Haiti | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political tensions continued to escalate in 2013 as legislative and municipal elections initially scheduled for November 2011 were delayed for another year, causing Haiti to descend toward political crisis. The government made some moves to strengthen the regulatory framework on corruption and improve its capacity to respond to rights violations, and the establishment of an interministerial commission on human rights was considered a promising development toward compliance with international human rights treaties. In practice, however, enjoyment of civil liberties did not markedly improve; detainees and internally displaced people continued to face harrowing conditions and abuse and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community faced attacks. Threats to and harassment and illegal arrests of human rights defenders also continued in 2013, and opposition groups and human rights observers responded to the unlawful arrest of attorney André Michel with outrage. In a positive step for rule of law, a court heard an appeal to a 2012 dismissal of human rights charges against Haiti’s former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, and summoned both Duvalier and his alleged victims to testify.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Political Rights: 18 / 40 (-1) [Key]

A. Electoral Process:  4 / 12 (-1)

Haiti’s constitution provides for a president directly elected for a five-year term, a bicameral parliament composed of a 30-member Senate and a 99-member Chamber of Deputies, and a prime minister appointed by the president. Senators are elected for six-year terms, with one-third coming up for election every two years, and deputies for four-year terms.

Presidential and parliamentary elections held in November 2010 were marred by widespread reports of fraud, voter intimidation, violations of electoral laws, illegal exclusion of political parties and candidates, and problems with the composition of the Provisional Electoral Council. Following a dispute over first-round results, musician Michel Martelly won the presidential election in a March 2011 second round that saw low voter turnout. Meanwhile, after parliamentary runoff elections, the Inité coalition of Martelly’s predecessor, René Préval, held 46 seats in the lower house and 6 of the 11 Senate seats at stake. Smaller parties divided the remainder.

Midterm parliamentary and municipal elections due to take place in November 2011 had yet to take place by the end of 2013, posing a grave threat to the democratic functioning of the government. The resulting vacancies have crippled the Senate and the President has replaced some 130 elected mayors with political appointees, offsetting the balance of power provided for in the constitution. According to the constitution, elections are to be organized by a Permanent Electoral Council (CEP) that has never been fully realized in practice. Constitutional amendments adopted in 2011 after a fraught process reformed the CEP appointment process by centralizing appointment powers in the three branches of government. Discrepancies between the constitutional amendments as published and those that had been ratified as well as subsequent irregularities in appointments to the new CEP resulted in political impasse and yet again paralyzed the CEP’s proper formation.

In December 2012, the executive and legislative branches agreed to establish an extra-constitutional Transitional College of the Permanent Electoral Council (CTCEP) to plan the overdue 2011 elections. The CTCEP began operations in April 2013, including the drafting of a new electoral law to replace the Electoral Law of 2008 that governed the previous round of elections. Amidst growing tensions and accusations of intentional delays, the CTCEP transmitted the proposed law to a presidential commission in July, which in turn passed on the law to the Chamber of Deputies only days before its last session of the year. The Chamber reportedly held a vote on the law on the eve of their recess, though some parliamentarians contested that an affirming vote actually took place. The Senate passed a modified version of the law in October, which was ultimately approved by the Chamber during an emergency session. The final law was published in December 2013. While this moved Haiti closer toward holding the long overdue elections, the process continues to be undermined by the highly contested legitimacy of the CTCEP and other irregularities in the process.


B. Political Pluralism & Participation:  9 / 16  

There are significant concerns about the ability of opposition parties to compete freely in elections. In the November 2010 election, the Provisional Electoral Council excluded 15 presidential candidates from participation in the elections without providing legal justification or explanation. Sixteen political parties—including Fanmi Lavalas, Haiti’s most popular—were also excluded. Historically, special interests dominated by a French-speaking, mostly light-skinned minority have captured state agencies and limited Haiti’s largely black, Creole-speaking, poor majority from influencing politics and lawmaking. The capture has resulted in policies skewed toward the interests of the elite mercantile class and the politically powerful.

