Food shortages, chronic unemployment and natural disasters exacerbated poverty and marginalization, jeopardizing minimal essential levels of access to health care, adequate housing, education, water and sanitation. Ill-treatment and excessive use of force by police officers were reported. Sexual violence against women was pervasive; girls under 18 were at particular risk. Thousands of people remained in detention awaiting trial in severely overcrowded conditions. Trafficking in persons into the Dominican Republic continued unabated.
In April, amid demonstrations against the rising cost of staple foods, Prime Minister Jacques-Édouard Alexis was forced to resign following a vote of no confidence in the Senate. Violence and looting accompanying the demonstrations forced businesses and schools to close. The country was without a functioning government for four months, paralysing essential development projects and preventing the adoption of the national budget.
In July, the Senate and Parliament ratified Michèle D. Pierre-Louis as Prime Minister. Elections to renew one third of the Senate, due in the first quarter of the year, were postponed until 2009, compromising the state’s capacity to legislate as the Senate was inquorate during many sessions.
"...prison conditions were extremely poor with only 0.55m2 of cell space per prisoner."
In October, the UN Security Council renewed the mandate of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) for a fifth year.
Public security concerns persisted and, according to UNICEF, children were at increased risk of kidnapping, compared with previous years. The involvement of corrupt police officers in kidnappings intensified calls for comprehensive vetting of the Haitian National Police.
Food shortages and spiralling food prices put children’s lives at risk. In November, 26 children from the South-East Department were hospitalized suffering from acute malnutrition. In the wake of the hurricanes, organizations involved in humanitarian assistance reported that dozens of children died of hunger.
Access to education remained a concern. According to UNICEF, an estimated 500,000 school-age children were not in education.
Child offenders were frequently sentenced outside juvenile courts and detained in cells shared with adults.
Right to health
Efforts were made to remove the barriers facing pregnant women in accessing health care in public institutions. However, some hospitals continued to impose arbitrary charges for obstetric care.
Reports indicated that anti-retroviral kits for victims of rape were not available outside the capital, Port-au-Prince.
Lack of access to clean water and sanitation continued to affect 40 per cent of the population across the country, according to the UN and official sources.
Violence against women and girls
Reports of intimate partner and sexual violence increased compared with 2007. Haitian women’s organizations recorded at least 110 rapes of girls under 18 in 2008, a number that was believed to represent a very small fraction of the overall problem. Specific legal measures to protect women and girls, such as legislation on domestic violence and marital rape, were still lacking in Haiti. Women and girls who experienced rape or other forms of sexual violence faced discrimination in seeking justice and redress. Lack of political will, widespread prejudice and an ineffective criminal justice system were among the factors which contributed to the failure to take effective steps to end violence against women. In March, the Haitian government submitted its first report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
Trafficking in human beings
Thousands of Haitians, including women and children, continued to be trafficked into the Dominican Republic despite increased surveillance along the border. The authorities failed to implement anti-trafficking legislation and to investigate those suspected of trafficking. People deported from the Dominican Republic to Haiti did not receive any assistance from the Haitian authorities.
The vast majority of prisoners faced prolonged pre-trial detention because of the lack of capacity and resources to speed up judicial procedures. According to the Human Rights Section of MINUSTAH, prison conditions were extremely poor with only 0.55m2 of cell space per prisoner. Some judicial authorities, such as justices of the peace, exceeded their powers and acted outside their jurisdiction by conducting trials in criminal cases and ordering the arrest of people for acts that were not offences under national law.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in August that the arrest in 2004 of former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune and his imprisonment for 23 months without trial had violated his right to a fair trial and to be free from political persecution.
No progress was made in investigating cases of past human rights violations.
- Father Jean Pierre-Louis, known as “Ti Jean”, was killed on 3 August 1998 in Port-au-Prince. More than 10 years later, those responsible for his murder had not been brought to justice. Father Pierre-Louis was an advocate for the human rights of Haitian migrants. He was also one of the co-founders of the Ecumenical Service for Development and Popular Education (Service Œcuménique pour le Développement et l’Education Populaire, SEDEP).
Police and security forces
Overall the number of reports of abuses by the police appeared to decline. However, there were some reports of excessive use of force during demonstrations and arrests, fatal shootings and ill-treatment of detainees. At least two people died in police custody. Arbitrary arrests without warrants and the filing of charges without evidence were common throughout the country.