HAITI: FAILED JUSTICE OR THE RULE OF LAW?
IACHR RELEASES REPORT ON THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE IN HAITI
Today, during its 124th Regular Period of Sessions, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released its report on the situation of the administration of justice in the Republic of Haiti.
The report, entitled “Haiti: Failed Justice or the Rule of Law? Challenges Ahead for Haiti and the International Community”, evaluates the current status of the administration of justice in Haiti in light of its obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights and other relevant human rights instruments. The report concludes that the justice system in Haiti is gravely deficient in almost all respects and systematically fails to protect the fundamental human rights of the Haitian people. The report also emphasizes that efforts to address Haiti’s present and serious political, economic and social problems will not succeed without urgent reforms to strengthen the administration of justice and the rule of law in Haiti, and will require ongoing, coordinated and sustained support from OAS Member States and other members of the international community.
The report analyzes three main areas of the administration of justice in Haiti: law enforcement, the court system, and the system of detention facilities and prisons. Among other conclusions, the report finds that the national police force suffers from grave shortages of officers and resources, lacks a clear and enforced hierarchy of command and control, and is tainted by corruption and human rights abuses. Also according to the report, the court system is plagued by inadequate resources and training as well as outdated laws, resulting in chronic and unacceptable delays in the judicial process and systemic impunity for serious human rights violations. Further, the report finds that the conditions in Haiti’s prisons and other detention facilities fall far short of minimum international standards, including special protections for minors. In light of these and other fundamental deficiencies, the report calls upon the international community to expedite the delivery of funds pledged to Haiti in 2004 and to take the measures necessary to ensure that their justice initiatives in Haiti result in lasting change.
The release of the report is particularly timely in light of the recent election of René Préval as Haiti’s new President following a particularly violent and unstable period in the country’s history. As President Préval takes office, the Commission urges his government to make reform of the justice system a critical priority.
Washington, D.C. March 16, 2006
1. For over forty years, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has monitored the situation of human rights in the Republic of Haiti. For much of this period, the people of Haiti have faced many hardships, including political instability and violence, serious human rights abuses with no accountability, and exploitation and degradation of the country’s economy and infrastructure. Unfortunately, Haiti’s recent history has not revealed much progress in reversing this course. Based upon its longstanding experience in Haiti and other countries of the Hemisphere, the Commission considers that efforts to address the country’s current and longstanding problems will not succeed without urgent reforms to strengthen the administration of justice and the rule of law in Haiti.
2. In this context, the present report provides an evaluation of the current status of the administration of justice in the Republic of Haiti in light of the fundamental rights and freedoms protected under the American Convention on Human Rights and other relevant human rights instruments to which Haiti is bound. The report is based upon investigations undertaken by the Commission between 2003 and 2005, including information gathered during four visits to the country as well as reports and other information provided by a variety of international and local governmental and nongovernmental organizations.
3. The report provides a detailed analysis of three key aspects of administration of justice in the country: law enforcement and the Haitian National Police; the judiciary; and the system of detention facilities and prisons. As part of this analysis, the Commission addresses the particular problem of impunity and lack of public confidence in the justice system as well as the involvement of the international community in Haiti.
4. Based upon its analysis, the Commission reached the following main conclusions:
• The Haitian National Police force suffers from inadequate staffing and resources, an absence of appropriate vetting and training programs, and a clear and enforced hierarchy of command and control, and instances of corruption and human rights abuses by police officer have severely tainted the police force and have not been the subject of effective investigation and, where appropriate, discipline and prosecution.
• The working conditions for magistrates at all levels are substandard, with shortages of space and basic resources, a lack of proper training for judges, and inadequate security for judges and court facilities. Further, the independence of the judiciary continues to be imperiled through potential inadequacies in security of tenure, allegation of interference by the executive branch in the assignment of specific cases before the courts, and the absence of a proper and functioning oversight mechanism for the judiciary, among other factors.
• These and other inadequacies in Haiti’s court system, including the outdated nature of many of Haiti’s laws, lack of effective access to legal assistance, and the failure of police to execute judicial orders, have created chronic and unacceptable delays in the processing of cases in the court system, have resulted in a pervasive problem of prolonged pre-trial delay, where an estimated 85 to 90% of detainees have not been tried. These deficiencies have also undermined the ability of the justice system in Haiti to effectively ensure and protect the fundamental rights and freedoms to which Haitians are entitled, resulting in a pattern of impunity in Haiti for violations committed by both state and non-state actors.
• Several of the prisons and other detention facilities in Haiti are not functional, including the prison for women and children in Fort National, and those prisons that are serviceable suffer from overcrowding and do not have the resources necessary to meet minimum standards of sanitation and other fundamental requirements, including access to fresh air, light and potable water, bedding, nutrition, and health care. Further, there are serious weaknesses in security at prisons and associated training for prison guards, which has resulted in several major security incidents in Haiti over the past two years, resulting in the death and wounding of inmates and the escape of hundreds of prisoners, many of who have not yet been recaptured.
• The absence of a functional rehabilitation center for minors, together with the fact that the court for minors has been unable to function due to security concerns, has resulted in the detention of minors in a manner inconsistent with Article 5(5) of the American Convention and corresponding provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
• Past efforts by the international community to assist deficiencies in Haiti’s justice system have failed to result in lasting change, due in part to the short term nature of some projects and associated funding, the absence of ongoing technical and other support, and a lack of coordination on common issues and activities between and within various international and regional organizations agencies operating in Haiti. Further, a considerable portion of the funds pledged to Haiti by donors in July 2004 remains undelivered despite the urgent need for projects to address basic services such as electricity, sanitation, and hospital and school facilities as well as longer-term initiatives for capital investment and capacity-building among public and private actors and institutions.
5. In light of its conclusions, the Commission made several recommendations to the Republic of Haiti, which include:
• urgently providing the police and judiciary with the basic facilities and resources necessary to perform their functions and responsibilities, including appropriate training and oversight through proper and effective functioning of the Police Academy, the Inspector General’s Office, the Department of Judicial Police of the HNP, the Magistrate’s School, and the Conseil Superieur de la Magistrature
• immediately addressing the situation of individuals in the justice system who have been detained for prolonged periods without having been brought before a judge or tried, through independent and impartial reviews conducted by judges or other officers authorized by law to exercise judicial power, and through the establishment of an effective system of legal aid or public defenders
• ending impunity for past human rights violations, which may include the establishment of a specially-constituted panel or chamber of the civilian courts and international participation in the investigation or trial of these crimes
• urgently improving the living and security conditions in the prisons and other detention facilities throughout the country, including rendering operational the detention facility for women and children at Fort National and the official rehabilitation center for minors, the Institut de Bien Etre Social.
6. The Commission also made several recommendations concerning the role of the international community in Haiti, including other OAS Member States, which include
• expediting measures to ensure the delivery and distribution of funds pledged to Haiti on an urgent basis through projects that address the most immediate needs of the Haitian people in the areas of health care, education and job training and creation.
• International organizations and agencies should attempt to develop coordinated and multidisciplinary approaches to providing assistance and support to Haiti in order to avoid duplication and maximize impact. In addition, the mandates given to institutions and agencies should acknowledge and reflect the interconnections between security, the right to political participation, the administration of justice, and the realization of economic, social and cultural rights, all of which must be addressed in order to achieve long term stability in Haiti.
7. 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 visits, to the nongovernmental organizations, civil society institutions, and international organizations concerned, notably the OAS Special Mission, for their valuable assistance and participation, and to the Government of France for its financial assistance.