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a1067: State Department - Country Reports on Human Rights Practices Part III (fwd)
From: Stanley Lucas <email@example.com>
d. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution provides for these rights, and the Government generally respects them in practice.
An unknown number of undocumented migrants put to sea during the year seeking better economic opportunities in other countries. The Government's National Migration Office (ONM) is responsible for assisting citizens repatriated from other countries, including the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, Cuba, and the United States. In 2000 the ONM stopped meeting, processing, and providing humanitarian services to involuntarily repatriated migrants. However, in June ONM again began to meet and process repatriated citizens. It infrequently gives small sums of money to the repatriated migrants to fund their transportation home. According to the International Organization for Migration, the Dominican Republic deports approximately 500 Haitians each month across the border. In December the Dominican Republic's Directorate of Migration reported that 9,047 Haitians were repatriated during the year; however, the armed forces of the Dominican Republic carried out massive repatriations at the beginning of the year and claimed to have repatriated approximately 12,000 Haitians per month in the first 3 months of the year. These figures of claimed repatriations were significantly lower than similar claims made in 2000. There continued to be reliable reports of separation of families and maltreatment of Haitians by Dominican soldiers during the year. There were no credible reports of mistreatment of migrants repatriated to Haiti from other countries, including the U.S.
The law provides for the granting of asylum and/or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. On May 31, 12 Cuban refugees arrived at the northern city of Cap-Haitien. They were escorted to the local fire station and were aided by government authorities. Although they verbally claimed asylum, they left for the Dominican Republic on June 11. The question of provision of first asylum did not arise. There were no reports of the forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully. In practice the political system remains in transition from a dictatorial system to a more open and competitive one. The dominant FL political party manipulated legislative and exaggerated electoral participation in the presidential elections of 2000. The FL controls all government power, including the presidential, legislative, and judicial branches. Most local and regional elected leaders are members of the FL.
In May 2000, a first round of long overdue senatorial, legislative, and municipal elections to fill vacant posts took place after repeated postponements. There were scattered acts of violence in the months leading up to the election.
Under the Constitution and electoral law, a candidate for the Senate or Chamber of Deputies must receive an absolute majority of votes cast in order to be elected in the first round of voting. If no candidate receives a majority, a second round runoff is required. The Senate results published by the CEP announced that the ruling FL party won 16 of the 17 Senate seats in the first round. These results were based on what opposition parties and independent observers termed a flawed interpretation of both the Constitution and the electoral law.
Observers described these elections as generally free and fair despite some scattered irregularities. However, the CEP manipulated the results by its choice of a methodology in calculating the percentages for the determination of Senate seats, the faulty transmission of results, and the arbitrary treatment of challenges that affected the results of several races. A December 2000 OAS report also described significant candidate intimidation and theft of ballots. Because the Government refused to correct these manipulations, a political standoff between the FL and the opposition ensured. Opposition parties boycotted a second round of legislative elections in July 2000 (which included no senatorial seats) and the second round November 2000 presidential elections. Despite local and international calls not to seat the Parliament before resolution of the election controversy, in August 2000, Parliament was sworn in formally.
Violence again escalated prior to the November 2000 presidential elections, which took place amidst heavy police security and were characterized by low turnout--credible accounts varied from 5 percent to 20 percent. With the opposition boycott, former President Aristide faced only token opposition and was elected to a 5-year term with a reported 91.5 percent of the votes cast.
The political stalemate over the legislative elections continued throughout the year. A number of the largest opposition parties, including the Espace de Concertation, OPL, and MOCHRENA, formed an umbrella group following the 2000 legislative elections--the Democratic Convergence. The Convergence has attempted to present a unified opposition front in response to the controversial legislative and presidential elections of 2000. The Government and the Democratic Convergence have conducted intermittent negotiations under the aegis of the OAS, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and local civil society groups.
On February 6, the Convergence named respected lawyer Gerard Gourgue as provisional president of their "alternative government." Gourgue called the act "symbolic," designed to protest the Government's refusal to amend the results of the May and November 2000 elections. Convergence supporters demonstrated in Petit-Goave and Gonaive. Despite high tensions and scattered violence, police successfully patrolled the streets.
On February 7, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was inaugurated as President. Notwithstanding the previous year's electoral controversy, the inauguration marked the first time in the country's history that a full-term president peacefully transferred power to an incoming president.
>From March 17-21, pro-FL members demonstrated in the streets of Port-au-Prince, demanding that the Government arrest Gerard Gourgue. The bulk of their anger was directed at the opposition's headquarters in Port-au-Prince. The militants burned tires, threw rocks at the opposition headquarters, and closed streets to protest the Convergence's perceived intransigence and their proclamation of an "alternative government." On March 19, the opposition and the demonstrators exchanged gunfire in front of the headquarters. In the ensuing melee, a pro-FL demonstrator was killed and several opposition members were beaten severely. Demonstrators destroyed property and threatened several opposition leaders. During the 5 days of riots, the police were largely absent. Pro-FL militants arrived in government-owned vehicles and appeared well-organized, giving rise to the general perception that the Government organized the riots.
