University of Minnesota

Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Haiti, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.46, Doc. 66 rev. 1 (1979).






American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man

Article XII:

Every person has the right to an education, which should be based on the principles of liberty, morality and human solidarity.

Likewise every person has the right to an education that will prepare him to attain a decent life, to raise his standard of living, and to be a useful member of society.

The right to an education includes the right to equality of opportunity in every case, in accordance with natural talents, merit and the desire to utilize the resources that the state or the community is in a position to provide.

Every person has the right to receive, free, at least a primary education.

Article XI:

Every person has the right to the preservation of his health through sanitary and social measures relating to food, clothing, housing and medical care, to the extent permitted by public and community resources.1

1. It is difficult to evaluate the Haitian government’s effort to promote these fundamental rights and the basic right to work discussed in the next chapter because of its reluctance to provide up-dated statistics to the relevant international agencies. While the Haitian Constitution clearly establishes these rights (Article X), there is little concrete evidence that there has been any systematic effort to ensure their full development.

2. A commitment to the full development of these rights is seriously limited in Haiti by a complex of restraining political and historical factors which exacerbate problems created by conditions of absolute poverty. A December 1978 World Bank Report estimates that 89.7% of the rural population lives in this state of deprivation. Only 30% of the land in Haiti can be cultivated because of its generally mountainous character, and much of this relatively small area consists of plots that have been subdivided so many times that they cannot provide subsistence for a family. Erosion is a devastating problem caused by the wholesale scalping of the forests for wood for export in the 19th century and for the production of charcoal in this century, and is seriously compounded by the lack of any governmental programs for the improvement of agricultural techniques. There have been no official land reform measures undertaken by the Haitian government, a condition that is exacerbated by the large-scale seizure of peasant lands by local Ton Ton Macoutes following any dispute or denunciation. Physical and political constraints substantially overlap in Haiti: a population density of 393 persons per square kilometer of arable land, a GNP of $232 per capita in 1977, and severe over-utilization and erosion of the soil, combine with and result from a history of government neglect of the vast majority of the population.2 Government services that do exist, such as the agricultural support services of the Department of Agriculture, are hampered by deficient funding and insufficient personnel.3

The degree to which the economic fortunes of the Haitian people are shaped by the contemporary political reality is reflected by the World Bank’s analysis of governmental budgetary procedures. In 1977, 30% of all expenditures and 35% of total revenues were channeled through special checking accounts held at the National Bank that made it virtually impossible to determine their sources or eventual disposition. Under these conditions, it is questionable whether badly needed foreign assistance programs effectively reach their targets. The operations of the government’s Régie du Tabac also indicate the vast reforms necessary before respect for human rights can be more than a goal. (As a monopoly of the Duvalier family, the Régie du Tabac has exclusive control over the distribution of fish, cotton, evaporated, condensed and fresh milk, butter, cheese, margarine, wine, champagne, whiskey, rum, perfumes, dental products, soap, bandages, air conditioners, automobiles, airplanes and most electrical appliances.) Additionally in 1977, the Régie collected G4.9 million but made only G2.9 million available to the public treasury for general budgetary expenditures, with the disposition of the remaining two million Gourdes not being revealed.4 In analyzing these patterns, it is apparent that specific political reforms must occur before the goals set forth in the Haitian Constitution can begin to be fulfilled in the area of basic rights to education and health.

3. Articles 29 and 180-1 of the Haitian Constitution establish a goal of free, mandatory primary school education to reduce illiteracy. The most recent figures available indicate that 76.7% of the Haitian population is illiterate.5 The same source indicates that 85.5% of the population had no schooling in 1971, and that only 4% had ever finished primary school. Haiti’s compulsory education laws are of little more than academic interest because there are often no suitable schools within reasonable distance in the rural areas. As of 1974, the last year for which data is available, the total government expenditure for education officially equaled only G24 300.000 or $4,8 million representing expenditures of 0.7% of the GNP.6 The World Bank in 1978 calculated that this was the lowest rate of expenditure in the world, adding that illiteracy was the highest in the hemisphere at 83%, reaching over 90% in rural areas.

4. The Haitian government’s formal commitment to the preservation of health and the general welfare is set out in Article 159 of the Constitution: “The aim of the economic system is to ensure to all members of the national community a decent life. It is based chiefly on the principles of social justice.” However, in reality, “the simplest necessities of life: shoes, adequate shelter, clean water to drink and bathe in, are luxuries beyond the average family’s means.”7 For example, according to a 1978 World Bank Report, the most recent estimates are that over 96% of occupied dwelling are without piped water and less than 3% of all dwellings have access to electricity.

