Haiti - Amnesty International Report 2007

Human Rights in REPUBLIC OF HAITI

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Head of state: René Garcia Préval (replaced Boniface Alexandre in May)
Head of government: Jacques-Edouard Alexis (replaced Gérard Latortue in May)
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
International Criminal Court: signed

Presidential, local and legislative elections were held in February and December, signalling a return to democratic rule. Slow progress was made in building security, justice and respect for human rights after two years of transitional government and UN presence. However, armed violence in the forms of unlawful killings and kidnappings by illegal armed groups remained at critical levels in the capital throughout 2006. Clashes between security forces, including UN peacekeeping forces, and armed groups continued sporadically. Members of the police suspected of criminal activities and human rights violations were not brought to justice. Violence against women persisted. Hundreds of people remained in prison without charge or trial.

Background

After two years of transitional government, marked by widespread human rights violations and insecurity, René Garcia Préval was elected in February and the country regained political stability. Presidential and legislative elections were held in relative calm after being postponed four times. In December, local elections concluded the electoral process with few violent incidents reported.

The international community remained concerned about the humanitarian situation and continued to mobilize resources to improve security, government capacity, and the dire economic condition of millions of Haitians. The human rights situation was also of concern despite the presence of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) since 2004. The 8,000-strong UN mission, mandated to secure the country, came under increasing criticism as it showed little success in stopping armed violence and promoting and protecting human rights. The government's disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme was criticized by members of parliament as it gave priority to dialogue with illegal armed groups. Some parliamentarians proposed the reintroduction of the death penalty as a means to deter armed violence. The UN Secretary-General visited Haiti in August and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visited in October.

The government remained unable to ensure the economic, social and cultural rights of its population with 60 per cent of its 8.5 million people living on less than US$1 a day. Serious food shortages, difficulties in access to safe drinking water, and the highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the region aggravated the humanitarian situation. Migration and trafficking of people into the Dominican Republic continued unabated and the Haitian authorities failed to enforce border and migration controls. They also failed to assist migrant workers deported back to Haiti.

The proliferation of small arms continued to fuel armed violence and human rights abuses. The government supported the proposal for an international arms trade treaty at the UN General Assembly.

Violence against women

Women and girls continued to be tortured, raped and killed by illegal armed groups and by individuals. No significant progress was made in investigating and prosecuting those responsible. On 1 September, hundreds of women survivors of rape and other forms of sexual violence marched in Port-au-Prince and called on the government to take necessary measures to prevent all forms of violence and discrimination against women. The demonstrators also called on illegal armed groups to stop committing rape.

• On 22 November, the body of Fara Natacha Dessources, aged 20, was found bearing clear marks of torture and several gunshot wounds. She had been kidnapped a week earlier in La Plaine, in the northeast suburbs of Port-au-Prince by armed individuals.

Human rights defenders

Human rights defenders continued to face harassment and intimidation.

There were fears for the safety of members of AUMOHD (Association des Universitaires Motivés pour un Haïti de Droit ) after its president, Evel Fanfan, received death threats. AUMOHD was defending the rights of survivors of armed violence and promoting a peaceful conflict resolution process between rival gangs in Grand Ravine, a deprived neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince.

• Bruner Esterne, the co-ordinator of the Grand Ravine Community Council for Human Rights, was shot dead by three unknown individuals in September. He was a survivor and witness of the 20 August 2005 attack led by police officials and members of the illegal armed group Small Machetes Army (Lame Ti Manchet) at a football stadium in Martissant, where at least nine people were killed and dozens wounded. He was working closely with AUMOHD.

Unlawful killings

Unlawful and indiscriminate killings by illegal armed groups continued. Most of the perpetrators of these crimes continue to enjoy total impunity.

• On 7 July, the illegal armed group Small Machetes Army attacked residents of Grand Ravine, killing at least 24 people including four women and four children. Dozens of houses were looted and burned down, leading to forced displacement of survivors and other residents in fear of further attacks.

Prisoners of conscience, political prisoners

The administration of justice continued to fall short of international standards of due process and fairness as thousands of people remained imprisoned without charge or trial. Less than one fifth of the nearly 4,500 prisoners had been sentenced. However, key political prisoners from the transitional government of 2004-6 were released.

• Catholic priest Gérard Jean-Juste was conditionally released in January on medical grounds. He had been held since July 2005 without charges or trial. He was allowed to leave the country to seek medical treatment in the USA. AI declared him a prisoner of conscience after he was illegally arrested on fabricated charges.

• Annette Auguste, a Lavalas grass-roots activist and folk singer arrested in May 2004, was finally brought to trial and acquitted on 15 August. Prosecutors put forward no evidence against her.

• Former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune was released in July after spending more than two years in detention without trial.

Harsh prison conditions

Harsh prison conditions continued to be the norm throughout the country. Overcrowding, inadequate food and medical neglect resulted in dire conditions at most prisons. Inmates relied on family members to fulfil their basic needs including food. At least 50 prisoners escaped from the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince in July and December.

Impunity

The justice system continued to suffer from lack of resources, corruption and inadequate training for personnel, preventing the effective investigation and prosecution of previous human rights violations.

• On 9 March, seven police officers arrested for involvement in the killings at the Martissant stadium in August 2005 were released by the investigating magistrate in charge of the case. No members of the Small Machetes Army were arrested despite continuous threats against witnesses and survivors of the August 2005 and July 2006 attacks.

Disarmament

After ineffectual attempts during the two-year transitional government, a National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (CNDDR) was finally established in September with the assistance of MINUSTAH. Dozens of armed group members joined the DDR programme, but violence continued at an alarming level.

AI country reports/visits

Reports

• Haiti: The call for tough arms controls - voices from Haiti (AI Index: AMR 36/001/2006)

• Open letter to the president of the Republic of Haiti (AI Index: AMR 36/011/2006)