in office, although there was little legal justification for his doing so.
According to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the power vacuum and electoral crisis created an environment in which human rights in Haiti and the needs of Haitian citizens were neglected.
“The political crisis severely affected the country’s capacity to adopt essential legislation and policies to improve the protection and promotion of human rights,” said an Amnesty International statement on human rights in Haiti.
One such example is the refugee crisis stemming from the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Many of the victims of the earthquake remained in refugee camps or lived illegally in the Dominican Republic. As the Dominican Republic’s government deported illegal Haitian immigrants, and many other earthquake victims languished in refugee camps, the Haitian government was still trying to figure out who held presidential power, and how it would establish a legitimate president of Haiti.
There are still 61,000 people living in displacement camps from the 2010 earthquake, and the cholera epidemic has killed more than 9,300 people. Furthermore, provisional president Privert estimated that Haiti’s losses from Hurricane Matthew totaled more than the country’s entire national budget. But now, finally, will there be peace for Haiti?
The new President of Haiti Jovenel Moïse has finally been sworn into office, and the elections that were finally held in November 2016 saw his ascension happen without major conflict. President Moïse has outlined some goals for his country, some addressing human rights in Haiti, as he vows to fight corruption. President Moïse also promises to bring Haiti around-the-clock electricity, and close the gap between the upper and lower classes by investing in education and healthcare in the remote rural reaches of the country.
However, if he wishes to maintain the relative peace that has fallen over Haiti after all of its hardships, Moïse must address the abuses of human rights in Haiti that Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have pointed out. These abuses include overcrowded prisons with unsanitary conditions, violence against women, lack of access to education, forced child labor and sexual abuse.
According to Human Rights Watch, nearly 11,000 inmates in Haiti have less than one square meter of space in which they live, and many live in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. Human Rights Watch and the U.N. have both called for justice for past abuses of human rights in Haiti; authoritarian President of Haiti Jean-Claude Duvalier (1971-1986) is alleged to have ordered extrajudicial killings, torture and financial crimes against his people during his tenure as president, but many of the cases against those responsible have lingered in judicial limbo.
Human rights organizations have expressed concern regarding Haiti’s lack of any laws against domestic violence, or any violence against women, estimates of 225,000 to 300,000 child laborers in Haiti and the fact that one in two Haitians over the age of 15 is illiterate.
There, is however, some promising signs when it comes to human rights in Haiti. The new presidency has gone relatively smoothly. Also, investigations into the crimes committed by Duvalier have been reopened on the grounds that human rights abuses are not subject to a statute of limitations, and the U.N. has called for Haiti to ban child domestic service — essentially indentured servitude, or slavery.
Other problems, like violence against women and the thousands of Haitians still in displacement camps from the 2010 earthquake, have yet to be addressed.
Amnesty International has also shed light on an LGBT film festival that was canceled in Port-au-Prince due to security reasons. The lead up to the festival was marked by threats against organizers, and the aftermath of the cancellation has seen a spike in crimes against LGBT Haitians.
Overall, things are getting better though. The U.N. will pull out of Haiti in October, with U.N. official Sandra Honore saying Haiti is “far different” with “a degree of stability, a degree of relative calm all things considered today that was not there before.”
President Moïse also continues to bring his “Caravan for Change” program to rural Haiti, and wants to tackle political corruption head on. Whether or not other human rights in Haiti improve remains to be seen.
– David Mclellan