Haiti’s elections are regularly subject to delays, fraud, and violence, and the political system as a whole is undermined by corruption. The criminal justice system lacks the resources, independence, and integrity to uphold due process and ensure physical security for the population. Antigovernment protests often result in excessive use of force by police.
Key Developments in 2018:
- Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant resigned in July after an attempt to cut fuel subsidies, in keeping with an International Monetary Fund (IMF) agreement, prompted violent protests. Parliament confirmed Jean-Henry Céant as his replacement in September.
- A series of protests calling for President Jovenel Moïse’s resignation over the alleged misuse of some $3.8 billion in aid from Venezuela began in September and gained momentum through the end of the year.
- Violence by armed gangs increased insecurity in parts of Port-au-Prince, with human rights investigators citing evidence that gangs involved in a massacre of civilians in November received support from police.
POLITICAL RIGHTS: 17 / 40
A. ELECTORAL PROCESS: 5 / 12
A1. Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 2 / 4
In Haiti’s semipresidential system, the president is directly elected for a five-year term. The prime minister is appointed by the president and confirmed by Parliament.
Jovenel Moïse of the Haitian Tet Kale Party (PHTK), the handpicked successor of incumbent Michel Martelly, won the 2015 presidential election, but the contest was nullified due to extensive fraud. Moïse went on to win the repeat election in November 2016, taking 55.6 percent of the vote. He was inaugurated in early 2017 after an electoral tribunal verified the election result, stating that there had been irregularities but no evidence of widespread fraud. While they acknowledged improvements over the 2015 election, civil society groups claimed that fraud in the vote tally, inconsistent voter registration lists, voter disenfranchisement, and a low voter turnout of just 21 percent undermined the mandate of the new president.
Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant, in office since March 2017, resigned in July 2018 after his government’s attempt to cut fuel subsidies in keeping with an IMF agreement triggered violent protests. In September, after several weeks of negotiation, Parliament confirmed a new cabinet with Jean-Henry Céant as prime minister.
A2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 1 / 4
The directly elected, bicameral Parliament is composed of a Senate, with 30 members who serve six-year terms, and a Chamber of Deputies, with 119 members who serve four-year terms. The 2015 legislative elections were plagued by disorder, fraud, and violence. Despite concerns about the elections’ credibility, 92 lawmakers took office in early 2016. Elections for a portion of the Senate and the runoff elections for the remaining seats in the Chamber of Deputies were held in 2016 along with the repeat presidential election, and the contests were marred by low voter turnout and fraud. The PHTK emerged as the largest single party in both chambers, followed by Truth (Vérité), though most of the seats were divided among a large number of smaller parties.
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 2 / 4
The Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) was established in the late 1980s as a temporary body, but it continues to be responsible for managing the electoral process. Although the constitution has provisions to prevent executive dominance of the CEP, the executive branch asserts significant control over it in practice. Legislative elections were not held from 2011 until 2015 because a number of electoral councils appointed by former president Martelly did not meet constitutional requirements or receive parliamentary approval; critics claimed that CEP members would have been beholden to Martelly. New council members were appointed in 2015 in a manner closer to the constitutional provisions. Despite discussions about establishing a permanent electoral council, the CEP in 2018 started planning the 2019 legislative elections.
B. POLITICAL PLURALISM AND PARTICIPATION: 7 / 16
B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 2 / 4
Legal and administrative barriers that had prevented some parties from registering or running in past elections have largely been eliminated. The number of members required to form a political party was reduced from 500 to 20 in 2014, leading to the creation of dozens of new parties. However, the risk of violence continues to impair normal political activity. Opposition party leaders are sometimes threatened, and protests organized by opposition parties are regularly met with repressive force by the government.
B2. Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 1 / 4
Haiti does not have a strong record of peaceful democratic transfers of power, and it remains difficult for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections, which have repeatedly been postponed, disrupted by violence, or marred by fraud and disputed results in recent years. The PHTK has consolidated power in the legislature and at the local level, in part through alliances with smaller parties.
