Freedom in the World
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Weak institutions and corruption hinder the capacities of the Haitian government, and international actors wield significant influence in the country. Haiti continues to recover from devastating hurricanes that damaged crops and infrastructure, displaced thousands, and inflicted widespread hardship.
- Jovenel Moïse, the preferred candidate of former president Michel Martelly, won a November rerun of the previous year’s flawed presidential election. But because an electoral tribunal had not formally verified the vote by year’s end, interim president Jocelerme Privert remained in office.
- In January, most members of the legislature were sworn in, despite serious questions about the legitimacy of the 2015 legislative polls.
- Hurricane Matthew struck the country in October, killing some 500 people, displacing thousands, and inflicting widespread hardship.
President Michel Martelly’s term ended in February 2016, but due to the postponement of the second round of the 2015 presidential election, there was no successor to assume office. The National Assembly (a joint session of parliament) subsequently elected the National Assembly president, Senator Jocelerme Privert, to serve as interim president, and he was sworn in with a mandate to restore confidence in the electoral process within 120 days. When Privert’s mandate expired in June, opposition parliamentarians refused to meet the quorum necessary to extend it or propose a replacement, leaving Privert in office. A rerun of the 2015 presidential election took place in November, with Moïse, Martelly’s handpicked successor, winning 55.6 percent of the vote, according to provisional results. The election, which saw voter turnout of only 21 percent, was considered an improvement compared to the 2015 polls but was nonetheless contested. Privert remained in office at year’s end, because an electoral tribunal tasked with assessing claims of fraud in the November poll had not yet issued a ruling.
Though the 2015 legislative elections were widely considered fraudulent, the majority of parliament took office in January 2016. Despite a constitutional guarantee of 30 percent female representation in public offices, only 3 women sit in the 118-seat Chamber of Deputies.
Hurricane Matthew caused significant damage in October, killing more than 500 people, displacing some 175,000, and inflicting widespread hardship. Matthew destroyed crops across the region, resulting in a sharp increase in food prices and pushing some 800,000 people into severe food insecurity, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Haiti’s constitution provides for a president elected for a five-year term, a parliament composed of a Senate, whose 30 members serve six-year terms, and a Chamber of Deputies whose 118 members serve four-year terms. The prime minister is appointed by the president and approved by the parliament. According to the constitution, a National Assembly, or joint session of parliament, may be called under certain circumstances.
A number of electoral councils appointed by President Martelly did not meet constitutional requirements and did not receive parliamentary approval; that, combined with pushback from the opposition, delayed 2011 and 2013 midterm elections. By January 2015, the terms of two-thirds of the Senate, all members of the Chamber of Deputies, and all mayors had expired. The vacancies allowed the executive branch to govern with little legislative supervision.
The United States, United Nations, and Organization of American States (OAS) all provided significant support for long-awaited presidential, legislative, and local elections held in 2015. The elections were rife with disorder, fraud, and violence, and were marked by very low voter turnout. 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. 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 additional 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 3 seats each, PHTK won 2 seats, and 4 smaller parties captured 1 seat each. Despite concerns about the election’s credibility, 92 parliamentarians took office in January 2016.
The presidential runoff election was postponed until January 2016, but amid growing calls for an investigation into possible fraud in the first round of presidential voting, it was then postponed indefinitely. At the end of Martelly’s term in February, Privert was elected interim president by the National Assembly and sworn in with a mandate to restore confidence in the electoral process within 120 days.
Meanwhile, based on the recommendations of two official commissions that investigated claims of fraud, a new electoral council agreed to rerun the presidential election in October. In response, the European Union (EU) withdrew its electoral observation mission and the United States withdrew its electoral funding. Haiti pledged to fund the elections itself. The election was postponed after Hurricane Matthew struck in early October. When it was held in November, Moïse, a businessman who belonged to the PHTK, came in first in the provisional results with 55.6 percent of the vote, followed by Jude Célestin of the Alternative League for the Progress and Emancipation of Haiti (LAPEH) with 19.5 percent. Turnout for the poll was again very low, at 21 percent, and various allegations of fraud followed. Logistical hurdles, inconsistent electoral lists, and inaccessibility of voting centers, especially in flooded, hurricane-affected areas, prevented some people from voting. Nevertheless, the election was generally considered an improvement over the previous year’s.
At year’s end, verification of final election results by a tribunal was still pending, and Privert remained in office.
Political parties generally do not face legal or administrative barriers to registering or running in elections. Notwithstanding improvements in recent years, the electoral system appears 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 new groups, many of which were suspected to be formed in order to aid Martelly and his allies. The electoral council and Haitian police failed to punish perpetrators of the 2015 electoral fraud and violence. A Haitian observer mission concluded that the PHTK had been the most aggressive in committing fraud and acts of election-related violence.
Haitians’ political choices are free from domination by domestic military powers and religious hierarchies. However, weak state capacity and corruption hinder the state from effectively asserting a central role in development, and international actors wield significant influence. The Haitian army was disbanded in 1995, but the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has been in the country since 2004. Bringing thousands of foreign military and police personnel to Haiti, MINUSTAH is perceived as an occupying force by many Haitians. MINUSTAH’s mission was extended for six months in October 2016.