5. Haitian life-expectancy is among the lowest in the Western hemisphere, estimated at just 52 years in the 1978 Report of the World Bank. This same report gives the infant mortality as 149.1 per 1 000 live births, a figure surpassed by only one other country in the hemisphere. The 1978 World Bank Report cites the death rate for children age 1-4 at 33 per 1 000 in 1970, which represents an increase from 27 per 1 000 in 1960. In the latest WHO Vital Statistics Reports, the Haitian government supplied only one of five figures requested from participating governments. It is therefore impossible to assess the improvement or worsening of Haiti’s infant health status.

6. The nutritional status of Haitians is probably the worst in the Western hemisphere, leaving them most susceptible to disease, with over 75% of children under the age of five suffering from malnutrition.8 From the age of four months, children in Haiti exhibit subnormal growth rates which worsen continuously, due to both caloric and protein deficiencies. Subnormal growth culminates in great differences between the 5% of urban children raised in wealthy families, and the average rural child: by the teen years, there is a 50 pound difference in weight and a six inch difference in height between these children.9

The morbidity and mortality rates of contagious diseases associated with malnutrition—hyper endemic malaria, diarrhea, amoebiasis, tuberculosis, kwashiorkor, avitaminosis, marasmus, tetnus and yaws exist at perhaps the highest rates in the Western hemisphere.10 In addition to children, women of childbearing age and men active in the labor force have been selectively studied and found to be nutritionally deficient, leading to low levels of both health and productivity: the average protein intake per day is 39 grams, and the average calorie intake is 1 700, figures which are very inferior to calculated minimum human needs.

The World Bank estimates that the minimum per capita cost for consumption of the recommended minimum diet and essential nonfood items would be G1 000 ($200) annually. By these estimates, over 90% of Haiti’s population cannot afford this minimal standard of consumption. So, the recommended minimum per capita calorie intake for Haiti is of the order of 2 000 calories per day, yet a U.S. new study quoted by the World Bank in 1979 found a national average of approximately 1700 per day, totally unbalanced in proteins and fats. Many people suffer from multiple nutritional deficiencies, with only 13% of all Haitian children considered normally nourished in 1975.11 Even this number appear high when compared with the 9.6% in northern urban and 8.1% in northern rural areas who are adequately nourished. According to the 1978 Report of the World Bank,12 more than 50% of Haitian children under 5 suffer from such malnutrition as to require medical care. The same report notes that Haiti was unique in the hemisphere in having the highest decline in calorie intake while at the same time having the lowest per capita calorie intake in 1971-73. Dr. Kendall W. King concluded that, “Unless means can be found to reactivate such vital governmental services as public works, education, agriculture and health, it is unrealistic to anticipate any major improvement in the nutritional status of the population.”13 The Duvalier government has taken few, if any, steps to reduce this debilitating and pervasive malnutrition. In fact, a 1978 IADB Report shows that the situation in some cases has worsened.

7. According to the World Bank, public health in Haiti in 1978 was completely insufficient. Medical facilities and trained personnel in the country are minimal. In 1970, there was one physician per 13 000 inhabitants, one nurse for 7 500 inhabitants, and 1.37 hospital beds per 1 000 inhabitants. However, in reality the situation is worse: one-half of all physicians and high proportions of all health facilities are concentrated in Port-au-Prince, and the majority of the population receives no medical care. Over one-half of all doctors and nurses trained in Haiti have gone into exile for political and economic reasons.




1 American Convention on Human Rights

Article 26. Progressive development

The States Parties undertake to adopt measures, both internally and through international cooperation, especially those of an economic and technical nature, with a view to achieving progressively, by legislation or other appropriate means, the full realization of the rights implicit in the economic, social, educational, scientific, and cultural standards set forth in the Charter of the Organization of American States as amended by the Protocol of Buenos Aires.

2 World Bank Report, December 1978.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 UNESCO, Statistical Yearbook 1977, 45 p.

6 Ibid.

7 Vera Rubin and Richard P. Schaeder, Eds. 1975. The Haitian Potential: Research and Resources of Haiti. N.Y. Teachers College Press. P. 158.

8 World Bank Report, p. 30.

9 Rubin and Schaeder, supra, p. 148.

10 WHO Statistical Annual, 1978.

11 World Bank Report of 1978, p. 64.

12 Economic and Social Progress in Latin America 1978, p. 138.

13 Rubin and Schaeder, supra, p. 156.


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