Poverty remained endemic, widespread and profound, denying millions of Haitians access to a range of human rights. Women and girls continued to experience high levels of violence. Outbreaks of mob justice and lynchings were frequent and those responsible rarely brought to justice. There were reports of ill-treatment and arbitrary arrests and killings by officials. According to the UN, prison conditions often amounted to cruel and degrading treatment or punishment. Scores of people died at sea trying to leave Haiti on boat journeys organized by traffickers. Thousands of children used as domestic workers were at grave risk of abuse.
In July, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund cancelled debts of US$1.2 billion, nearly two thirds of Haiti’s national debt, and the Paris Club of creditors cancelled a further US$63 million.
Elections were held in April to renew one third of the Senate. Run-off elections took place in June in relative calm. The National Assembly agreed to initiate a series of constitutional reforms. In October, the National Assembly passed a no-confidence vote on Prime Minister Michèle D. Pierre-Louis. Jean-Max Bellerive was confirmed by Parliament as the new Prime Minister a week later.
The failure of the President to nominate a President of the Supreme Court and of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary meant that urgent reforms of the justice system were stalled. Police reform failed to progress because of delays in completing the vetting and certification of police officers.
The mandate of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti was extended for another year.
The right to health
Poverty was widespread and recovery from the devastating hurricane season of 2008 was slow. More than 56 per cent of Haitians lived on less than US$1 a day, according to the UNDP. Although the availability of food improved compared with 2008, in September the National Coordination for Food Security estimated that 1.9 million people were affected by food insecurity. Lack of access to clean water continued to affect millions of people, with severe consequences for health. Contaminated water was the leading cause of infant mortality and illness in children.
The number of juvenile courts remained inadequate. Only two were in operation in 2009: one in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and one in Cap-Haitian. Children continued to be detained in adult prisons and tried in ordinary courts which did not always respect the privacy of minors on trial. The trafficking of children within Haiti and into the Dominican Republic continued unabated, according to human rights organizations. UNICEF estimated that 175,000 children were employed in domestic service, which was described as a “modern form of slavery” by the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery following her visit to Haiti in June.
Policing and the justice system
There were numerous reports of police ill-treatment of suspects. There were frequent reports of lynchings of suspected criminals by mobs, particularly in areas where there was no state or police presence. Those responsible were rarely brought to justice. According to the UN mission, local administrative authorities illegally carried out policing and judicial functions with the assistance of vigilante groups, leading to arbitrary arrests and killings.
According to a local human rights organization, Haiti’s prison population was 5.5 times greater than its capacity. In some prisons, such as the National Penitentiary, extreme overcrowding amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Prolonged pre-trial detention remained the norm for criminal suspects and scores were imprisoned for actions that were not recognizable offences in law. Less than 20 per cent of the 8,833 prisoners held at the end of October 2009 had been tried and sentenced.
- Ronald Dauphin, an activist with the Lavalas political party, completed his fourth year in detention without trial for his alleged involvement in a series of killings in February 2004 in the town of Saint-Marc. The authorities failed to accept four writs of habeas corpus filed by his lawyer. In 2007 the Appeals Court ordered a new investigation on the grounds that the previous investigation was marred by “grave procedural errors”, but by the end of the year no significant progress had been made.
Violence against women and girls
Rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls remained widespread. During the first six months of the year, more than half of the 136 rapes reported to a Haitian women’s organization involved children. Adequate structures and resources to combat violence against women were lacking and access to prophylactic medicines, including anti-retrovirals, was not available outside the main urban areas.
In January, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviewed Haiti’s first national report since the country ratified the UN Women’s Convention in 1981. In February, the Committee called on Haiti to adopt specific legislation on violence against women. By the end of the year, legislation on domestic violence had yet to be adopted by parliament.
- In March, a 16-year-old girl was raped by five men on La Gonâve Island. The perpetrators were detained by the local police but were later released after they reportedly paid local judicial officials.
Scores of migrants died attempting to leave Haiti and escape grinding poverty. Traffickers in human beings operated with total impunity, putting the life of thousands of people at risk. Special legislation criminalizing the trafficking of human beings had not been adopted by the end of the year.
- In July, a wooden sailboat carrying up to 200 Haitians capsized off the Turks and Caicos Islands. Seventeen Haitians died and 67 were missing feared dead. Survivors told human rights organizations that the boat had been intercepted by the Haitian Police off Cap-Haitian (northern Haiti) but the boat’s captain was given permission to proceed with the trip after allegedly paying US$800 to police officers.
Impunity for past abuses
Those responsible for human rights abuses in previous years continued to evade justice.
In October, the judicial authorities designated a new magistrate to complete the investigation into the April 2000 killings of journalist Jean-Léopold Dominique and his security guard Jean-Claude Louissaint. Previous investigations by five magistrates, some of whom had been threatened because of their involvement in the case, had failed to identify the perpetrators.