Haiti is highly dependent on foreign aid and insufficient investments in state capacity have continued to hinder the state from effectively asserting a central role in development, resulting in donor countries and international organizations wielding significant influence over policy-making. The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has maintained a presence in Haiti since 2004 and the UN Security Council voted to renew the mission for an additional year in October 2013. MINUSTAH faces growing opposition from the Haitian people, who lack agency in setting the terms of the presence and increasingly perceive it as an occupying force, especially in light of the mission’s role in introducing a cholera epidemic that has killed over 8,300 people since 2010 and its repeated embroilment in sexual abuse.  In May, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling on MINUSTAH to withdraw by May 2014, but the non-binding resolution is unlikely to be realized.


C. Functioning of Government:  5 / 12

Delayed elections, corruption allegations, and diversions from rule of law have resulted in staggering political strife between the executive and legislative branches and have impaired effective governance. The Martelly administration has made targeting corruption a priority, and took some steps to improve the regulatory framework in 2013, including increasing the budget and geographic reach of the national anti-corruption unit (ULCC). The ULCC reported an increase in compliance with the legal requirement that government officials declare their assets. The Senate finally passed a new anti-corruption law first introduced almost a decade prior, though the law had not passed the chamber of deputies by the end of 2013. But corruption allegations persisted, including against top administration officials. Two of several administration officials who resigned in late 2012 and 2013 cited corruption and lack of political will to introduce transparency measures as their reasons for resignation. Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe has been accused of mismanagement of emergency disaster-relief funds. In July 2013, Judge Jean Serge Joseph, who was presiding over a corruption case against members of Martelly’s family and government, died under suspicious circumstances. Moreover, the terms of the commissioners on the Supreme Court of Auditors, which was responsible for auditing government accounts, expired in 2013, and Martelly declined to install the new members appointed by the Senate, proposing instead the formation of a vetting commission, raising concerns about illegal executive-branch interference. Haiti was ranked 163 out of 177 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Civil Liberties:  25/ 60 (+1)

D. Freedom of Expression & Belief:  10 / 16

The country hosts two major daily newspapers and a number of less frequent publications, though circulation is fairly limited and the vast majority is in French, making it difficult for Creole-speaking Haitians to access written news. Radio is the main form of media in Haiti. There are several hundred radio stations across Haiti, though most lack national reach. Television stations are far less common, and the total television audience in Haiti is below 10 percent due to lack of electricity and resources. Internet access is similarly hampered. The constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but press freedom is constrained by the feeble judiciary and law enforcement’s inability to afford adequate protection to journalists facing threats and violence. Media and observers have expressed concern regarding executive branch interference with freedom of the press.

The government generally respects religious and academic freedoms. However, the absence of an effective police force has led to poor protection for those who are persecuted for their views.


E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 5 / 12

The 1987 constitution guarantees freedoms of assembly and association, but these rights are often not respected in practice. Popular demonstrations against the government continued in 2013, as people protested the election delay, alleged corruption, and persecution of government dissidents. These demonstrations were sometimes met by violent police responses. While Haiti has rich civil society traditions at the local level, many of its formally organized civil society groups have been co-opted by political and economic elites. Persecution of human rights defenders and political dissidents, in the form of harassment, threats, and illegal arrests, continued to escalate in 2013. Human rights attorney Patrice Florvilus received death threats and faced police harassment before being summoned to court on baseless criminal charges after providing legal representation to victims of police brutality, prompting an outcry from the human rights community and grassroots groups. In October, André Michel, an attorney pursuing the corruption claims against Martelly’s wife and son, was detained and unlawfully arrested following repeated harassment and death threats. The incident spurred national outrage and demonstrators physically removed Michel from the prosecutor’s office where he was awaiting a hearing to the Port-au-Prince Bar Association, spurring Prosecutor Francisco René to label him a fugitive of justice. Lawyers and judges of the Port-au-Prince bar entered in a strike to call for the resignation of René and the judge pursuing Michel’s case. The government’s actions drew severe criticism from Haitian and international human rights groups. In November, the Ministry of Justice recalled René from his post, ending the month-long strike.

