RIGHT TO VOTE AND TO PARTICIPATE IN GOVERNMENT
The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man
Every person having legal capacity is entitled to participate in the government of his country, directly or through his representatives, and to take part in popular elections, which shall be by secret ballot, and shall be honest, periodic and free.1
Article 16 of the Haitian Constitution proclaims that “Every Haitian may take an active part in his country’s government, hold public office, or be appointed to a government position, without distinction as to color, sex or religion,” and Article 40 stipulates that “For the citizen, voting is not only a right but an obligation imposed by his civic duty.”
A. LEGISLATIVE BRANCH
The 1964 Constitution established a uni-cameral legislature, and there has been no subsequent amendment of this provision. The chamber of 58 deputies is elected by a Primary Assembly according to conditions set by law. Geographical representation has no place in the Constitution, whether in terms of population, economic importance or number of registered voters. Haiti is still without permanent electoral laws, but rather promulgates a new law each time the Executive finds it necessary to call elections for local posts or for the Legislature. The legislators serve for a six-year term: elections are held for new terms of office and to replace those who resign, die, are dismissed, etc.
Electoral procedure is that the President of the Republic chooses and nominates those citizens who are to be elected by the Primary Assembly; thus, the Legislature is not in a position to exercise the powers granted it under the Constitution, and does not represent the popular will, but rather the will of the Executive.
The legislative elections announced by the government, the first since the elections at the beginning of the sixties, were held on February 11, 1979. Two members of the opposition were candidates for seats in parliament. The candidate from the city of Cap Haitien, who is opposed to the present regime, won easily over his opponent, a former member of the President’s cabinet, who was supported by the government. The candidate from the city of Port-au-Prince said after his defeat that there had been irregularities and fraud in the elections.
President François Duvalier was elected in accordance with Article 77 of the Constitution of September 22, 1959, which stipulates that:
The President of the Republic shall be elected for six years. He may not be re-elected immediately, and in no case may his term of office be extended.
Two other articles in that Constitution are interesting on the subject of the presidential election.
The President of the Republic shall be elected by secret ballot, by direct suffrage, by a majority of the votes cast by all electors of the “Republic” (Article 88).
Four months before expiration of the President’s term of office, he shall convoke the Primary Assemblies, which shall meet, as a result of this convocation, or as established by law, on the first Sunday in April, in order to elect the President of the Republic (Article 89).
The new Constitution adopted by the National Assembly in 1957 keeps this provision on the form of electing the President and on his term of office.
Later, on April 30, 1961, the National Assembly became unicameral. The Legislature that was thus created replaced the 1957 Constitution by the 1964 Constitution, which gave much more extensive powers to the new President, and bestowed the title of President-for-Life on François Duvalier (Article 196).
In January 1971, President Duvalier had the 1964 Constitution amended so that his son, Jean Claude Duvalier, could replace him as President-for-Life. In order to do this, it was necessary to change the minimum age, which had been 40, so that his son, who was at that time 18 years old, could become President. Other provisions were added also so that President François Duvalier could designate his successor, also for life (Articles 102 and 104). This happened despite the fact that Article 46 stipulates that “national sovereignty is vested in all the citizens. The people shall exercise the prerogatives of sovereignty directly by: 1. election of the President of the Republic.”
As a result, Haitians have had no say in choosing the head of the Executive Branch for the last fifteen years. Freedom to participate in government is incompatible with the institution of a presidency for life.
C. POLITICAL PARTIES
While it is true that Article 32 of the Constitution, which grants Haitians the right of association, refers specifically to the creation of political parties, it was seen in Chapter V that section 236(bis) of the Penal Code requires the consent of the government in order to form a group of more than twenty persons.
In his interview with members of the Special Commission, the President responded to a question about the absence of political parties in Haiti by saying that there have never been any, and that he thought it would not be possible to form any because the people were not prepared.
Sylvio Claude Case
At the beginning of July 1979, Sylvio Claude publicly announced the formation of the Haitian Christian Democratic Party. This party, the Haitian Christian Democratic Party of June 27 and the Haitian National Christian Party, were formed during the period of liberalization of President Jean Claude Duvalier, and were the first independent political parties in Haiti in the last two decades. The Haitian Christian Democratic Party of June 27, founded by Grégoire Eugène, has since ceased active operations because of government harassment, according to Eugène.
On August 30, 1979, police arrived at the headquarters of the Christian Democratic Party in Port-au-Prince with the purpose of arresting Sylvio Claude. Claude escaped through a rear window although he suffered a gunshot wound in the hand. He fled to Radio Station RGR and informed the radio audience about the attack on the Christian Democratic Party and the attempt to arrest him. He also gave details of his arrest at the beginning of the year and alleged that he had been severely tortured at that time in the Dessalines barracks and that he feared for his life. The police arrested Claude and Gérard Résil, Director of Radio RGR, at the station at approximately 5 p.m. Résil was released the following day, but only after a public apology. Claude was taken to the Dessalines barracks, where it is presumed he is still being held.
Prior to his arrest on August 30, Claude had declared as a candidate in the February 1979 elections for the constituency of Mirebalais. His opponent was Madame Max Adolphe, a strong government supporter known for her interrogation of political prisoners. Before the election, however, the government declared Claude’s candidacy illegal and forced him to withdraw from the race. Shortly thereafter, Claude was arbitrarily arrested by security police in civilian clothes, accompanied by an army sergeant, and taken to the Dessalines barracks where he claims he was beaten and tortured by electric shocks applied to the soles of his feet. He was then summarily put on a plane to Colombia. He returned to Haiti some months later.
In connection with the August arrest of Sylvio Claude, a group of police in civilian clothes went to the office of the Christian Democratic Party where they arrested Me. Dupleix Jn-Baptiste, Me. Valere Augustine and Me. Edouard Franck, who happened to be there at the time. All three are members of the Haitian League for Human Rights. They were taken to the Dessalines barracks where, it is claimed, they were mistreated before being interrogated.
The allegations concerning the August arrest of Sylvio Claude were transmitted to the government of Haiti on October 26, 1979.
The Claude case has been cited as a reflection of various phases of the current situation of human rights in Haiti. First, the arrest of Claude and the ransacking of the party headquarters can be seen as an attempt to stifle the fledgling political parties. Moreover, it shows a judicial system that permits Claude to be held without charges and without trial for more than three months. Finally, the detention of Gérard Résil for the sole “crime” of having allowed a Haitian citizen an opportunity to explain his predicament directly affects the right to information and dissemination of ideas.
1 American Convention on Human Rights
Article 23. Right to Participate in Government
1. Every citizen shall enjoy the following rights and opportunities:
a. to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;
b. to vote and to be elected in genuine periodic elections, which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and by secret ballot that guarantees the free expression of the will of the voters; and
c. to have access, under general conditions of equality, to the public service of his country.
2. The law may regulate the exercise of the rights and opportunities referred to in the preceding paragraph only on the basis of age, nationality, residence, language, education, civil and mental capacity, or sentencing by a competent court in criminal proceedings.