Worsening breakdowns of the Haitian electoral system in recent years have led to a series of expired mandates and constitutional impasses, leaving citizens without proper political representation. Rampant corruption and violence by armed criminal groups undermine basic services and contribute to physical insecurity for the population. The judiciary and law enforcement agencies lack the resources, independence, and integrity to uphold due process and the rule of law. Antigovernment protests often result in excessive use of force by police.
- The first half of the year was dominated by protests and political disputes over the expiration of President Jovenel Moïse’s term, his plans to hold a referendum on constitutional reforms, and the continued postponement of overdue elections.
- In July, Moïse was assassinated by a group of heavily armed men who entered his residence, and the resulting succession crisis was exacerbated by the lack of a sitting Parliament, as the terms of most lawmakers had expired in 2020.
- Ariel Henry, who took office as acting prime minster and acting president with support from foreign diplomats, again postponed elections in September. Amid ongoing doubts about the legitimacy of his government, Henry was accused of obstructing the criminal investigation into Moïse’s assassination, which remained stalled at year’s end.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||1 / 4|
In Haiti’s semipresidential system, the president is directly elected for a five-year term. The prime minister is appointed by the president and confirmed by Parliament.
Jovenel Moïse of the Haitian Tet Kale Party (PHTK), the handpicked successor of then president Michel Martelly, won the 2015 presidential election, but the results were nullified due to extensive fraud. Moïse went on to win a repeat election in 2016, taking 55.6 percent of the vote. He was inaugurated in February 2017 after an electoral tribunal verified the outcome, citing irregularities but no evidence of widespread fraud. Some members of the political opposition and civil society groups claimed that fraud in the vote tally, inconsistent voter registration lists, and a low voter turnout of 21 percent undermined the new president’s mandate.
The events surrounding the repeat election later resulted in a political and legal dispute over whether Moïse’s term expired in February 2021, five years after the end of Martelly’s term, or February 2022, five years after Moïse was inaugurated.
President Moïse frequently replaced the prime minister during his tenure, but after the terms of most lawmakers expired in early 2020, his appointees were unable to obtain parliamentary approval in keeping with the constitution. In April 2021, Moïse accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe and appointed Claude Joseph, the minister of foreign affairs and worship, to replace him. Joseph then submitted his resignation in early July, and Moïse, through a decree published in the official state newspaper Le Moniteur, appointed Ariel Henry as the new prime minister. Henry had not yet been installed when, days later, Moïse was assassinated at his residence.
The assassination set off a dispute among the local political, civic, and economic actors as to who should head the executive branch, but key diplomatic representatives in the country—known as the Core Group—called on Henry to lead a new government, and Joseph stepped down. In September, Henry dismissed the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) and indefinitely postponed general elections, which were already overdue. He remained in place as acting prime minister and acting president at year’s end.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to the assassination of President Moïse and the indefinite postponement of elections to replace him.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||0 / 4|
The directly elected, bicameral Parliament is composed of a Senate, with 30 members who serve six-year terms, and a Chamber of Deputies, with 119 members who serve four-year terms. The 2015 legislative elections were plagued by disorder, fraud, and violence. Despite concerns about the elections’ credibility, 92 lawmakers took office in early 2016. Elections for a portion of the Senate and the runoff elections for the remaining seats in the Chamber of Deputies were held in 2016 along with the repeat presidential election, and the contests were marred by low voter turnout and fraud. The PHTK emerged as the largest single party in both chambers, followed by Vérité (Truth), though most of the seats were divided among a large number of smaller parties.
Elections for the Chamber of Deputies, two-thirds of the Senate, and local mayoralties were canceled in October 2019. As a result, Parliament was dissolved in January 2020. Ten senators still had mandates, however, and after Moïse’s assassination in July 2021, they supported Senate president Joseph Lambert’s short-lived bid to serve as acting president. Following the dismissal of the CEP in September, fresh elections had yet to be scheduled at year’s end.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||2 / 4|
The CEP was established in the late 1980s as a temporary body, but it remains responsible for managing the electoral process. Despite constitutional safeguards against executive dominance of the CEP, the executive branch asserts significant control over it in practice. In September 2020, Moïse appointed a new CEP by presidential decree. Human rights observers argued that both the appointments and the decree’s mandate for the council to organize a constitutional referendum were unconstitutional. Moïse’s proposed constitutional reforms were reportedly designed to increase the power of the presidency, drawing harsh criticism from his opponents. Plans to hold the referendum and general elections in November 2021 were scuttled that September, when Henry, as acting president, dismissed the existing CEP and pledged to assemble a new council with broader legitimacy.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||1 / 4|
Legal and administrative barriers that prevented some parties from registering or running in past elections have largely been eliminated. The number of members required to form a political party was reduced from 500 to 20 in 2014, leading to the creation of dozens of new parties. However, the risk of violence seriously impairs normal political activity. Opposition party leaders are subject to threats and abductions, and protests organized by opposition parties are regularly met with repressive force by the government.