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group that is not democratically accountable? 2 / 4
Haitians’ political choices are free from explicit domination by the military and other forces outside the political system. However, many politicians rely on money linked to drug trafficking and other illegal sources of funding to finance their campaigns, which has a considerable influence over political outcomes in the country.
B4. Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2 / 4
Haitian women are underrepresented in political life, with only four out of 149 parliamentary seats held by women in 2018. The constitution mandates that 30 percent of public officials should be women, but the government lacks penalties for noncompliance. Election-related violence, along with social and cultural constraints, discourages women from participating in politics. Due to societal discrimination, the interests of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people are not represented in the political system.
C. FUNCTIONING OF GOVERNMENT: 5 / 12
C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 2 / 4
The legitimacy of Haiti’s executive and legislative officials is undermined by the many problems surrounding their election. Moreover, due to corruption, instability, and security threats, the government struggles to carry out its own policies and provide basic services across the country.
C2. Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 1 / 4
Corruption is widespread in Haiti, as are allegations of impunity for government officials. A 2017 law reduced the independence and powers of the Central Financial Intelligence Unit (UCREF), which was responsible for investigating money-laundering cases. Also that year, Moïse replaced the heads of the Anticorruption Unit (ULCC) and the UCREF with political allies and former members of the Martelly administration; both units had been investigating Moïse for potential money laundering.
Officials from the Martelly administration have been accused of misappropriating an estimated $3.8 billion in low-interest loans from Venezuela. Although Senate commissions documented a number of these abuses in 2017, Haitian human rights groups have criticized the Senate majority for obstructing further action on the scandal. The lack of accountability for the aid funds fueled a series of large antigovernment protests from September 2018 through the end of the year.
C3. Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 2 / 4
Haitians’ general distrust of the government stems in large part from the absence of transparency and accountability measures that are needed to reduce corruption. There are no laws providing the public with access to state information, and it is reportedly very difficult to obtain government documents and data in practice. All government officials must file financial disclosure forms within 90 days of taking office and within 90 days of leaving office, though these requirements are not well enforced, and the reports are not made public.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 24 / 60
D. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND BELIEF: 10 / 16
D1. Are there free and independent media? 2 / 4
The constitution includes protections for press freedom, and the media sector is pluralistic, but the work of journalists is constrained by threats and violence as well as government interference. The March 2018 disappearance of journalist Vladjimir Legagneur while on assignment in Port-au-Prince remained unsolved at year’s end, with police reporting some arrests in the case but otherwise releasing little information.
D2. Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 3 / 4
Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed, and religious groups generally practice freely. However, the traditionally dominant Roman Catholic Church receives certain privileges from the state, practitioners of the Vodou religion face social stigma, and the government has denied registration to the small Muslim community.
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 2 / 4
Educational institutions and academics choose their curriculum freely, but university associations and student groups that protest government actions are often met with police violence. Three people were shot in November 2018 during a protest for better conditions by high school students in a poor neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. Earlier in the year, students and professors condemned the deployment of riot police in January to two schools at the state university, which have been the sites of public criticism of the government in the past.
D4. Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 3 / 4
There are few significant constraints on freedom of private discussion. The government does not engage in widespread surveillance, nor is it known to illegally monitor private online communications. However, the penal code includes defamation-related offenses, and the risk of violent reprisals may also serve as a deterrent to unfettered discussion of sensitive issues such as gangs and organized crime.
E. ASSOCIATIONAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL RIGHTS: 4 / 12
E1. Is there freedom of assembly? 2 / 4
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, but this right is often violated in practice. Antigovernment street protests, which intensified during 2018, drew a violent police response. At one large anticorruption march in October, eight people were shot dead, 61 were injured, and 42 were arrested by police, according to human rights activists.
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 1 / 4
Human rights defenders and activists with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that address sensitive topics are subject to threats and violence, which creates a climate of fear. Violence against activists is rarely investigated or prosecuted.
E3. Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 1 / 4
Workers’ right to unionize is protected under the law, and strikes are not uncommon, though the union movement in Haiti is weak and lacks collective bargaining power in practice. Most citizens are informally employed. Workers who engage in union activity frequently face harassment, suspension, termination, and other repercussions from employers.
