Port-au-Prince, 5 July 2011
Good afternoon. Thank you for attending this press briefing. I would like to thank the Haitian authorities for their warm welcome and for the cooperation extended during my first visit to this beautiful and hospitable country. Over the past three days I have held discussions with President Martelly, the President of the lower Chamber and other key members of Parliament, the Protectrice du Citoyen, human rights defenders and civil society organisations. I have also held meetings with the new Special Representative of the Secretary General, Mariano Fernandez, other UN colleagues, and with the diplomatic corps. I thank all of my interlocutors for their frank views and open discussions on the situation of human rights in Haiti. I now have a much better picture of the challenges faced by Haitians in their everyday lives.
The President has recently taken office. I was greatly heartened by the deep commitment of President Martelly to realising the fundamental rights of the Haitian people, including economic and social rights, such as education, health and adequate housing, as conveyed during our very fruitful meeting. The President’s strong and sustained leadership on human rights is central to addressing systemic failings of the rule of law and providing solid progress on economic development and reconstruction efforts.
Eighteen months after the January 2010 earthquake, the massive destruction that has affected Port-au-Prince and other cities in Haiti is still very visible.
I commend the efforts of the Haitian government and of the international community to protect the population during the humanitarian crisis that followed the earthquake. These interventions saved many lives, especially among the most vulnerable, including women, children, the elderly and those with disabilities. They provided shelter, food, water and sanitation for persons displaced by the tragedy and who had lost everything, including their loved ones. The humanitarian crisis is not completely over. People still live in precarious conditions in organized or spontaneous tented camps, and are very vulnerable to severe weather, especially hurricanes. When I visited the Corail camp and the Canaan and Jerusalem informal settlements, I heard desperate pleas for water, jobs and economic development.
But the aid effort did not, and indeed could not, address the major deficiencies in Haitians’ access to all their basic rights. We cannot expect the humanitarian response to provide solutions to complex human rights issues that have prevailed in Haiti for such a long time. Nor could it address issues relating to access to justice and protection from violence. Those obstacles predated the earthquake, and still exist today, with the destruction of so many state buildings, and the death of so many officials, further maiming the capacity of the State to fulfil its responsibility to protect human rights.
The realization of economic and social rights is key to long-term stability in Haiti.
I welcome the plans of the new authorities to work together with the international community to advance the sustainable return of the residents of six camps and the reconstruction of their homes, as well as the provision of improved services in their neighbourhoods of origin. But I firmly believe that the initiative needs to form part of a broader plan to increase access to adequate housing in both camps and impoverished neighbourhoods. Only a comprehensive housing plan combined with major job creation can break the cycle of extreme poverty and the failure to realise economic and social rights in which Haiti has been trapped for so many years.
Greater emphasis should be placed on human rights in the context of development and within the reconstruction process. This means using human rights standards to evaluate reconstruction plans and ensuring non-discrimination, transparency and the participation of beneficiaries when taking decisions about reconstruction. And it means addressing the rights of all Haitians, especially the most vulnerable, when designing reconstruction projects.
Several interlocutors raised with me their concern at the cholera epidemic, including concerns that it may have been inadvertently introduced to Haiti by personnel working under the UN. From the voices that I heard many people would like more information about the epidemic, its origins and prevention efforts. This is something of deep concern to me that I will transmit to competent authorities within the UN.
There are serious civil and political rights concerns.
On Sunday, I visited the border area in Ouanaminthe. I heard state agents and civil society partners describing the trafficking of children across the border with the Dominican Republic, in violation of their most fundamental rights, and in total impunity. I welcome the work carried out by national and local authorities, as well as NGOs, to stem the flow of human trafficking. However, there is an urgent need for greater resources to be devoted to the institutions charged with the protection of children, and also for the legal framework to be tightened so that incidents of human trafficking can be investigated and the traffickers held legally responsible. I raised this with parliamentarians and I was encouraged by their determination to put this initiative high on the legislative agenda.
