University of Minnesota

Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Haiti, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.77, Doc. 18 rev. 1 (1990).





1. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has followed with special attention the situation of human rights in Haiti virtually since the Commission's foundation. The deplorable situation of human rights under the regime of François Duvalier (1957-1971) and later under his son Jean Claude (1971-1986), led the Commission to draft a special report in 1979, after conducting an "on-site" observation, and to include the corresponding sections on Haiti in its annual reports. In the course of the nearly thirty years of the Duvaliers' regime, a complex legal and political structure evolved, the effects of which on the observance of human rights are still felt today.

2. In 1986, a few weeks before leaving Haiti, Jean Claude Duvalier had invited the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to conduct an on-site visit to the country, which never took place. On July 29, 1986, the National Governing Council that succeeded Duvalier sent a new invitation to the Inter-American Commission to observe the situation of human rights in Haiti, and this visit was carried out by the entire Commission from January 20-23, 1987.

3. Bearing in mind that a process of democratization was then underway, and that it included drafting a new Constitution and holding free and pluralistic elections in Haiti, scheduled for November 1987, the Inter-American Commission expressed its concern about run-on human rights to the Government of Haiti. The Commission sent a note to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in which the Commission requested that it be granted the necessary facilities to continue to observe the development of human rights during that period.

4. In that note, the Inter-American Commission indicated that while it noted positive advances with respect to freedom of expression and association, the IACHR was concerned over the precarious situation of the right to personal liberty and to due process, and about the deplorable conditions in which detained persons were being held. The Commission also stated that it was necessary to halt the use of violence by security forces, which had committed serious abuses with respect to personal integrity. Special mention was made of the disappearances of Haitian citizens, which constituted a precedent of the utmost seriousness. In addition, the Commission requested that the order of expulsion of an opposition political figure be nullified.

5. After the annulment of the November 29, 1987 elections and the tragic events that occurred on that date in Haiti, the Commission considered the situation and in its press release of March 25, 1988, the Inter-American Commission announced its decision to prepare a special report on the situation of human rights in Haiti, and expressed its hope that the Government would allow it to carry out an on-site visit to that end. On April 26th, the Government of Manigat invited the Commission to visit the country.

6. After a very tense period, the Manigat government was overthrown and General Nanphy assumed control on June 20, 1988. In light of these developments, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States met on June 29, 1988, to consider the situation in Haiti and adopted a resolution in which, among other things, it requests the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to examine the situation of human rights in the country in order to present a report to the next regular session of the General Assembly. In the resolution, the Permanent Council reaffirmed "the full validity of all the principles of the Charter ... those that call for the effective exercise of representative democracy ... and full enjoyment of fundamental human rights."

7. When the necessary arrangements had been made, a Special Committee of the IACHR carried out an in loco visit to Haiti from August 29 to September 2, 1988. The outcome of that visit was the Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Haiti, approved by the Commission on September 7, 1988, which extensively discusses the range of human rights issues, including the background of the Duvaliers' regime, the repercussions of which the Commission believes are still felt in Haiti. In the Special Report, there is detailed analysis of both historical developments and the legal framework, in particular with reference to the Constitution of 1987, and the situation of a number of human rights affected by the situation in Haiti.

8. A tragic series of events occurred on Septiember 11, 1988 at the San Juan Bosco Church. Twelve parishioners died and more than eight were injured when the temple was burned. On September 17 General Prosper Avril takes power and pledged, among other commitments to reinstate observation of the 1987 Constitution. During his regime, however, the human rights situation begun to deteriorate once again. On February 23, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States convened a meeting to study the situation in Haiti, and adopted the following resolution, which is transcribed verbatim due to its importance:



RECALLING its resolution CP/RES. 441 (644/86) of February 14, 1986, affirming that the OAS, in strict adherence to the principle of non-intervention, is prepared to cooperate with the Republic of Haiti for the strengthening of representative democracy, a principle established in the Charter of the Organization;

RECALLING also resolution AG/RES. 824 (XVI-0/86) which authorized the establishment of the Inter-American Fund for Priority Assistance to Haiti;

REAFFIRMING its resolution CP/RES. 489 (720/87) through which it expressed its conviction that it is necessary for the renewal of the democratic process in Haiti and for the adoption of all necessary measures so that the Haitian people can express their will through free elections without any form of pressure or interference;

BEARING IN MIND the resolution (AG/RES. 1022 (XIX-0/89) which adopted the 1989 Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights;

MINDFUL of the Special Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Haiti (OEA/Ser.L/V/11.74, Doc.9 rev. 1 of September 7, 1988) and the subsequent country report included in the 1988-89 Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (AG/doc.2418/89), and

IN VIEW OF the recent events in Haiti and having heard the statement of the Representative of Haiti;

CONCERNED by the state of the fundamental human rights of the people of Haiti and the difficulties in the process towards the establishment of representative democracy in that country,


1. To reiterate its declaration in resolution AG/RES. 1022 (XIX-0/89) that "the best guarantee of human rights is the real exercise of representative democracy".