Criminal violence increased sharply in 2021, with the estimated number of kidnappings more than tripling for the second consecutive year. President Moïse, meanwhile, was accused of using allied criminal groups to intimidate his political opponents and the neighborhoods that formed their bases of support. The insecurity continued after Moïse’s assassination and remained a major obstacle to political mobilization.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because political activity was severely hampered by an increased risk of violence and kidnapping by armed criminal groups.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||1 / 4|
Haiti has a poor record of peaceful democratic transfers of power. It remains difficult for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections, which are regularly disrupted by violence, marred by accusations of fraud, and postponed. In recent years the PHTK has consolidated power in the legislature and at the local level, in part through alliances with smaller parties. However, it has also suffered from internal divisions, particularly between factions loyal to Moïse and to former president Martelly, respectively. The country’s various opposition parties remain highly fragmented.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||1 / 4|
Haitians’ political choices are subject to undue influence or effective marginalization by corrupt patronage networks, organized crime, and foreign actors. Many politicians rely on money linked to drug trafficking, gang activity, and other illegal sources of funding to finance their campaigns. Politicians from the PHTK as well as opposition parties have enlisted armed criminal groups to either incite or halt residents’ involvement in protests and other political activities, according to local human rights activists.
The assassination of President Moïse and its aftermath represented a further degradation of the democratic autonomy of Haitian citizens and politicians. In addition to the violence and criminality associated with the murder itself, many observers decried the role of the Core Group—comprising ambassadors or representatives from Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, the United States, the European Union, the Organization of American States, and the United Nations—in confirming Ariel Henry as the new acting prime minister and acting president. In a September 2021 resignation letter, the US special envoy to Haiti, Daniel Foote, denounced the diplomatic endorsement of Henry, arguing that it improperly sidelined an alternative plan advanced by a commission of Haitian civil society representatives, which called for a longer transition period to enable thorough institutional reforms before any elections or political settlement.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to the increased role of criminal and foreign actors in shaping political outcomes.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2 / 4|
Haitian women are underrepresented in political life, with only four out of 149 parliamentary seats held by women from 2017 to 2019. The constitution mandates that 30 percent of public officials be women, but there are no penalties for noncompliance. Election-related violence and social and cultural norms discourage women from participating in politics. Due to societal discrimination, the interests of LGBT+ people are not represented in the political system, and there are no openly LGBT+ politicians.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||1 / 4|
Parliament was dissolved in January 2020 as the mandates of two-thirds of Senate members and all Chamber of Deputies members expired, and no new elections were held. President Moïse attempted to rule by decree until his July 2021 assassination, but the legitimacy of his actions was questioned, since only members of Parliament have the constitutional authority to pass laws. Similar legitimacy questions continued to undermine the mandates of the prime minister and various government ministries throughout the year. Corruption, instability, and security threats hinder the government’s ability to carry out its own policies and provide basic services across the country.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1 / 4|
Corruption is widespread in Haiti, as are allegations of impunity for government officials. A 2017 law reduced the independence and powers of the Central Financial Intelligence Unit (UCREF), which was responsible for investigating money-laundering cases. Also that year, Moïse replaced the heads of the Anticorruption Unit (ULCC) and the UCREF with political allies and former members of the Martelly administration; both units had been investigating Moïse for potential money laundering.
In August 2020, the Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes (CSCCA) issued its third and final report on corruption among government officials involving a low-interest development-loan program operated by Venezuela, but the findings have not resulted in prosecutions. A month later, despite objections from the CSCCA’s president, Moïse issued a decree that rendered the court’s opinions on public procurement contracts advisory and nonbinding, which would allow for the awarding of state contracts without prior court approval.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||1 / 4|
Haitians’ general distrust of the government stems in large part from the absence of transparency and accountability measures that are needed to reduce corruption. There are no laws providing the public with access to state information, and it is reportedly very difficult to obtain government documents and data in practice. All government officials must file financial disclosure forms within 90 days of taking office and within 90 days of leaving office, though these requirements are not well enforced, and the reports are not made public. A 2020 presidential decree that created the National Intelligence Agency (ANI) granted it total secrecy and the ability to conduct surveillance on individuals and businesses at any time, even if there is no relevant ongoing investigation.
The events and governance conditions of 2021—including disputes about the presidential term, executive rule in the absence of legislative oversight, and the investigation of Moïse’s assassination—raised further transparency concerns. In September, Henry dismissed the justice minister and a chief prosecutor after investigators under their supervision uncovered evidence that appeared to link Henry himself to a top suspect in the case, prompting accusations that he was obstructing justice. The investigation remained stalled at year’s end.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to the prolongation of opaque executive rule and allegations of obstruction surrounding the investigation into Moïse’s assassination.
|Are there free and independent media?||2 / 4|
The constitution includes protections for press freedom, and the media sector is pluralistic, but the work of journalists is constrained by threats and violence, government interference, and a lack of financial resources.
In 2020, a presidential decree prohibited the sharing of photos or videos of the bodies of people who died from COVID-19, drawing criticism from human rights groups.
