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a1068: State Department - Country Reports on Human Rights Practices Part II (fwd)

From: Stanley Lucas <slucas@iri.org>

Police often carry out an arrest warrant issued by a judge with little or no evidence (see Section 1.f.). Locally elected officials and local HNP increasingly arrested spouses of suspects. Occasionally parents ask a judge to imprison a delinquent child.

Certain police jurisdictions routinely disregarded the requirement that a detainee be brought before a judge within 48 hours of his arrest. Although the 48-hour rule is violated in all parts of the country, it most often and most flagrantly is ignored in Jeremie, Cap Haitien, Petionville, and the Delmas commissariat of Port-au-Prince. Moreover, arrests sometimes are made on charges (for example, sorcery or debt) that have no basis in law. The authorities also detained some persons on unspecified charges or "pending investigation." Local human rights organizations often criticized the Government for arresting persons on charges of "plotting against the security of the state," a charge that they claim is misused for political or personal vendettas.

On July 22, plainclothes officers, subsequently identified as National Palace security police, arrested Dr. Yves Joseph Blondel Auguste, a prominent doctor and hospital director. The police took him to the Palace for questioning and then transferred him to a local detention facility. A number of national human rights organizations criticized the arrest, calling it illegal, arbitrary, and reminiscent of the actions of former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier's secret police. In early July, Auguste had accused Health Minister Henri-Claude Voltaire of corruption. A judge released Auguste on July 26; he was never charged.

Following the July 28 attacks on facilities (see Section 1.a.), the Brigade de Recherche et d'Intervention (BRI) (Research and Intervention Brigade), a special squad of the HNP, arrested seven members of the former military throughout the Port-au-Prince area. At year's end, these detainees had not been charged with any crime, nor had they appeared before judges. In addition, on August 22, police arrested four members of the KID opposition party for allegedly carrying illegal weapons. On September 21, a judge ordered them released. Police and local elected officials illegally arrested a number of persons in the Central Plateau towns of Hinche and Belladere following the July 28 attacks (see Sections 1.a., and 1.c.). They were released at different periods during the 2 months following the attacks. Human rights organizations reported a sharp increase of arbitrary arrests among the general population after the attacks. In addition, on August 22, police arrested four members of the KID opposition party for allegedly carrying illegal weapons.

Police arrested and detained several journalists during the year (see Section 2.a.).

On May 26, the authorities arrested Prosper Avril at a book signing. The former general and President of the military government from 1988-1990 had been in self-imposed internal exile since 1995, when he was ordered arrested by then-President Rene Preval. His May 26 arrest was based on the same 1995 warrant. On June 12, a panel of judges declared that the arrest warrant was invalid and ordered him released. The Government vowed to appeal the decision before the Court of Cassation, the country's highest court, but had not done so by year's end. Instead, Avril remained in prison under new criminal charges based upon incidents of torture in 1990 (see Section 1.c). The opposition and local human rights organizations criticized Avril's continued detention.

In the past, when the authorities received Haitian citizens deported from other countries for having committed crimes, they were generally processed in 1 week and then released. Since March 2000, criminal deportees who already have served sentences outside the country are kept in "preventive detention," with no fixed timetable for their eventual release. According to police officials, the deportees are held in order to prevent an increase in insecurity and to convince them that they would not want to risk committing crime because of prison conditions. The average period of preventive detention for these persons has decreased to approximately 1 month, compared to several months in 2000.

In 1999 the international community expressed concern about the authorities' tendency to detain persons in violation of valid court orders for their release; the practice continued during the year. The joint OAS-U.N. International Civilian Mission in Haiti (MICIVIH) expressed "extreme concern" about these cases and described the authorities' actions as "completely arbitrary and illegal." Prisoners with histories of opposition to the Government or affiliation with the Duvalier or de facto regimes were affected disproportionately by this practice. By August 2000, approximately half of those prisoners identified in 1999 had been released. By year's end, prisoners still held despite valid release orders included Leoncefils Ceance, Esteve Conserve, Calero Vivas Fabien, Jean-Robert Lherisson, Rilande Louis, Leonard Lucas, Georges Metayer, Alexandre Paul, Jean-Michel Richardson, and Jean Enel Samedi.

