Freedom in the World
Haitian voters headed to the polls in 2015 for parliamentary, presidential, and local elections. The first round of parliamentary elections, held in August, was marred by violence and reports of widespread violations. The second round of the parliamentary vote was held concurrently with local elections and the first round of the presidential vote in October, with international monitors again reporting grave shortcomings. President Michel Martelly’s hand-picked successor, Jovinel Moïse, was declared the winner in first round of the presidential election, earning a place in a runoff against Jude Célestin. However, Célestin and other opposition candidates rejected the first-round results, and their supporters took to the streets to demand an independent investigation into allegations of electoral fraud. An evaluation commission was established, and the runoff, which had been scheduled for December 2015, was postponed until 2016.
Legislative processes were largely paralyzed in 2015, as the terms of all but 10 legislators expired in January. Haiti’s cholera epidemic, which erupted in 2010, worsened during the year because of heavy rains as well as poor sanitation for those still displaced by the 2010 earthquake and for migrants living in camps along Haiti’s border with the Dominican Republic. More than 31,000 new cases were reported from January to November.
Political Rights: 17 / 40 [Key]
A. Electoral Process: 4 / 12
Haiti’s constitution provides for a president directly elected for a five-year term and a prime minister who is appointed by the president and approved by the parliament. The bicameral parliament is composed of the Senate, whose 30 members serve six-year terms, and the Chamber of Deputies, whose 118 members serve four-year terms. President Martelly took office in May 2011 through elections compromised by reports of fraud, voter intimidation, and illegal exclusion of political parties and candidates.
Midterm parliamentary and municipal elections constitutionally required in 2011 and 2013 were delayed for years, leading to vacancies and legislative paralysis that allowed Martelly to govern with increasingly little oversight. Laurent Lamothe resigned as prime minister in December 2014, and by mid-January 2015, the terms of two-thirds of the Senate, all members of the Chamber of Deputies, and every mayor had expired. A new prime minister, Evans Paul, took office in January, days after the official dissolution of the legislature.
The president formed a Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) in February. The first round of parliamentary elections was held in August. The CEP reported that violence forced 54 of the 1,508 polling centers throughout the country to suspend their operations. A network of Haitian observers labeled the vote “an affront to democratic standards,” and considered the irregularities serious enough to jeopardize the legitimacy of the legislature. Voter turnout stood at 18 percent.
In October, voters cast ballots in runoff parliamentary elections, as well as in the first round of presidential and municipal elections; the disrupted parliamentary votes were also rerun. While improved security measures led to a decrease in violence during these polls, fraud was rampant. International monitors noted that mandataires, political party representatives accredited to observe the voting process, misused their accreditations to cast multiple ballots and in some instances intimidated voters. Voter turnout remained low at 27 percent, which international monitors noted could gravely exacerbate the impact of multiple voting. No party won a parliamentary majority. The Haitian Tet Kale Party (PHTK), which supports Martelly, took 26 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and was aided by an addition 15 won by three of its allies. The Vérité (Truth) party won 13 seats, and smaller parties divided the remainder. Of the contested seats in the Senate, PHTK ally Konvansyon Inite Demokratik (KID) and Vérité won three seats each, PHTK won two seats, and four smaller parties captured one seat each.
In November, the CEP released the results of the first round of the presidential election, in which 54 candidates participated. The official results showed Moïse in the lead with 33 percent of the vote, and Célestin following with 25 percent. Observers from the Organization of American States (OAS) and a group of foreign donor nations, including the United States, accepted the official results, but Haitian civil society groups and opposition candidates rejected the outcome and called for an independent investigation into allegations of fraud. Amid protests, Martelly established an evaluation commission in December, days ahead of the scheduled presidential runoff, which was subsequently postponed until 2016.
B. Political Pluralism & Participation: 8 / 16
Political parties generally did not face legal or administrative barriers to registering or running in the 2015 elections, and reports of prosecution and harassment of opposition politicians decreased in comparison with 2014. Nevertheless, the electoral system appeared to favor the preferences of incumbent powers. The number of members required to form a political party was decreased from 500 to 20 in 2014, leading to a proliferation of groups on the party scene, many of which were suspected to be formed in order to aid Martelly and his allies. This environment allowed an unusually large number of party representatives to obtain observer accreditation for the 2015 polls, and allegations of fraud and misconduct by these individuals were not properly investigated.
Insufficient investments in state capacity have continued to hinder the state from effectively asserting a central role in development, allowing donor countries and international organizations to wield significant influence over policymaking. The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has been in the country since 2004; the UN Security Council voted to renew MINUSTAH for an additional year in October 2015, authorizing up to 4,971 military and police personnel as part of the mission. MINUSTAH faces growing opposition from the Haitian people, as it is increasingly perceived as an occupying force. The number of military and police personnel authorized as part of MINUSTAH has declined in recent years, down from its peak in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake, when the mission was authorized to have up to 13,331 personnel.
