Human rights in Haiti
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According to its Constitution and written laws, Haiti meets most international human rights standards. In practice, many provisions are not respected. The government’s human rights record is poor. Political killings, kidnapping, torture, and unlawful incarceration are common unofficial practices, especially during periods of coups or attempted coups.
The land that would become Haiti was first colonized by Spain at the end of the 15th century. The Spanish essentially wiped out the native Taíno people through slavery and diseases, such as smallpox, to which the Taíno had no immunity. An early defender of more humane treatment of the Taíno was the Spanish priest Bartolomé de Las Casas. Albeit too late to save the Taíno, Las Casas was able to persuade the Spanish government that the Taíno could not withstand such cruel treatment. This had the tragic side effect of the importation of African slaves to replace the labor of the diminishing Taíno.
Initially, Las Casas believed Africans to be suitable for slavery, but he later came to oppose their enslavement too. "I soon repented and judged myself guilty of ignorance. I came to realize that black slavery was as unjust as Indian slavery...and I was not sure that my ignorance and good faith would secure me in the eyes of God," Las Casas wrote in The History of the Indies in 1527.
In 1697, Spain formally ceded to France control of the part of the island of Hispaniola that would become Haiti, naming it Saint-Domingue. Slavery in Saint-Domingue, France’s most lucrative colony, was known to be especially brutal, with a complete turnover of the slave population due to death every 20 years. According to the historian Laurent Dubois, between 5 and 10 percent of slaves died every year due to overwork and disease, a rate that outpaced births. The dead were replaced by new slaves from Africa.
In 1791, what would become known as the Haitian Revolution began. Predominantly a slave revolt, Haitians finally won their freedom and independence from France in 1804.
In 1825, France’s King Charles X threatened to invade Haiti unless it paid an “independence debt” of 150 million francs to reimburse France for the loss of its slaves and land. The debt was later reduced to 90 million francs but it was not until 1947 that Haiti had paid off what many have regarded as an immoral and illegal debt. To pay this, Haiti had to borrow money from and pay interest to French banks.
“We’re talking about 200 hundred years of this cycle of debt that Haiti has gone through, which of course has devastating consequences on the capacity of the state within the country,” Haiti historian Laurent Dubois has said.
The country’s poverty made it vulnerable throughout its history to political instability and human rights abuses both by Haitian state officials and foreign interventions.
In 1915, following a coup that led to the mob killing of Haitian President Vibrun Guillaume Sam, United States sailors and marines landed in order to protect U.S. interests in the country. The occupation would last until 1934. “Following restoration of order, a treaty providing for United States control over Haitian finances, customs, police, public works, sanitation, and medical services were concluded with the client Haitian government,” according to the Navy Department Library.
In 1916, the U.S. military started a Haitian army that would later become the Garde d’Haiti. Beginning with the Caco Wars, during the US occupation, and continuing until the 1990s, the Haitian army was implicated in a number of human rights abuses against the Haitian people. For example, following a 1991 coup by the military that overthrew democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the Haitian army was accused of killing an estimated 3,000 people in three years. Upon his return to the presidency, Aristide disbanded the army.
In 1957, François Duvalier, also known as "Papa Doc", became president of Haiti, ushering in a period of human rights abuses from which the country is still recovering. An estimated 30,000-60,000 people were killed in the 30 years Haiti was under the rule of Duvalier and his son—and successor-- Jean-Claude Duvalier, also known as "Baby Doc."
In 1959, François Duvalier formed a paramilitary force known as the Tonton Macoute, named after a mythic Haitian character who kidnapped misbehaving children, carried them off in a bag and ate them for breakfast. Duvalier authorized more than 10,000 Tonton Macoute, organized in 500 sections across the country, to maintain complete control over the population. "The macoutes were Papa Doc's version of brownshirts and the Waffen SS, except that their usual uniform was blue jeans, T-shirts, sunglasses, and they carried clubs or pistols," wrote journalist and author Herbert Gold in Best Nightmare on Earth: A Life in Haiti. "They were loyal only to Papa Doc. In return, they could rob, steal, extort, torture and murder at will." 
The Tonton Macoute continued to openly terrorize the population until they were officially disbanded after Jean-Claude Duvalier was forced from the presidency and went into exile in 1986.
Law and order
The government in Haiti is known for running a slow, inefficient and corrupt system of justice. Allegations of torture and kidnapping are common whereas the number of Haitian citizens imprisoned without trial is huge.
Lawyers' immunity is under constant threat. Under the Duvalier regime, lawyers were intimidated from defending their clients through pressure and violence. Courts of justice were in effect "run by the judges, appointed by the "President for Life" (the Duvaliers), who lacked the independence to make judgments about abuses against human rights." To this day, there is still no guarantee for lawyers' immunity in Haiti, as would seem to be suggested by the 2009 unconstitutional arrest without warrant of human-rights defender, Osner Fevry and the arrest in 2013 of Andre Michel, a lawyer critical of the government.
