The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has concluded a visit to the Republic of Haiti at the invitation of the government of that country. This visit took place between September 1 and 3, 2004. The delegation was composed of Commissioner Clare K. Roberts, First Vice-President and Rapporteur for Haiti; Brian Tittemore, Senior Human Rights Specialist, Bernard Duhaime, OAS Associate Staff Member and Professor of Law at the University of Quebec at Montreal; Candis Hamilton, IACHR Consulting Attorney; and Julie Santelices, Administrative Assistant.

This visit was the Commission´s first since the armed violence in Haiti in early 2004 which led to the departure of former President Aristide and the installation of the current transitional government. Accordingly, in the course of its visit, the Commission attempted to obtain information concerning the status of human rights protections in Haiti in the aftermath of these events.

Based upon the information gathered, the Commission remains concerned over several key areas in which the basic rights and freedoms of Haitians remain weak and imperiled. At the same time, the Commission is hopeful that the present government will use this opportunity, in cooperation with the international community, to break away from the difficulties of the past and move Haiti toward a future in which the rule of law, democracy and respect for human rights are fully realized.

During the visit, the Commission met with representatives of the Haitian transitional government and members of civil society as well as international organizations. The Commission met with the President of the Republic, Mr. Boniface Alexander; the Prime Minister, Mr. Gérard Latortue; the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship, Mr. Yvon Siméon; the Minister of Justice and Public Security, Mr. Bernard Gousse; the Minister of the Interior, Mr. Hérard Abraham; the Minister of Women´s Affairs, Mrs. Adeline Magloire Chancy; the Director General of the National Police in Haiti, Mr. Leon Charles; and the Ombudsman of Haiti, Mr. Necker Dessables. The Commission also held discussions with representatives of different sectors of civil society, including a significant number of nongovernmental organizations with diverse views and associations of judges, lawyers and magistrates. In addition, the Commission met with the Head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), Ambassador Juan Gabriel Valdes, and other officials of MINUSTAH and the UN High Commission for Human Rights. Further, the Commission conducted a training seminar on the inter-American human rights system with officials and functionaries from various government ministries and agencies.

The Commission is particularly concerned regarding the security situation in Haiti, where armed groups appear to control security in significant areas of the country and where the State is not providing effective protection to the people living in those regions. The Commission emphasizes the State?s obligation to guarantee the safety of its population and to ensure their right to judicial protection, and calls upon the Haitian State to, in collaboration with the international community, take the urgent steps necessary to disarm these groups and ensure the security of the people.

Another major concern relates to weaknesses in the administration of justice in Haiti, some of which pre-date the present transitional government, as well as the ongoing problem of impunity. Deficiencies in the judicial system continue to include a severe shortage of resources for judges, magistrates, courts and the police as well as prevalent due process violations such as the prolonged detention of individuals without being brought before a judge. The Commission heard during the visit that the police force is comprised of only approximately 3,000 members, for a total population of over 8 million. At the same time, the Commission was informed that the government has developed a plan for recruiting and training additional members in the short and the long term. Similarly, information provided to the Commission indicated that members of the judiciary had received increases in their salaries, and that although the increases may still be insufficient, these measures constituted a first step in efforts to improve the administration of justice in the country.

Objections have been raised before the Commission regarding the treatment of specific individuals within the State?s judicial system, including the recent trial of former members of a paramilitary group and the police for the murder of Antoine Izméry and the arrest and detention of former ministers of the previous government including Yvon Neptune and Jocelerme Privert. During its visit, the Commission had an opportunity to meet these former ministers at the national penitentiary and to verify their condition. In respect of these and similar matters, the Commission wishes to reiterate the concerns expressed in its previous press release No. 17/04 respecting the State?s obligation to end impunity for all human rights abuses through demonstrably fair and effective procedures that conform with international standards, as well as the corresponding right of all persons to due process of law and to be heard by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal, without discrimination of any kind.

In addition, the Commission received information and reports alleging acts of violence against individuals based upon their affiliation, or perceived affiliation, with the former President and his political party. The Commission was also informed of acts of violence allegedly attributable to the supporters of the former government, including a recent incident in which the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of France was attacked while visiting a hospital in Cité Soleil. The Commission condemns incidents of this nature and emphasizes the State?s obligation to investigate allegations of such violence and, where substantiated, prosecute and punish those responsible.

