Briefing to the Security Council on Haiti
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
New York, 3 April 2019
Distinguished members of the Council,
Thank you for inviting me to update you on the human rights situation in Haiti. It is an opportunity to mark the progress made on human rights to date and also to highlight how the Security Council can continue supporting Haiti’s commitments to human rights and prevention.
Haiti today is a very different country from what it was in 2004, when United Nations peacekeeping troops were deployed. Yet, while the scale of human rights violations recorded then does not compare with the current situation, serious structural challenges persist.
Social grievances, corruption and weak institutions constitute major obstacles for the realization of human rights in Haiti. With about 59 per cent of the population estimated to live below the poverty line, the country remains the poorest in the Americas, and faces considerable economic and social difficulties, including limited employment opportunities, particularly for the youth. Basic services such as health care, water, electricity, and education are out of the reach of many. This is exacerbated by Haiti’s vulnerability to natural disasters, with every earthquake and hurricane further impeding development and intensifying the already precarious living conditions of many.
Poverty creates a fertile environment for criminal activity to thrive, especially in the most underprivileged areas of the capital, where heavily armed gangs take advantage of the limited presence of the State. Competition between rival gangs has resulted in deaths, sexual violence against women and girls, and destruction and looting of houses. As tensions continue, protection of the population must be addressed urgently, including by law enforcement entities.
These long-standing issues have contributed to triggering increasingly violent unrest across Haiti since last July. Since July 2018, at least 60 people have been killed, including members of the Haitian National Police, and many more were injured. From 7 to 15 February 2019, the longest and most violent protest in years almost entirely paralyzed the country.
Hospitals and conditions in prisons were affected by the unrest, with food, water and medicine less accessible.
While verification during and after the protests showed that some members of the Haitian National Police were the authors of human rights violations, overall the Police demonstrated a greater adherence to human rights norms compared to previous protests.
The Haitian authorities responded by announcing measures to curb high prices, raise wages, attack corruption and act on the PetroCaribe case. We support and commend these important efforts. In addition, ensuring accountability for violence while fostering a constructive and inclusive dialogue among the different actors of the Haitian society will also be essential to stability and sustainable development.
Despite significant improvements in the professionalism of the Haitian National Police, incidents of serious human rights violations, including cases of summary executions, continue to be reported, with limited accountability. The National Police conducts administrative investigations into the majority of allegations; yet judicial proceedings are rarely initiated against the alleged perpetrators. In 2018, only 12 per cent of cases of confirmed human rights violations were prosecuted, and no judicial measures were taken in the most emblematic cases.
Perpetrators are consequently emboldened and silenced victims may develop grievances.
The weakness of the judicial system also has a negative impact on the penitentiary system. Over 75 percent of inmates are estimated to be in pre-trial detention - on average for 1,100 days - well over the limit set by national law. Prolonged pre-trial detention contributes to extreme overcrowding and practices amounting to degrading and inhumane treatment. Prisons lack basic sanitary conditions and few detainees have access to legal counsel.
Accountability should be considered as an effective measure to build trust in institutions. Strengthening the bedrock of rule of law is a means to preventing further human rights violations and enabling sustainable peace.
The Minister delegate for human rights and the fight against extreme poverty – appointed in September 2018 - shall contribute to re-energizing the Government’s engagement on human rights, and to restarting key actions that had been pending since 2014. I encourage the Haitian authorities to seize the opportunity of this important appointment to ensure that the needed leadership be provided to the Inter-Ministerial Committee for Human Rights. This Committee has recently made strides towards the development of a national action plan on human rights. I encourage authorities to bring this to fruition to offer a comprehensive and realistic road map to strengthening human rights in Haiti.
Haiti’s national human rights institution – the Office of the Ombudsperson – has been acknowledged since 2013 as independent and functional, reflecting the highest status of compliance with the Paris Principles endorsed by the General Assembly. I welcome the significant increase of the Ombudsperson’s budget, recently announced by the Executive, and the efforts of the Ombudsperson to consolidate its presence across Haiti.
I am encouraged by the engagement of civil society for the promotion and protection of human rights and in accompanying victims of human rights violations. Yet, it has not been able to fully assume a monitoring and advocacy role. Some civil society organizations continue to be targeted by acts of intimidation. I encourage all stakeholders to work together to strengthen the human rights protection system.
Haiti’s return to constitutional order, following presidential, legislative and local elections in 2017, was a significant achievement. Today, as Haiti stands at the crossroads between peacekeeping and development, we must recognize the progress accomplished. We must also continue building on it, or risk losing it. I encourage this Council to provide the people of Haiti with the necessary support to strengthen institutions, fight against impunity, and promote and protect human rights as a foundation to stability and development.
My Office intends to pursue its work in Haiti through a possible follow-on United Nations mission and eventually, something we are working with the Government, a stand-alone presence, with the support of the Security Council and Member States. We want to remain engaged and to support Haiti’s commitment to achieving democratic and economic development so that the rights of all people in Haiti are upheld.
I thank you, and I look forward to the discussion.