Prolonged pretrial detention
Although the Constitution mandates an independent judiciary and the right to a fair trial, prolonged pretrial detention remains a serious problem. Because the court system and its records are poorly organized, it is impossible to determine the exact percentage of prisoners being held without trial. A study by the International Centre for Prison Studies, in partnership with the University of Essex, estimated that in 2013 nearly 71 percent of 9,921 prisoners in Haiti had not had a trial yet. According to the Centre, the majority of countries in the world have percentages ranging between 10 and 40 percent of such prisoners and Haiti's estimated 71 percent is one of the highest in the world.
Freedom of expression
The Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the press, and the government generally has respected these rights. Many journalists, however, practice a measure of self-censorship in order to protect themselves from retribution. During the second Aristide administration (2000−4), some reports contend that members of the press were killed for supporting opposition movements.
The government does not censor radio, television, or the Internet. Because demonstrations often turn violent, security forces frequently have ignored the constitutionally mandated right to assembly and organization. The Haitian government generally has respected religious freedom in the country.
Gender, disability, race and language
Haiti’s Constitution does not contain specific language prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, sex, language, age, or disability. Although some working standards exist to protect women, few resources exist to ensure enforcement. Abuses against women and children are common. Rape, although illegal, rarely results in prosecution of the perpetrator. Haitian law (article 269) excuses a husband for murdering his wife if the wife is found in an adulterous affair. Wives do not enjoy the same right.
The Haitian government contains a Ministry of Women’s Affairs, but it also lacks the resources to address issues such as violence against women and harassment in the workplace.
In addition to suffering from chronic malnourishment and a lack of educational opportunity, many Haitian children also suffer physical abuse. In 2004 the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs reported that its hotline received more than 700 calls from children reporting abuse. Few statistics regarding the wider problem of child abuse have been collected. Trafficking of children also is a significant problem. UNICEF estimates that 2,000 to 3,000 Haitian children per year are trafficked to the Dominican Republic.
- This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/., specifically from the Haiti section.
- "The History of Father Bartolomé de las Casas". Colonial Zone-Dominican Republic. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
- U.S. Library of Congress. "History of Haiti". Nations Online Project. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
- Dubois, Laurent (January 2012). Haiti: The Aftershocks of History (First ed.). New York: Henry Holt and Company. p. 21. ISBN 978-0-8050-9335-3. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
- MacDonald, Isabel (16 August 2010). "France's Debt of Dishonour to Haiti". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
- Dubois, Laurent (22 February 2013). "The Haitian Revolution (video)". YouTube. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
- "US Occupation of Haiti, 1915-1934". U.S. Navy Department Library. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
- Nielsen, Kirk (11 December 1995). "As Haiti Disbands Army, Soldiers Are Retooled for Scarce Civilian Jobs". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 14 July 2014.
- Dubois, Laurent (2012). Haiti: The Aftershocks of History (First ed.). Henry Holt and Company, LLC. p. 326. ISBN 978-0-8050-9335-3. Retrieved July 22, 2014.
- "The Tonton Macoutes: the Central Nervous System of Haiti's Reign of Terror". Council on Hemispheric Affairs. March 11, 2010. Retrieved July 22, 2014.
- Hallward, Peter (2007). Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment (First ed.). London: Verso. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-84467-106-9. Retrieved July 22, 2014.
- Gold, Herbert (1991). Best Nightmare on Earth: A Life in Haiti (First ed.). New York: Prentice Hall Press. pp. 125–126. ISBN 0-13-372327-5.
- "Entry on 'Haiti' ", p.652, Encyclopedia of Human Rights, by Edward H. Lawson, Mary Lou Bertucci, Laurie S. Wiseberg. 2nd Edition (revised), Taylor and Francis, 1996, ISBN 1-56032-362-0, ISBN 978-1-56032-362-4.
- "L'avocat Osner Févry, incarcéré sur ordre du chef du Parquet", Radio Metropole, 23 May 2009. Retrieved 12 June 2009.
- Charles, Jacqueline (23 October 2013). "Arrest of Haiti government critic triggers protests". Miami Herald. Retrieved 11 July 2014.
- "Haiti country report". International Centre for Prison Studies (ICPS). Retrieved 9 July 2014.
- "Close to three million people in pre-trial detention worldwide, new report shows". International Centre for Prison Studies (ICPS). 18 June 2014. Retrieved 9 July 2014.
- "Frequently Asked Questions About 'Honour Killing' ", Violence is not our culture. Retrieved 15 July 2014.