As in previous years, the dysfunctional judicial system resulted in prolonged pretrial detentions, with an estimated 79 percent of the country's prisoners awaiting trial (see Section 1.e). The problem is most extreme in Port-au-Prince, where 89 percent of those imprisoned in the National Penitentiary are in pretrial detention. The percentage of female and minor detainees in pretrial detention decreased from 98 percent to 88 percent.

The Justice Ministry has made occasional efforts to address the problem of prolonged pretrial detention. In February President Aristide and Justice Minister Gary Lissade visited Fort National and granted clemency to 20 women. On April 24, the Prime Minister and Lissade made a well-publicized visit to the National Penitentiary. Fifty detainees were released when examination of their files showed that even if convicted, their sentences would have been less than time already served. Government officials state that this was the beginning of a renewed emphasis on decreasing the number of pretrial detainees. In May six new judicial officials began working at the National Penitentiary. Although still preliminary, there appear to have been decreases in the prison population, especially in the National Penitentiary, and decreases in the percentage of pretrial detainees system-wide (see Section 1.c.).

Bail is available; however, it is entirely at the discretion of the investigative judge (juge d'instruction). Bail hearings are not automatic. The attorney for the defendant can make an application based upon a specific need, and the judge then decides if a conditional release is warranted. This usually is done only in minor cases when there is an overwhelming humanitarian reason, such as a need for medical attention.

The Constitution prohibits the involuntary exile of citizens, and there were no reports of its use. The July 28 attacks and subsequent crackdown in the Central Plateau forced a number of former military and opposition members to flee their homes (see Section 1.a.). Some had not returned to their homes by year's end, fearing that they would be killed. In addition, several persons arrested and then released during the July 28 events are in voluntary self-exile. More than 20 journalists went into voluntary exile after receiving death threats following the December 17 attack (see Section 2.a.). Self-imposed internal exile is a common practice.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, it is not independent in practice and is subject to significant influence by the executive and legislative branches. Years of extensive corruption and governmental neglect have left the judicial system poorly organized and nearly moribund.

Judges assigned to politically sensitive cases complained about interference by the executive branch (see Section 1.a.). One judge received threats while investigating the 2000 killing of journalist Jean Dominique (see Section 1.a.).

At the lowest level of the justice system, the justices of the peace issue warrants, adjudicate minor infractions, mediate cases, take depositions, and refer cases to prosecutors or higher judicial officials. Investigating magistrates and public prosecutors cooperate in the development of more serious cases, which are tried by the judges of the first instance courts. Appeals court judges hear cases referred from the first instance courts, and the Court of Cassation, the country's highest court, addresses questions of procedure and constitutionality. On June 6, President Aristide appointed new judges to the Court of Cassation, which had been understaffed since the court president died in September 2000.

The judicial apparatus follows a civil law system based on the Napoleonic Code; the Criminal Code dates from 1832, although it has been amended in some instances. The Constitution provides for the right to a fair public trial; however, this right was abridged widely in practice. The Constitution also expressly denies police and judicial authorities the right to interrogate a person charged with a crime unless the suspect has legal counsel or a representative of his of her choice present or waives this right; however, this right was abridged in practice. While trials are public, most accused persons cannot afford legal counsel for interrogation or trial, and the law does not require that the Government provide legal representation. Despite the efforts of local human rights groups and the international community to provide legal aid, many interrogations occur without counsel persons. However, some defendants had access to counsel during actual trials. The Constitution provides defendants with a presumption of innocence and the rights to be present at trial, to confront witnesses against them, and to present witnesses and evidence in their own behalf; however, in practice corrupt and uneducated judges frequently deny defendants these rights.

A shortage of adequately trained and qualified justices of the peace, judges, and prosecutors, as well as underfunding, among other systemic problems, created a huge backlog of criminal cases, with many detainees waiting months or even years in pretrial detention for a court date (see Section 1.d.). If an accused person ultimately is tried and found innocent, there is no redress for excessive time served in detention.

In some regions, there are not enough judges to hear cases, and judges lack basic resources (such as office space, legal reference texts, and supplies) to perform their duties. Professional competence sometimes is lacking as well; some judges are illiterate. While previously judges conducted most legal proceedings exclusively in French, they increasingly use Creole in judicial proceedings. However, language remains a significant barrier to full access of the judicial system (see Section 5).