On March 26, five opposition supporters were shot and wounded following a peaceful Convergence demonstration in the town of Petit-Goave. Local journalists said the FL Petit-Goave mayor and his security force were responsible for the wounding of the five opposition members. There was no investigation nor were there any arrests in the case.
A period of frequent negotiations, mediated by the OAS, CARICOM, and local civil society groups, occurred between April and July. Fanmi Lavalas and the Convergence discussed the possible makeup of a new CEP, a timetable for new elections, security for political parties, and other confidence-building measures. Although much progress was made, including substantial concessions from both sides, the negotiations were suspended in mid-July without a final agreement.
On July 28, unknown gunmen attacked police stations in Port-au-Prince and the provinces. A subsequent crackdown by the authorities further increased tensions between Lavalas and Convergence (see Section 1.a.).
In November police in Jacmel and Gonaives barred demonstrations by the Democratic Convergence; pro-Government marches were allowed (see Section 2.b.).
On November 15, schools and businesses in Cap-Haitien were closed after 1 night of rioting. Opposition and government popular organizations clashed over plans by the opposition to hold a 2-day strike. There were no reports of injuries.
Increasingly, affiliation with the FL is considered necessary for employment by the Government, and political patronage is widespread. Pro-FL popular organizations throughout the country occasionally have criticized the Government for not giving them more jobs. It is common for political appointees to use their positions for personal enrichment.
There are no legal impediments to women's participation in politics or government; however, the percentage of women in government and politics does not correspond to their percentage in the population. The Election Law provides that the monetary deposit required of female candidates for political office is one-half that required of male candidates if a recognized party sponsors them. Three of the 82 deputies are women, and there are 6 women among the 27 senators. Three of the 16 ministers in the Government are women.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Domestic and international human rights groups generally operate without government restrictions; however, threats and intimidation from unknown sources continued to increase during the year. The number of groups that monitor human rights has grown, as has the scope of those groups; however, most monitoring groups are hampered by a lack of resources. Human rights organizations increasingly turn to issues that they have not addressed before, including prison conditions, the widespread lack of health facilities, and impunity for criminals. Local officials often attempt to control domestic human rights groups, as well as other local NGO's. Especially in the Les Cayes region and in the Central Plateau, NGO's often are harassed, refused permits to assemble, and threatened by local officials and their supporters (see Sections 1.a., 2.b., and 3).
At the national level, human rights organizations have been active and effective in monitoring alleged violations. Subsequent to a number of arrests and detentions following the July 28 attacks, human rights organizations, including the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations, the NCHR, the Lawyers' Committee for the Respect of Individual Rights (CARLI), and the National Episcopal Commission on Justice and Peace, made frequent media appearances and published the first objective report on the attacks (see Sections 1.a. and 1.d.). They were instrumental in the subsequent release of all those detained after the attacks.
The NCHR, CARLI, and the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations met with the Justice Minister several times to discuss ongoing human rights problems, including the Jean Dominique murder investigation (see Section 1.a.).
There were no arrests or progress made in the September 2000 torture and killing of Amos Jeannot, an employee of the local NGO Fonkoze. There were no arrests or progress made in the investigation of the 1999 attempted killing of human rights activist Pierre Esperance, NCHR country director. In both cases, the HNP's investigations remain open but by all accounts are inactive.
Organizations such as the NCHR, the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations, the Human Rights Fund, and the Ecumenical Center for Human Rights reported receiving repeated threats, most of them anonymous.
The Office of the Protector of Citizens (OPC), an ombudsman-like office provided for by the Constitution, reported receiving an increase in complaints of abuse at all levels of the Government. The OPC is tasked with investigating and reporting on the complaints on the relevant government agencies or ministries; however, the Government generally does not respond. Local human rights organizations report that the OPC does not play an active role in following up on human rights complaints, and they do not view the office as an advocate or an interlocutor with the Government. The OPC conducted a number of training seminars throughout the year, including seminars in schools and at the local and county levels of government. In June Dr. Louis Roy, the Director of the OPC, resigned, and the Deputy Director, Florence Elie, became the acting director. The OPC still has budgetary problems.
The Parliament's Justice and Human Rights Committee, created in 2000, did not have a high profile and focused largely on judicial issues during the year.
A U.N. mission, the International Civilian Mission for Support in Haiti (MICAH), ended its mandate on February 6. MICAH's mandate under the human rights pillar was limited to training in human rights and to strengthening the institutional capacity of the OPC. It did not conduct human rights monitoring.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The Constitution does not specifically prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, religion, disability, language, or social status. It does provide for equal working conditions regardless of sex, beliefs, or marital status. However, there is no effective governmental mechanism to administer or enforce these provisions.
The law provides penalties for rape and domestic violence; however, the Government does not enforce these provisions adequately. According to women's rights groups, rape and other abuse of women is common, both within and outside marriage. A 1998 study by the Haitian Center for Research and Action for the Promotion of Women documented widespread rape and violence against women. The report also found that many women do not report these forms of abuse due to fear, shame, or lack of confidence in judicial remedies. A 1999 survey by UNICEF of violence against women found that 37 percent of women reported they were victims of sexual violence or reported knowing a woman who had been; another 33 percent reported being victims of other types of physical abuse. The law excuses a husband if he murders his wife or her partner upon catching them in the act of adultery in his home. A wife who kills her husband under similar circumstances is not excused. The Criminal Code dates back to 1832 and many parts of it have not been updated. There are no government-sponsored programs for victims of violence.