I am concerned about the dire situation of many women in this country and in particular the high levels of violence they endure, including domestic violence and rape. I welcome the existence of a national plan of action to combat domestic violence, and encourage all State entities to collaborate closely and increase their efforts to tackle these endemic and abhorrent practices which cause so much suffering to so many women in Haiti
The Haitian National Police carries the enormous responsibilities of law enforcement. I commend efforts to strengthen the HNP. But I would also draw attention to the vetting process that began in 2007 to evaluate and certify police officers for integrity and respect for human rights. To date, no decisions have been taken on any of the 3,400 files that have been presented to the General Inspectorate. It is time to act.
I welcome the efforts of the judiciary to reduce the very high levels of prolonged preventive detention and encourage further such initiatives. The reforms of the judiciary that were approved four years ago have to be implemented if the judiciary is to gain greater capacity and autonomy. The new President should promptly appoint a president of the Cour de Cassation. There needs to be greater investment in the judiciary, not just in buildings, but in adequate working conditions for its staff. It is imperative that transparent, fair, and timely procedures be established for the selection as well as for the removal of judges.
In January 2010, a week after the earthquake, several inmates were killed in the Les Cayes prison. A joint investigation was carried out, and the resulting report was given to the Prime Minister last September. A number of prison and police officials have been detained following a criminal investigation. However, no trial has been held, leaving victims’ families without justice and accused defendants without a judgement of guilt or innocence. It is high time that a trial is held so that the evidence can be reviewed and responsibilities established.
In Fort Liberté, I visited the prison and holding cells in the police station, where inmates have an average living space of just 0.6 square meters. The crowded and degrading conditions, the very poor sanitary facilities, and insufficient nutrition and access to medical services were shocking. That 60% of inmates have been in pre-trial detention, some for years, is also of serious concern. That minors, some as young as 13 years old, are held in prisons, against provisions in Haitian laws, is unacceptable. I welcome the investment in rebuilding destroyed prisons and building new facilities in order to increase capacity and reduce overcrowding, but it is clear that much more needs to be done to address this violation of human rights.
Impunity for past violations remains a major concern. In January of this year, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, reminded the Haitian authorities of their obligation to investigate the serious human rights violations that took place during the rule of Jean Claude Duvalier, and for which no statute of limitations exists under international law. Today, I reiterate the High Commissioner’s offer of support and technical assistance to the authorities of Haiti and I hope to work with the new authorities in this regard. In addition to the judicial process, I fully support the initiative to establish a Truth Commission. I hope it will thoroughly examine this period of Haitian history as well as others, promote memory and reconciliation, and raise awareness of the need to protect and promote human rights, particularly among young persons.
The Haitian State is responsible for respecting, protecting and realizing human rights in Haiti. It is only through national institutions that solutions to these problems can come. A new government will soon be formed. Together with Parliament and the judiciary, they hold the key to transforming Haiti and fulfilling the aspirations of its people.
Yesterday I met with Florence Elie, the head of Haiti’s national human rights institution. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is supporting the Office de Protection du Citoyen (OPC) in its efforts to become fully independent and effective in its ability to protect and promote the human rights of all Haitians. I was encouraged by her determination in fighting impunity and ensuring accountability for violations of human rights, and I call on all three branches of the state to extend her their full cooperation. In this regard, it is vital that an enabling law is passed by parliament, to ensure the OPC complies fully with the provisions of the Paris Principles.
I would like to refer to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Haiti which will take place on 13 October 2011 in the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The UPR is an international mechanism focusing on supporting national processes. Yesterday, the Haitian Government submitted its report, and we have already received many submissions by Haitian civil society and other stakeholders. The UPR recommendations will assist Haiti formulate a comprehensive national action plan for human rights. The implementation of this plan, which will be fully owned by Haitians, will be key to ensuring the success and sustainability of reconstruction and development efforts. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, together with Haiti’s many UN and other international partners, stands ready to support the authorities in the implementation of these recommendations.
In conclusion, I would like to acknowledge the courage and the resilience of Haitians. I recall the flowers and the crops I saw growing in the small gardens of people living in camps; the rebuilding, and starting of new businesses, and creation of new jobs. The reconstruction effort, and indeed the new construction in places where it never existed before, is a Haitian effort to meet Haiti’s human rights responsibilities. Let me reiterate what I said to President Martelly and the many others with whom I was privileged to meet: the UN and OHCHR are here to support the people of Haiti and their Government and to advocate for the realization of their human rights.