The Constitution sets varying periods of tenure for judges above the level of justice of the peace. However, in practice the Ministry of Justice exercises appointment and administrative oversight over the judiciary, prosecutors, and court staff. The Ministry of Justice can remove justices of the peace and occasionally dismisses judges above this level as well. On June 11, in a first step towards public accountability of the judicial system, the Ministry of Justice opened an officer where persons could file complaints against judges.

The Code of Criminal Procedure does not assign clear responsibility to investigate crimes and divides the authority for cases among police, justices of the peace, prosecutors, and investigative magistrates. Examining magistrates often receive files that are empty or are missing police reports. Autopsies are conducted only rarely, and autopsy reports are even more rare. The Code provides for 2 criminal court sessions ("assizes") per year in each of the 15 first instance jurisdictions to try all major crimes requiring a jury trial; each session generally lasts for 2 weeks. During the year, the Port-au-Prince jurisdiction--by far the largest in terms of caseload--again failed to adhere to this stipulation due to difficulties in assembling juries. Criminal assizes in Port-au-Prince have met once a year since 1998, with the last meeting held in June.

In late March, Maissade mayor Willot Joseph and Hinche mayor Joseph Dongot, accompanied by members of their paramilitary groups, severely beat two local judges who had opened investigations into the actions of the mayors in the detention and beating of opposition members in July 2000 (see Section 1.c.). After the beating, the mayors closed the judicial offices in Hinche and Maissade and threatened the employees. On April 17, Justice Minister Gary Lissade ordered the mayors arrested. On April 19, the authorities arrested Dongot; however, Willot went into hiding. The Minister of Justice came under heavy pressure by the Union of Northern Mayors and by the Minister of the Interior to free Dongot, and on April 26, he was released provisionally. There was no further investigation by the Justice Ministry. In December President Aristide replaced the mayors of Hinche and Petit-Goave (see Section 1.c.).

In December 2000, 39 lawyers graduated from the Magistrate's School. In June a class of approximately 80 students began the year-long course of study. The school conducted seminars on human rights and judicial reform during the year.

There were no reports of political prisoners, although there were several political detainees (see Section 1.d.).

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution prohibits interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence; however, police and other security force elements conducted searches without warrants. Locally elected officials and local HNP increasingly arrested spouses of suspects. Following the July 28 attacks (see Section 1.a.), police and local officials arrested several spouses of former military and opposition leaders. In general they were released within 1 month.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the Government's respect for the press continued to deteriorate during the year. Print and electronic media from opposite ends of the political spectrum often criticize the Government. However, there were several cases of attacks on, or threats against, journalists during the year. Most media practice self-censorship due to fear of offending sponsors or the politically influential.

There are two French-language newspapers in the country, Le Nouvelliste and Le Matin, with a combined circulation of less than 20,000 readers. Print media in Creole is limited due to regional variations and the lack of a consistent orthography; however, many newspapers include a page of news in Creole. Both daily newspapers are frequently critical of government policies.

The written press is beyond the reach of many citizens, due to language differences, illiteracy, and cost.

With a low rate of literacy (approximately 52 percent) and the relative scarcity of televisions, the most important medium is radio, especially those stations broadcasting in Creole. Two hundred fifty three private radio stations exist, including approximately 40 in the capital alone. Most stations carry a mix of music, news, and talk show programs, which many citizens regard as their only opportunity to speak out on a variety of political, social, and economic issues. Uncensored foreign satellite television is available; however, its impact is limited, as most persons cannot afford access to television. The few stations carrying news or opinion broadcasts freely express a wide range of political viewpoints.

On December 3, members of a progovernment popular organization, Domi nan Bois, hacked to death a Petit-Goave journalist, Brignol Lindor. Lindor's name was on a list publicly announced over the radio on November 30 by Dube Bony, deputy mayor of Petit-Goave and a member of the ruling FL party. Bony said that the six persons on the list--opposition members and journalists--should be met with "zero tolerance" (see Section 1.a.). Lindor's funeral on December 11 was attended by thousands of persons, and was followed by several days of civil unrest in Petit-Goave. Units of the special reaction force CIMO were called in. Several eyewitnesses accused CIMO of brutality in putting down the unrest. No one was arrested in connection with Lindor's murder, although it was witnessed by several residents.