An interim president, election chaos, and corruption allegations impaired governance in 2016. When Privert’s 120-day mandate expired in June, opposition parliamentarians refused to meet the quorum necessary to extend his mandate or propose a replacement, leaving Privert in office. He remained in office at year’s end, after the year’s presidential election, because Moïse’s victory had yet to be formally verified.
Corruption is a serious problem. In 2016, the corruption investigation against Nonie Mathieu, a former president of the Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes (CSC/CA), Haiti’s government watchdog of public funds, for allegedly misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars, advanced. In August, a Senate anticorruption commission headed by Senator Youri Latortue, who is himself suspected of corruption, recommended she be prosecuted.
The Haitian government and civil society organizations reduced the number of possible fatalities from Hurricane Matthew through prior warnings and evacuations, but the efforts, according to observers, were inadequate and not systemic. In the aftermath of the hurricane, there were reports that efforts of local government authorities had not been coordinated, and that local mayors had hoarded emergency aid supplies to distribute to their followers.
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. Media and other observers have expressed concern about government interference with freedom of the press. Martelly, a former pop music star, released a sexually suggestive song for Haiti’s annual carnival in February 2016 that belittled Liliane Pierre-Paul, a radio reporter and human rights activist, using crude language. Separately, in June, the television station Télé Pluriel was attacked by assailants armed with automatic weapons, in an incident thought to be election related. With a literacy rate of 60 percent and little print or online news material in Haitian Creole, radio remains the main source of information.
The government generally respects religious and academic freedoms. Haitians are generally free to engage in private political discussions while in public. The government is not known to block websites or illegally monitor private online communications.
The 1987 constitution guarantees freedoms of assembly and association, though these freedoms are often violated in practice. Antigovernment demonstrations in response to electoral fraud became violent in January and November 2016, with reports of violence committed by police.
Activists with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that confront sensitive topics risk threats and violence. Activist Davidtchen Siméon, of the leftist Movement of Liberty, Equality of the Haitians for Fraternity (MOLEGHAF), which opposes MINUSTAH, was shot to death in August 2016 by a group of armed men that witnesses said included police officers. MOLEGHAF leader David Oxygène later reported being threatened by one of the officers accused of involvement in Siméon’s killing. Pierre Espérance, director of the human rights organization the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH), received an envelope containing a bullet and a note threatening him and his family in December.
The ability to unionize is protected under the law, though the union movement in Haiti is weak and lacks collective bargaining power. Workers frequently face harassment and other repercussions for organizing. A five-month strike at the state’s general hospital in Port-au-Prince to contest the working conditions of medical staff and the lack of medical supplies ended in September 2016.
The judicial system is under resourced and inefficient, and is burdened by a large backlog of cases, underpaid staff, outdated legal codes, and poor facilities. Bribery common 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. Haitian law guarantees a hearing within 48 hours after arrest, yet much of the prison population is in prolonged pretrial detention, including most minors and women held in the system. In September 2016, interim president Privert created a nine-member commission to analyze the problem of extended pretrial detention. The prison system is severely overcrowded. In October, more than 170 prisoners escaped the Arcahaie prison in northern Haiti; only 10 were reportedly recaptured.
Considerable discrimination exists against people with disabilities. Three deaf women were murdered in March 2016 in what appeared to be a hate crime. Three people had been arrested for the crime by mid-year.
Discrimination against women and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) individuals is pervasive within the legal system and in broader society. In September 2016, organizers of an LGBT art event received death threats. The event was canceled by the Port-au-Prince authorities and publicly condemned by Senator Jean Renel Senatus, who stated that the festival promoted values that were contrary to Haiti’s social and cultural morals. Spousal rape, sexual harassment, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation are not criminalized.
The neighboring Dominican Republic has begun to enforce laws that prevent people of Haitian descent from exercising their political and civil rights. In response, tens of thousands of people of Haitian origin, including many unaccompanied minors, have been repatriated from Dominican Republic, or have entered Haiti for fear of staying. Additionally, in September 2016, the United States announced that it would begin deporting Haitians who had been in the country since a devastating 2010 earthquake; the deportations were temporarily put on hold after Hurricane Matthew struck but commenced in November. Haitian officials offer few services and resources to returnees, who often struggle to survive, given the country’s 60 percent unemployment rate and broader lack of government services. At the end of 2016, 46,691 persons displaced by the 2010 earthquake still lived in makeshift camps around Port-au-Prince. In addition, in November, some 14,000 people displaced by Hurricane Matthew were living in shelters.
Difficulty registering property, enforcing contracts, and getting credit led to Haiti being ranked 181 out of 190 by the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report. Spotty record keeping and corruption result in severe inconsistencies in property-rights enforcement; those with political and economic connections frequently rely on extrajudicial means of enforcement.
The government generally respects freedom of movement and the rights of individuals to choose their own employment, education, and residence. Although the government does not restrict these activities, freedom to engage in them highly depends on economic means. Economic insecurity is a main contributor to Haitians’ inability to enforce their individual rights. Sixty percent of Haitians earn the equivalent of one dollar a day or less. Almost half of Haiti’s children do not attend school.
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.