F. RULE OF LAW: 4 / 16
F1. Is there an independent judiciary? 1 / 4
Despite constitutional guarantees of independence, the judiciary is susceptible to pressure from the executive and legislative branches. A lack of resources has contributed to bribery throughout the judicial system, and weak oversight means that most corrupt officials are not held accountable. When President Moïse’s government took power, all 18 chief prosecutors in the judicial jurisdictions were replaced; this opened new avenues for executive interference in the judiciary, since prosecutors can determine which cases end up before a judge. Moïse complained in 2017 that he felt forced to nominate corrupt judges based on lists submitted by the judicial council, which is tasked with vetting judges.
F2. Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 1 / 4
Constitutionally protected due process rights are regularly violated in practice. Arbitrary arrest is common, as are extortion attempts by police. Most suspects do not have legal representation, and those who do suffer from long delays and case mismanagement. Three-quarters of the inmate population is in pretrial detention due to a large backlog of cases and resource constraints, with even higher figures in the capital. Many have never appeared before a judge despite the legal requirement of a court hearing within 48 hours of arrest.
F3. Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 1 / 4
A culture of impunity in law enforcement, in addition to widespread criminal violence, leaves civilians in Haiti with little protection from the illegitimate use of force. More than 750 homicides were reported in 2018, down from nearly 900 in 2017, but crime statistics are difficult to authenticate, and crimes are underreported. Police are regularly accused of abusing suspects and detainees. Conditions in Haiti’s prisons, which are among the world’s most overcrowded, are extremely poor.
In November 2018, at least 59 people were killed, seven were sexually assaulted, and 150 houses were burned during an outbreak of violence in the La Saline neighborhood of Port-au-Prince. Some accounts characterized the episode as part of a conflict between rival gangs, but human rights researchers cited allegations of police involvement, and critics accused the government of organizing the massacre to suppress anticorruption protests.
In March, Moïse appointed commanders for the new national army, which was expected to expand to 5,000 soldiers after being unveiled in 2017. Haiti’s military had been disbanded in 1995 following a series of political interventions and human rights abuses, and its revival has led to fears about potential future violations.
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 1 / 4
Discrimination against women, the LGBT community, and people with disabilities is pervasive. Among other problems, women face bias in employment and disparities in access to financial services.
Harassment and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation occur regularly, and neither is prohibited by law. In 2017, a bill that would limit LGBT people’s access to employment and education was passed by the Senate. The Chamber of Deputies had not voted on the bill as of 2018.
G. PERSONAL AUTONOMY AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS: 6 / 16
G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 2 / 4
The government generally does not restrict travel or place limits on the ability to change one’s place of employment or education. However, corruption and insecurity remain obstacles to free movement, and the government’s flawed response to natural disasters has prevented many displaced residents from returning to their homes, forcing them to live in poor conditions for extended periods. As of 2018, more than 30,000 people resided in camps built for those displaced by the 2010 earthquake. In October 2018, an earthquake killed 17 people, injured 427, and destroyed 7,430 houses in Haiti’s rural north.
G2. Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2 / 4
Although the legal framework protects property rights and private business activity, it is difficult in practice to register property, enforce contracts, and obtain credit. Poor record keeping and corruption contribute to inconsistent enforcement of property rights.
In July 2018, the authorities moved to demolish about 35 homes near President Moïse’s residence, reportedly acting without warning and stating that the homes presented a security threat. Several homes were destroyed, but the demolitions were stalled after residents protested and civil society organizations denounced the action.
G3. Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2 / 4
Basic freedoms related to marriage, divorce, and custody are generally respected. However, there are no laws addressing domestic violence, which is a widespread problem. Both domestic violence and rape are underreported and rarely result in successful prosecutions, with justice officials often favoring reconciliation or other forms of settlement.
G4. Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 0 / 4
Socioeconomic mobility is obstructed by entrenched poverty, with low national literacy rates and nearly 60 percent of Haitians living on two dollars a day or less. Legal protections against exploitative working conditions in formal employment are weakly enforced, and most workers are informally employed. As many as 300,000 children work as domestic servants, often without pay or access to education, and they are especially vulnerable to physical or sexual abuse. Other forms of child labor are common.