On June 1, police in the town of Belle-Anse arrested Raphael Francen, a journalist with Radio Telediffusion Jacmelienne. Francen had reported that local police arrested a resident in the evening, in violation of the requirement that an arrest order cannot be executed between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. (see Section 1.d.). The next day, police arrested Francen at midnight. The Association of Haitian Journalists called his arrest "illegal and arbitrary." He later was released.

In early August, police arrested two journalists from Radio Rotation FM in the town of Belladere, who were reported to have tapes by the perpetrators of the July 28 attacks (see Section 1.a.). The police released the journalists later the same day; however, the journalists said that police beat them. The Association of Haitian Journalists promised to investigate the charges.

Following the October 11 killings of three persons by police (see Section 1.a.), police beat a Radio Haiti Inter reporter, Jean Robert Delcine, while he was investigating the killings. Police confiscated his tape recorder and hit him with fists and batons. The police allegedly said that he deserved what he was getting because he belonged to the "Jean Dominique group." Dominique was director of radio station Radio Haiti Inter until his April 2000 murder (see Section 1.a.)

Radio stations and journalists continued to receive anonymous threats. In January the Director of Information at Caraibes FM said he had received multiple anonymous threats for 3 months. He sent his family out of the country because of fears for their safety. On March 21, Signal FM reported that it had received repeated anonymous threats against its reporters and its radio programs. Most threats were made against their program "Haiti Today" and a frequent contributor, Haitian historian Michel Soukar. Unknown men asked residents to tell them where Soukar lived and to describe the car he drove. In mid-April hundreds of persons attacked the radio transmitters of Radio Vision Nouvelle and Radio Lumiere, two independent radio stations based in Port-au-Prince and killed Fritz Antoine Jean, a Radio Vision Nouvelle guard. No group claimed responsibility for the attacks. The radio station owners said that the attacks could have been politically motivated or linked to vigilante raids on criminals based in the Bois Neuf slum (see Section 1.a.). The international organization Reporters Without Borders protested the attacks and called on the Government to provide security; at year's end, the Government had not done so.

On June 9, an unknown caller threatened Roosevelt Benjamin, director of information at Signal FM, who had just finished his weekly political talk show. On June 10 and 11, Benjamin received similar death threats from the same and other anonymous callers. Benjamin had discussed a new political organization, the Majority Civil Society Movement, and said that the organization was dominated by the relatives of ruling party senators. On June 13, the Committee to Protect Journalists wrote a letter to President Aristide, and expressed "profound concern" over the threats to Benjamin.
On June 21, unknown gunmen threatened the journalist Fritson Oreus. Oreus was accosted while driving down the main Port-au-Prince road of Delmas. The attackers forced him to pull over in a nearby gas station, where they kept him at gunpoint and wrote down his identification and press badge numbers. They said the car he was driving was the same as that of murdered journalist Jean Dominique (see Section 1.a.). Oreus is the host of an evening news program at the Radio Haiti-Inter station, of which Jean Dominique was director. The gunmen, who claimed to be police officers, left after 15 minutes. Reporters Without Borders wrote a letter to the Ministry of Justice to express its concern. The organization's Secretary-General, Robert Menard, speculated that the assault on Oreus was meant as a warning to Radio Haiti-Inter, which has continued to investigate the killing of its director.

On August 27, journalists in the southeastern town of Thiotte said that they had received multiple threats from local authorities and popular organizations close to the Government. Among others, Edner Confidence of Radio Sacre-Coeur said that he had received death threats because he reported on irregularities and corruption in the public administration of the commune of Thiotte.

Journalists reported receiving death threats following the December 17 attacks (see Section 1.a.). More than 20 went into exile. Several radio stations closed down during the day because of intimidation and threats.

A number of journalists reported that they continued to receive threats because of their use of the term "May 21 Senators" and "contested Senators." Many journalists use these terms to describe Senators elected in the controversial May 2000 and November 2000 elections (see Section 3).

The Government's inability and unwillingness to provide adequate security to media outlets and journalists has contributed to an increased sense of vulnerability among those members of the media who criticize the Government or FL.