2. To reaffirm its solidarity with the people of Haiti and to reiterate its confidence that they will achieve their legitimate aspirations for peace, freedom, and democracy, without external interferences and in exercise of their right to self-determination.

3. To request the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, to continue giving priority attention to the human rights situation in Haiti and, with the agreement of the Government of that country, to make a further in situ visit and report to the XX Regular Session of the General Assembly, with prior consideration by the Permanent Council in accordance with Article 90f of the Charter.

4. To recommend to the Secretary General the organization of a Mission of observers to the next election in Haiti, if requested by the Government of Haiti.

5. To urge the reactivation of cooperation with the Government and people of Haiti for the development and consolidation of representative democracy.

6. To request the Secretary General to continue assisting Haiti under the Inter-American Fund for Priority Assistance to Haiti in accordance with the terms outlined in resolution AG/RES. 824 (XVI-0/86).

9. Faced with this Resolution, the President of the Inter-American Commission instructed the Executive Secretary to finalize plans for the the requested observation visit. The heightening of conflicts in Haiti prevented General Avril from following up on the invitation before being replaced by President Ertha Pascal-Trouillot, who agreed that the visit and inspection would be carried out April 17-20, 1990.

10. At the end of the visit, the delegation released the following statement to the press:

Pursuant to Permanent Council Resolution 537 adopted on February 23, 1990, by that body, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in the exercise of its functions, visited Haiti, following the deterioration in the human rights situation in that country. That visit ended today. Under that Permanent Council resolution, the Commission was to look into the human rights situation in Haiti and prepare a full report to be submitted to the General Assembly of the OAS. The delegation was composed of Mr. Oliver H. Jackman, Chairman of the Commission; Mr. Leo Valladares L., Vice Chairman; and, Mr. Patrick L. Robinson, member of the IACHR; Mr. David J. Padilla, Assistant Executive Secretary; Mr. Luis F. Jimenez and Mrs. Bertha Santoscoy, human rights specialists from the Commision's Executive Secretariat, and Miss Gloria Sakamoto, Secretary of the delegation.

During its mission to Haiti, the delegation met with President Ertha Pascal Trouillot, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Worship, the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of National Defense, the Minister of Social Affairs, the Chief Staff of the Armed Forces, the Minister of Justice and the Council of State, and other government officials.

The delegation also met with representatives of human rights organizations and political parties to hear about the political situation as it relates to representative democracy. It also met with media representatives, both press and radio, to get a status report on the freedom of expression. The delegation held meetings with Haitian jurists, union representatives, representatives of the industrial sector, Chamber of Commerce, the Church, and other forces active in the country.

The delegation visited two prisons where it interviewed those in charge: Pénitencier National, in Port-au-Prince, and the Centre de Détention, in Delmas. It also gathered information on the investigation of several cases that had been brought before it, notably, cases of arbitrary arrests and murders committed during President Prosper Avril's government.

In Pont Sondé, St. Marc, and Piatre, the delegation obtained information on human rights violations, and was able to observe the serious damage inflicted on the latter community. It also gave hearings to persons from various social strata from whom it received complaints, communications, and reports concerning respect for human rights.

Prior to its arrival in the country, the delegation had spelled out what the objectives of its visit were, and announced its intention of gathering all possible information on respect for, and the promotion of, human rights in Haiti. The Government gave the delegation every assurance that there would be no reprisals against persons or groups meeting with the delegation.

From the many depositions it received the delegation was able to establish several common threads. First was mention of the need to create conditions of security that would enable the population to exercise its political rights during the electoral process, soon to start. These conditions, according to those depositions, involved two factors: respect for basic human rights, namely, personal freedom, right of association and of assembly and the right to freedom of expression, among others. Next, linked to security, was the need to bring to trial persons accused of committing very serious human rights violations, as in the case of the massacres of November 29, 1987 and the Saint Jean Bosco Church of September 11, 1988.