The law does not prohibit specifically sexual harassment, although the Labor Code simply states that men and women have the same rights and obligations. Sexual harassment of female workers is a problem, especially in the assembly sector (see Section 6.b.).
The Constitution states that all citizens are equal before the law; however, women do not enjoy the same social and economic status as men. In some social strata, tradition limits women's roles. Peasant women, often the breadwinners for their families, remain largely in the traditional occupations of farming, marketing, and domestic labor. Very poor urban women, who head their families and serve as their economic support, also often find their employment opportunities limited to traditional roles in domestic labor and sales. Laws governing child support recognize the widespread practice of multiple-father families but rarely are enforced. Female employees in private industry or service jobs, including government jobs, seldom are promoted to supervisory positions. However, well-educated women have occupied prominent positions in both the private and public sector in the past several years.
The Ministry of Women's Affairs is charged with promoting and defending the rights of women and ensuring that they attain an equal status in society, but it has few resources at its disposal and was able to accomplish little in this regard.
Women's rights groups are small, localized, and receive little publicity.
Government health care and education programs for children are inadequate. Malnutrition is a problem. Approximately 22 percent of children under 5 years old are chronically malnourished. The Government has a school nutrition program administered through the Office of National Development, with food provided by foreign donors; health clinics and dispensaries have begun to distribute donated food to children.
The Constitution and the law provide for free and compulsory primary education; however, in practice access to public schools is the primary obstacle to most rural families. Even in public schools there are nominal mandatory fees associated with sending a child to school (uniform, books, etc.), and these costs are beyond the means of many rural families. Schools are dilapidated and understaffed. An estimated 90 percent of schools are private, and the costs of school fees, books, materials, and uniforms are prohibitive for most families. According to the Government, 40 percent of children never attend school, and less than 15 percent of those who do graduate from secondary school. The Ministry of Education estimated primary school enrollment at 65 percent. Poorer families sometimes ration education money to pay school fees only for male children.
In early September, President Aristide launched "Project Alpha," a nationwide campaign to increase the level of literacy.
Child abuse is a problem. Radio commercials urge parents not to abuse their children physically or mentally. In early September, Parliament passed a law banning corporal punishment against children. The law ordered all schools to post clearly their policies on disciplinary measures. It also called for the establishment of a commission to determine what disciplinary measures would be appropriate for schools to take.
Rural families continued to send young children to more affluent city dwellers to serve as unpaid domestic labor in a practice called "restavek" (which means "lives with" in Creole); families of these children frequently received financial compensation (see Sections 6.d. and 6.f.). Most local human rights groups do not report on the plight of restavek children as an abuse nor seek to improve their situation. The Ministry of Social Affairs believes that it can do little to stop this practice, regarding it as economically motivated; the Ministry assigned five monitors to oversee the welfare of restavek children. Society holds such children in little regard, and the poor state of the economy worsened their situation.
Port-au-Prince's large population of street children includes many restaveks who have been sent out of employers' homes or who are runaways. There is some anecdotal information indicating that children are involved in prostitution or being trafficked (see Section 6.f.). The Ministry of Social Affairs provides some assistance to street children. In 1998-1999 (last available data), they assisted 887 children. The Haitian Coalition for the Defense of the Rights of the Child (COHADDE) promotes children's rights by conducting awareness raising activities.
Several international and local NGO's work on children's issues.
Persons with Disabilities
The Constitution provides that persons with disabilities shall have the means to ensure their autonomy, education, and independence. However, there is no legislation to implement these constitutional provisions or to mandate provision of access to buildings for persons with disabilities. Although they do not face overt mistreatment, given the severe poverty in which most citizens live, those with disabilities face a particularly harsh existence. Disabled beggars are common on the streets of Port-au-Prince and other towns.
Approximately 99 percent of Haitians are descendants, in whole or in part, of African slaves who won a war of independence from France in 1804. The remaining population is of European, Middle Eastern, North American, or Latin American origin. The law makes no distinction based on race. Longstanding social and political animosities often are tied to cultural identification, skin color, and overlapping issues of class in this starkly inegalitarian society. Some of these animosities date back to before the country's revolutionary period.
Racial distinctions tend to parallel social and economic strata. Mulattos generally belong to the wealthiest classes of society. Mulattos historically have been targets of sporadic attack in many cases because they are perceived to be wealthy.
The Government recognizes two official languages: Creole, which is spoken by virtually all Haitians; and French, which is spoken by approximately 20 percent of the population, including the economic elite. The inability to communicate in French long has limited the political and economic opportunities available to the majority of the population. The Government prepares most documents only in French. Creole is used in parliamentary debate in the Lower House of Parliament. However, language remains a significant barrier to full access to the judicial system (see Section 1.e.).