While the ability to unionize is protected under the law, unions and workers frequently face harassment and other repercussions for organizing. New labor regulations passed in 2009 that introduced minimum health and safety standards and a stratified minimum wage system for the commercial and industrial sectors took effect in October 2012. The minimum wage increases apply only to a small segment of the population, however, and are underenforced. A study of five of Haiti’s 24 export garment factories released in October 2013 by the U.S.-based Worker Rights Consortium found that employers withheld over 30% of the wages their employees were entitled to under the law.


F. Rule of Law:  4 / 16

The judicial system is underresourced, inefficient, and frail, and is burdened by a large backlog of cases, outdated legal codes, and poor facilities. Official court business is conducted in French rather than Creole, rendering large portions of proceedings only marginally comprehensible to those involved. Police are regularly accused of abusing suspects and detainees, and impunity continues to be a problem. The ponderous legal system guarantees lengthy pretrial detentions in inhumane prison conditions. The Office of Citizen Protection (OPC), Haiti’s ombudsman office, estimated that more than 7,000 people, or 70 percent of Haiti’s total prison population, were being held without conviction of a crime in 2013. Severe overcrowding results in prisoners having far less space per person than international standards, even for emergency settings; a June 2013 U.N. report estimated that each detainee had only about .61 square meters of personal space, an amount the report said was equivalent to one-third of a single-bed mattress. The cramped conditions contribute to rapid spread of disease. In October, the government reinstituted a bureau for the control of prolonged preventative detention (BUCODEP) with a goal of reducing pretrial detention by 50%, and announced plans to construct several new prisons. But the grave situation of persons in detention did not notably improve during 2013.

Investments in strengthening the judiciary were welcomed. OPC is improving its reach but is constrained by underfunding. In May, Martelly issued a decree establishing an interministerial commission on human rights, hailed by the UN as an important development that could help Haiti move toward improved compliance with international human rights treaties. The newly appointed CSPJ, an administrative and disciplinary organ tasked with promoting independence of the judiciary, was still in its nascent stages in 2013, and politically motivated judicial appointments and interference in judicial proceedings persisted. In a potentially major development for rule of law, an appellate court heard arguments on the reinstating of human rights charges against former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier that had been dismissed in 2012. The court summoned Duvalier to court, and heard testimony from his alleged victims. The hearing, held in February, was lauded by human rights groups as a step towards ending impunity, but the fact that a decision was still pending at year’s end caused some to fear political intervention in the final outcome.


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 6 / 16 (+1)

Spotty record keeping at the national level and corruption in the enforcement process have long resulted in severe inconsistencies in property rights enforcement, and in turn, those with political and economic means frequently rely on extra-judicial means of enforcing actual or purported rights.  In 2013, Haiti undertook measures to spur investment, though often at the expense of other rights enforcement.  The investment climate continues to be undermined by a fragmented regulatory framework, lack of law enforcement and endemic corruption.

Widespread violence against women and children has received increasing attention since a 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 people and caused 1.5 million to lose their homes, leading to massive displacement. While impunity is still pervasive, efforts of the Ministry of Women, grassroots women’s groups, and legal organizations have helped improve the response to sexual violence, including more effective prosecutions and the introduction of new laws that empower victims. Trafficking of children out of the country, especially to the Dominican Republic, also reportedly increased sharply after the earthquake. A new adoption law that went into effect in November included provisions to increase the protection of children and to make trafficking a criminal offense. An estimated 300,000 children serve as restavek, or child domestic servants. LGBT individuals face discrimination and violence; in July, religious leaders marched against LGBT rights, setting off a wave of violent attacks against individuals. However, the LGBT rights movement appears to be gaining momentum.

A combination of relocations, forced evictions and reclassifications has resulted in a significant decline in the official internally displaced population living in camps after the earthquake. Forced evictions were often carried out without prior notice and with police or other government participation. Several eviction attempts were violent, involving burning of tents, beatings and shootings. In April, following an altercation surrounding a violent eviction attempt from Camp Acra Adoken, two residents were taken into police custody and severely beaten.  One of the residents died in police custody.


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

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