The Commission also expresses its grave concern regarding reports of human rights violations perpetrated against members of particular groups, including women, children and human rights defenders. According to information received, the rape of women and girls committed by armed groups and bandits, among others, remains a serious problem in Haitian society. It is also alleged that children have been the victims of child labor, kidnappings, and the violence perpetrated by armed groups. The Commission reiterates the need for the State to take concrete steps to prevent conduct of this nature, including the effective investigation and prosecution of complaints of such acts. In connection with these issues, the Ministry of Women?s Affairs informed the Commission of its efforts to encourage law reform initiatives relevant to needs of women, including proposals to render rape a crime under Haitian law and efforts to develop women?s groups throughout the regions in Haiti.

The Commission has once again taken note that fundamental problems such as extreme poverty, high illiteracy and malnutrition continue to deprive Haitians of fundamental economic, social and cultural rights and at the same time exacerbate the consequences resulting from denials of basic civil and political rights. The Commission recognizes that this presents a formidable challenge to the Haitian State and urges the government, in cooperation with all sectors of society and with the support of the international community, to design and implement a plan for development that will address the fundamental economic and social needs of each Haitian citizen.

Finally, while the Commission considers that Haiti continues to face many serious problems concerning the protection of human rights, it has also come away from its visit with a sense of hope for the Haitian population. In their meetings with the Commission, the representatives of the transitional government expressed a strong commitment to making human rights protection a central component of their work. As one example, the Prime Minister indicated to the Commission that he was committed to discontinuing the practice by which some former Haitian government officials may be prevented from leaving the country without permission. The Commission looks forward to further dialogue with the government on this and other efforts to advance human rights protection.

The Commission also emphasizes the importance of the elections to be held in Haiti, planned for 2005, which provide an opportunity to establish greater stability for the future of the country. In this and all other challenges currently facing Haiti and its people, the Commission calls upon the international community to provide Haiti with the support and assistance necessary to break away from the difficulties of the past and move Haiti toward a future in which the rule of law, democracy and respect for human rights can be fully realized.

The Commission wishes to express its appreciation to the Government and people of Haiti for the cooperation, facilities and hospitality provided in the course of the Commission?s visit, to the OAS Special Mission for its crucial assistance in organizing and executing the visit, and to the nongovernmental organizations, civil society institutions, and international organizations concerned for their valuable participation in the Commission?s activities

Washington, D.C., September 7, 2004

Originally: OAS rights team to visit Haiti.

OAS rights team to visit Haiti

The Haitian legal system will be under intense scrutiny this week as a high-level human rights delegation arrives for a three-day visit.

WASHINGTON – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has dispatched a fact-finding team to Haiti amid concerns that the government was more willing to prosecute officials of deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s administration than the rebel leaders who ousted him, officials said Tuesday.

The delegation arrived Tuesday, just a day after a gang fired gunshots at top French officials visiting a hospital in a pro-Aristide Port-au-Prince slum. The incident served as a reminder of the chronic instability affecting the impoverished Caribbean nation.

Aristide left the country on Feb. 29 after a violent revolt left more than 200 dead.

The five-member IACHR delegation, headed by Commissioner Clare Roberts, plans to meet with top government officials, representatives of civil society including nongovernmental organizations and associations of lawyers and judges, and representatives of the United Nations Stabilization Mission and the U.N. High Commission for Human Rights during its three-day visit.

The mission will ’’observe and receive information concerning the human rights situation in the country,’’ the IACHR said in a statement, and would receive written petitions to investigate rights grievances at its temporary office in the Hotel Montana, in Port-au-Prince.

The IACHR, part of the Organization of American States, seeks to promote the observance of human rights among the OAS’ 34 member-states. The commission can recommend compensation payment to victims or their relatives, or refer a case to the Inter-American Court in San Jose, Costa Rica.

The mission comes just weeks after a controversial Aug. 16 trial that acquitted rebel leader Louis-Jodel Chamblain and former Haitian police official Jackson Joanis of the 1993 assassination of businessman and activist Antoine Izmery.

Human rights groups say the trial was a sign that the government was reluctant to prosecute rebel leaders while moving swiftly against Aristide supporters. ’’We were very, very disappointed,’’ said Joanne Mariner, deputy director of the Americas Division for Human Rights Watch.