The delegation notes that there is a consensus among major sectors of Haitian society as to the lack of any serious investigations, legal proceedings, and appropriate punishment of persons responsible for gross human rights violations which, it is felt, would prevent the candidates from waging their electoral campaigns and would create a climate of mistrust and fear in the electorate. This situation could in all likelihood be the cause of a poor turnout at the elections.

The delegation found it necessary to repeat, on several occasions, that it was absolutely vital that there be a separation between Police and Armed Forces in order to give the police a professional character and provide the necessary training for it to respect human rights.

The delegation was pleased to hear of the commitment made by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Haiti to accentuate professionalism in those Forces, subordinate them to civil authority, and make of them a disciplined tool under the Ministry of Justice, and the guardian of security in the electoral process.

The significant amount of documentation gathered during this visit will be the subject of careful analysis by the delegation, and during the course of its next session, the delegation will adopt a final report containing conclusions and recommendations. The delegation is most pleased at the expression of good will manifested by high Government officials who are anxious to realize the effective exercise of political rights and strengthen the protection of basic human rights.

The delegation must state once again that, as a party to the American Convention on Human Rights, the Haitian State has not only an obligation to respect those rights but also to ensure the full and unrestricted exercise of them. The delegation, therefore, trusts that in the course of the upcoming elections these rights will be exercised under security conditions that enable all political forces and the Haitian population in general to express themselves and to act quite freely and without fear so that the election per se will fit into the process of democratization under way and into a broader framework of general, basic human rights. These rights would include economic, social, and cultural rights, the observation of which is an indispensable element in meeting the legitimate aspirations of the Haitian people and strengthening the democratic system. The delegation has said that this system is the best guarantee for the protection of human rights.

The delegation also had an opportunity to receive depositions from members of the first Provisional Electoral Board who were elected in that capacity in 1987, in accordance with the Constitution. They were recently appointed to that Board again after being removed from office by the de facto government of General Henri Namphy. They told the delegation with considerable force that the task of organizing and conducting free, fair, and democratic elections could prove to be extremely difficult if the Government did not take immediate and positive measures to ensure the security of the vote and that of the members and personnel of the Board itself and thereby avoid a repetition of the disastrous events of November 29, 1987.

The delegation has also received specific requests from all sectors that the electoral process be monitored by international experts from its inception to its conclusion.

The presence of these international experts will instill greater confidence in the population and reinforce the authority of the electoral board.

A recurring theme in the course of the statements made before the delegation was that of the role of armed groups in Haiti. Several witnesses explained the inherent dangers in the activities of former military officers and the rest of the civil militia known as Tontons Macoutes, accused of systematically terrorizing the population. In the eyes of the public, some were involved in the many atrocities committed after Jean-Claude Duvalier's departure in 1986, especially the massacre of November 29, 1987. It was brought to the delegation's attention that the immediate and full disarmament of these groups should be the immediate priority of the provisional Government. Persons who appeared before the delegation insisted that such an atmosphere prevented witnesses from coming forward to file complaints about such acts.

Time and time again, religious and political representatives said that one of the chief causes of insecurity in the country was the activity of the Chefs de section (Section Chiefs) in the rural areas. The belief is that these persons who are appointed by the Armed Forces and belong to them grossly overstep their authority as rural police officers, and that they are responsible for numerous arbitrary acts violating the rights of the Haitian citizenry. It has been said that a restructuring of this policing system was a sine qua non for the protection of human rights in the rural areas and for ensuring that adequate conditions are set in place for an unfettered electoral campaign and a free ballot at the upcoming elections.

Media representatives further shared with the delegation their fears that the prevailing insecurity could jeopardize the lives of journalists wishing to give full coverage of the electoral process.

The delegation must present a report on the status of human rights in Haiti, which will discuss further its mission to that country. The Commission will complete the report in the course of its next session to begin on May 7, 1990, at its Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Pursuant to Resolution 537, this report is to be submitted to the General Assembly of the OAS at its twentieth regular session in June, in accordance with Article 90.f of the Charter.

The delegation wishes to underline the cooperation that was extended to the delegation in the discharge of its mission and to thank the Government and people of Haiti as well as the media for their cooperation.

The Commission will continue to observe developments in the human rights situation in Haiti during further visits, which will take place in the near future.

Port of Prince, April 20, 1990

11. As a result of the completed observation, the Special Commission sent its Report to the full Commission which considered the Report during its 77th session and approved it. This report covers the events leading up to the period of General Prosper Avril's government and includes elements observed during the in loco visit. Starting from these elements, the Commission draws the conclusions and formulates the recommendations it deems relevant.


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