C. Functioning of Government: 5 / 12
A defunct parliament, election chaos, corruption allegations, and poor collaboration among agencies impaired governance in 2015. In March, Nonie Mathieu, former president of the Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes, was accused of misusing $600,000 in public funds on purchases of office equipment that the agency never received. In December, parliamentary candidate Gerald Jean admitted on national radio that he had paid more than $25,000 in bribes to an electoral court judge and to a CEP member in order to secure a parliamentary seat on appeal. Haiti was ranked 158 out of 168 countries and territories surveyed in Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Civil Liberties: 24 / 60
D. Freedom of Expression & Belief: 10 / 16
The constitution guarantees freedom of expression, but press freedom is constrained by the feeble judiciary and the inability of police to adequately protect journalists from threats and violence. With a literacy rate of 60 percent and little print or online news material in Haitian Creole, radio remains the main source of information. Media and other observers have expressed concern about government interference with freedom of the press. In January 2015, Radio Tele Kiskeya denounced the Martelly administration for offering gifts of $800 to Haitian journalists after hosting them at a reception in the National Palace the previous month.
The government generally respects religious and academic freedoms. However, when violations do occur, victims have few protections.
Haitians are generally able to engage in open private discussion of political topics. Those with access to the internet, which reached 11.4 percent of the population in 2014, use online communications, including social-media platforms, without harassment or interference.
E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 4 / 12
The 1987 constitution guarantees freedoms of assembly and association, though these freedoms are often violated in practice. Antigovernment demonstrations took place on several occasions in 2015, particularly in November and December in response to reports of electoral fraud. Protesters often encountered police violence. The murder of Daniel Dorsainvil, general coordinator of the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (POHDH), remained unsolved at year’s end; Dorsainvil was killed along with his wife in 2014.
The right of workers to organize is protected by law, but unions face many challenges. The right to strike is severely limited, and workers frequently face harassment and other repercussions for organizing.
F. Rule of Law: 4 / 16
The judiciary is inefficient and weak, and is burdened by a lack of resources, a large backlog of cases, outdated legal codes, and poor facilities. Bribery is rampant at all levels of the judicial system. Official court business is conducted primarily in French, rendering proceedings only marginally comprehensible to many of those involved. Police are regularly accused of abusing suspects and detainees, and impunity continues to be a problem. The ponderous legal system has little credibility in the public eye, and police are regularly accused of abusing suspects and detainees. Although police operate under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, impunity is a significant problem. Haitian law guarantees a hearing within 48 hours after arrest, but pretrial detainees comprised an estimated 70 percent of the prison population at year’s end. In some prisons, the occupancy rate has reached close to 800 percent of maximum capacity in recent years.
The prosecution of members of the administration of former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier for crimes against humanity remained stalled in the Appellate Court in 2015. Separately, in April, Woodly Etheart and Renel Nelfort, leaders of a gang accused of leading vicious kidnapping operations in Haiti, were exonerated in a trial without a jury. Human rights groups denounced the decision as politicized and corrupt, accusing the judge and prosecutor for the case as well as the Port-au-Prince chief justice of illegal collusion.
Despite the government’s failure to address discrimination and violence against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) individuals, a movement for the human rights of LGBT people has gained momentum in recent years.
G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 6 / 16
The government generally respects freedom of movement and the rights of individuals to choose their own employment, education, and residence. Beginning in June 2015, more than 49,000 Haitian migrants crossed the border from the Dominican Republic to Haiti. The wave of migration was prompted by a June deadline set by Dominican Republic authorities for the registration of those residing in the country without formal status or documentation. In December, the International Organization for Migration estimated that close to 68 percent of those crossing the border to Haiti reported having no documentation. Haitian officials offered few services and resources to returnees. By year’s end, approximately 2,600 people had settled in four camps along the border between the two countries; several residents of the camps, which were beleaguered by unsanitary conditions, died of cholera by year’s end. As of June, a total of 61,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) were living in camps around the country, most of them victims of the 2010 earthquake.
Spotty record keeping at the national level and corruption in the enforcement process have resulted in severe inconsistencies in the protection of property rights; those with political and economic connections frequently rely on extrajudicial means of enforcement. Forced evictions are often carried out without prior notice and with police or other government participation, and authorities do not always provide proper restitution for confiscation of private property. Haiti’s economy was ranked 182 out of 189 in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2016 report, which noted grave shortcomings in business registration procedures and contract enforcement.
While the constitution mandates 30 percent female representation “in national life and in public service,” women made up only 8 percent of candidates in the 2015 parliamentary elections. Spousal rape and sexual harassment are not explicitly prohibited by law. A draft penal code offering significant protections for victims of gender-based violence continued to stall in 2015.
According to the U.S. State Department’s 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report, Haiti is a source, transit, and destination country for the trafficking of men, women, and children for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation. A long-awaited antitrafficking law was promulgated in 2014, but enforcement remained weak in 2015.
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year