PEN International © 2017
Terms & Conditions | Privacy Statement

Human Rights Day: the perspective from Haiti

Thursday 5 December 2019 - 9:31am

Road into Port-au-Prince | Credit: Siri B. L.

To commemorate Human Rights Day, PEN International and PEN Centres are launching an essay series and holding events on human rights issues across the globe.

Haiti: human rights under threat

In September 2018, the Haitian government appointed a Minister for human rights and ending extreme poverty. The Haitian interministerial committee on human rights developed a national action plan to strengthen human rights. On 3 April 2019, during its statement on the situation in Haiti to the Security Council in New York, the United Nations High Commission expressed satisfaction, comparing the situation in Haiti in 2019 to that of 2004. However, the events of July 2018 to February 2019 made the slaughter that we have seen over the past three months all too foreseeable.

Social injustices have so angered the people of Haiti that various popular protest movements, alongside the “partisan political opposition”, have succeeded in bringing tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets for over a year. On social media and at every protest, they are calling for a radical overhaul of the corrupt system of governance, and for those diverting PetroCaribe Programme funds to be brought before the courts[1]. At least three companies headed at the time by President Jovenel Moïse are implicated in this financial scandal: the greatest in Haiti’s history, according to successive reports published by the High Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes (Cour Supérieure des Comptes et du Contentieux administratif, CSC/CA). Unable to meet the people’s social demands, the government has deployed its forces of order to repressive ends, as recently verified by Amnesty International. According to Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty, “the security forces under the command of President Moïse have used excessive force”: use of live ammunition, military weapons, and beating[2]. An updated count following the latest protests lists 41 deaths, including nine at the hands of the police, and around 100 wounded.

Between 14 March 2018, the date on which freelance photojournalist Vladjimir Legagneur – who was investigating the consequences of clashes between the police and gangs in Grand-Ravine, where two police officers and nine civilians have been killed – disappeared, and 17 October 2019, when Radio Signal FM journalist Raynald Petit-Frère was beaten by agents of the Palais National General Security Unit (Unité de sécurité générale du Palais National, USGPN) on the Champs de Mars, PEN Haiti identified three cases of journalists suffering gunshot wounds and assassination attempts against Kendi Joseph at newspaper Le National and Luckson St-Vil at Loop Haiti. Pétion Rospide, host of Info Petro, a programme focused on the Petrocaribe scandal, for Radio Sans Fin, and Néhémie Joseph, a reporter for Radio Panic FM and Radio Méga and an outspoken critic of officials in Mirebalais, were shot dead after receiving death threats. Lastly, on 9 November, Bernard Belle-Fleur, a Télé Soleil and Radio Nationale d’Haïti journalist and operator, was shot repeatedly and killed by unknown assailants.

Furthermore, there have been many civilian casualties due to clashes between armed gangs:

  • from 1 to 13 November 2018, some 60 people were murdered, dozens injured and seven raped during the La Saline Massacre;
  • on 24 April 2019, eight people were killed, including a pregnant woman, and 12 injured at the Impasse Eddy (Carrefour-Feuilles) slaughter;
  • in June 2019, eight people died and 2000 were displaced following clashes between rival gangs in the Artibonite department;
  • from 4 to 7 November, 15 people died from gunshot wounds, 20 homes were torched and 11 vehicles damaged in the Bel-Air neighbourhood.

The state appears powerless, and these human rights violations receive no response. “According to Jean-Rebel Dorcéna of the National Commission for disarmament, dismantlement and reintegration, there are at least 96 heavily armed gang groups in the country,” writes Alix Laroche of the Haiti Press Network (HPN)[3]. Reports by several human rights organisations, including the National Human Rights Defence Network (Réseau national des droits humains, RNDDH) and the Fondasyon je klere (FJK) indicate links between these armed gangs and members of Parliament.

Every part of Haiti's national life is dying. The first term of the school year is ruined, with over two million children forced to stay at home[4]. Its prisons, where 70% of detainees are citizens held on remand, are running low on supplies[5]. With impunity guaranteed, criminals roam the streets openly. On 27 October 2019, police officers had to resort to protests to force the government to respect their right to join a trade union[6]. While managers at both public and private hospitals have worked hard to provide first aid and medical care to the Haitian people, these services have been paralysed by the absence of a humanitarian corridor that would ensure the movement of healthcare professionals and supplies to medical centres.

Even individual freedoms are under threat. In April 2017, the Senate passed a law deeming homosexuality to be “contrary to the notion of morality and good character in the same manner as child pornography, incest, polygamy, paedophilia, child prostitution and procuring.”[7] Charlot Jeudy, the young leader of KOURAJ, a prominent LGBT organisation, and campaigner for LGBTI community rights, recently died in as yet unexplained circumstances.

The Haitian PEN Centre is working tirelessly to mobilise its members, national public opinion and the international community on the need to support the Haitian people in their legitimate demands. Various notices have been published in the press and on social media to serve as reminders of the right to freedom of expression, to bear witness to our solidarity with the victims of repression and death squads, and to demand justice and reparations[8]. On 17 June 2018, in an Open letter to the nation[9], signed by some thirty Haitian writers, we set out the social and political demands of the Haitian people and invited the nation to safeguard the achievements of human rights and democracy.

The situation is critical. We hope that it is not too late for Haiti. We condemn the climate of repression that is affecting citizens of all ages who wish to give free voice to their demands. We will not give up.

Kettly Mars is a Haitian poet, novelist, and President of PEN Haiti.

[1] In 2007, Venezuela granted Haiti financing arrangements for the purchase of oil products. Profits from the resale of these products on the local market form the PetroCaribe Fund, intended for development and investment.







[8] ,