Although most radio stations and other forms of telecommunications are nominally independent, they are subject to a 1997 law that names the State as the sole owner and proprietor of the airwaves. Members of the media believe that the Government refuses to sign the Chapultepec Convention (on freedom of expression) because the Convention prohibits government monopolies of the media, which would be in direct violation of the 1977 law. The State leases the right to broadcast to private enterprises but maintains the right to repossess the airwaves in the event of national emergencies, including natural disasters. The Government has not exercised this right in practice.

The financial and other means at the Government's disposal provide it with the means to hire experienced staff from competing media. In February and March, key personnel from a private television station moved to the government-owned National Television of Haiti because of offers of higher salaries.

There was no information available on any investigation into the December 2000 killing of sports broadcaster Geral Denoze.

The investigation into the April 2000 killing of prominent radio commentator and journalist Jean Dominique and a security guard continued during the year (see Section 1.a.). Local and international human rights groups frequently criticized the slow pace of the investigation.

Foreign journalists generally traveled without hindrance from the authorities.

The Government does not censor books or films, nor does it limit access to the Internet.

The Government does not restrict academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly. Although a variety of organizations were able to exercise this right without hindrance throughout the year, numerous violations of the freedom of assembly occurred in the provinces. CIMO routinely was accused of using excessive force against demonstrators (see Section 1.c.). Especially in the Central Plateau, NGO's are refused permits to assemble. Authorities frequently failed to provide security for opposition parties conducting peaceful demonstrations.

On June 20, members of the Solidarity Committee for Dany Toussaint gathered in the public square of Grand-Goave to demonstrate their support for Senator Toussaint, who is a suspect in the killing of journalist Jean Dominique (see Section 1.a.). Police from the Grand-Goave police station beat the demonstrators with clubs and forced them to disperse.

In several cases, police inaction allowed organized political militants to violate the right of freedom of assembly in practice, and there were numerous violent political demonstrations (see Section 1.a.).

On May 21, government supporters clashed with opposition members in Les Cayes. The progovernment group surrounded a house where the opposition Democratic Convergence was holding a meeting. They began to throw stones and fire weapons. Two government supporters and one bystander were injured. The police, who were approximately 200 yards away at the police station, took more than 1 hour to respond. When they did arrive, they arrested Convergence leader Gabriel Fortune. Police said they detained Fortune to protect him, but later said that someone had filed a complaint against him. Fortune was released on June 4.

On August 29, progovernment militants broke up a demonstration in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Petionville. The demonstration was organized by the Democratic Party of Haiti, an opposition political party. During the demonstration, the militants arrived and began throwing stones at the demonstrators. One opposition member was hit in the head by stones. According to several eyewitnesses, the counter-demonstrators fired weapons in the air. Police were present but did not prevent the counter-demonstrators from breaking up the opposition demonstration.

In November strikes by the Convergence sparked a crackdown by the Government. Police in Jacmel and Gonaives barred demonstrations by persons opposed to the Government. Although they said the reason was an inability to provide proper security, police only forbade opposition marches while allowing progovernment marches to take place with adequate security.

The Constitution provides for freedom of association, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Penal Code requires the Government to give prior approval before an association of more than 20 persons can be formed, if the association wants tax benefits and official recognition from the Government.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for the right to practice all religions and faiths, provided that practice does not disturb law and order, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

In many respects, Roman Catholicism retains its traditional primacy among the country's religions, although Protestant denominations (primarily Methodist and Baptist) have overtaken the Catholic Church in numbers of active members. Voodoo, a traditional religion derived in part from West African beliefs, is practiced alongside Christianity by a large segment of the population. Official recognition by the Ministry of Religious Affairs gives religious organizations legal standing, tax exempt status, and extends civil recognition to church documents. While there are associations of voodoo practitioners and priests, there is no organized hierarchy. On April 30, the Ministry of Religion officially recognized the first voodoo church, the Eglise Vodou d'Ayiti. Accusations of sorcery, particularly in rural areas, have resulted in mob violence and killings. Given the prevalence of voodoo in these areas, it appears likely that voodoo practitioners are targeted in some cases. On May 21, several residents of the village of Chenet killed a houngan (male voodoo priest) by stoning and with machete blows. They accused the houngan of poisoning two brothers, Jackson and Gilmeus Similien. There was no investigation.

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