Attacks on journalists occur frequently, and impunity for perpetrators is the norm. In June 2021, two journalists and activists, Diego Charles and Antoinette Duclair, were shot and killed by unidentified men in Port-au-Prince. Also in June, photojournalist Dieu-Nalio Chéry was forced to leave Haiti because of death threats from armed gangs.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||3 / 4|
Freedom of religion is constitutionally guaranteed, and religious groups generally practice freely. However, the traditionally dominant Roman Catholic and Protestant churches and schools receive certain privileges from the state, while Vodou religious leaders have experienced social stigmatization and violence for their beliefs and practices. The government has denied registration to the country’s small Muslim communities.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||2 / 4|
Educational institutions and academics choose their curriculum freely, but university associations and student groups that protest government actions are often met with police violence. Academic freedom is also negatively affected by the general climate of insecurity, and some scholars may self-censor to avoid conflicts with powerful groups or individuals.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||2 / 4|
There are some formal constraints on the expression of personal views, including criminal defamation laws, and the risk of violent reprisals also serves as a deterrent to unfettered discussion of sensitive issues such as corruption, gangs, and organized crime. The government has been accused of using allied gangs to help suppress dissent. Security conditions grew worse during 2021, with the number of documented kidnappings surging to more than 1,200, further dampening citizens’ sense of freedom to air their grievances.
Score Change: The score declined from 3 to 2 because an increase in gang violence and kidnappings has contributed to a climate of fear among ordinary citizens.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||2 / 4|
The constitution enshrines freedom of assembly, but this right is often violated in practice, and police have used excessive force including live rounds of ammunition to disperse protesters. Despite the risk of violence, politicians, civil society groups, and ordinary citizens continued to mount demonstrations during 2021, with participants calling for Moïse’s resignation and condemning criminal activity. Police regularly used tear gas and gunshots in response, but the severity of the protest-related violence and the number of casualties remained far lower than in 2019, when more than 80 people were killed.
Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because activists continued to hold demonstrations against the government and organized crime, and the violence that accompanied such events was not as severe as in some previous years.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||1 / 4|
Numerous domestic and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate in Haiti, but human rights defenders and activists who address sensitive topics are subject to threats and violence, which creates a climate of fear. Violence against activists is rarely investigated or prosecuted. Among other high-profile cases, an investigation into the 2020 assassination of Monferrier Dorval, a government critic and head of the Port-au-Prince Bar Association, remained unsolved in 2021.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||1 / 4|
Workers’ right to unionize is protected under the law, and strikes are not uncommon, though the union movement in Haiti is weak and lacks collective bargaining power in practice. Most citizens are informally employed. Workers who engage in union activity frequently face harassment, suspension, termination, and other repercussions from employers.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1 / 4|
Despite constitutional guarantees of independence, the judiciary is susceptible to political pressure. A lack of resources has contributed to bribery throughout the judicial system, and weak oversight means that most corrupt officials are not held accountable. During his time in office, President Moïse repeatedly declined to renew the mandates of judges, and in February 2021—amid the dispute over the expiration of his term—Moïse forced three members of the Supreme Court to retire. Given Parliament’s inability to play its constitutional role in judicial appointments, the number of vacancies has continued to grow. The head of the Supreme Court died in June, after which the body lacked the quorum it needed to function.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1 / 4|
Constitutionally protected due process rights are regularly violated in practice. Arbitrary arrest is common, as are extortion attempts by police and at all levels of the legal system. Most suspects do not have legal representation, and even those who do suffer from long delays and case mismanagement. More than 80 percent of the prison population consisted of pretrial detainees as of 2021. Many have never appeared before a judge despite the legal requirement of a court hearing within 48 hours of arrest.
In November 2020, President Moïse published two decrees that expanded the definition of terrorism and created the ANI to gather information on and prevent terrorist acts that ostensibly threaten national security. Human rights groups criticized the vague new definition of “terrorist act,” which included robbery, extortion, arson, and the destruction of public and private goods. According to the decrees, the ANI would have broad discretion to conduct searches and surveillance, and its staff cannot be held legally accountable for abuses without prior authorization from the president.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||1 / 4|
A culture of impunity in law enforcement leaves civilians in Haiti with little protection from the illegitimate use of force, and police themselves are subject to lethal attacks by heavily armed criminal groups. According to the United Nations, at least 36 officers were killed in the first eight months of 2021. Criminal groups fight one another for territory and prey on residents in areas under their control, earning revenue from kidnappings, extortion, and other illegal activities. Overall crime statistics are difficult to authenticate, and crimes are underreported, but more than 1,600 murders were registered during 2021, representing an 18 percent increase over the previous year’s total. The resulting homicide rate was about 13.7 per 100,000 residents. Police are regularly accused of abusing suspects and detainees. Conditions in Haiti’s prisons, which are among the world’s most overcrowded, are extremely poor.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||1 / 4|
Discrimination against women, the LGBT+ community, and people with disabilities is pervasive. Among other problems, women face bias in employment and disparities in access to financial services.
A reformed penal code, published in June 2020 by executive decree and set to take effect in June 2022, prohibits gender-based violence, sexual harassment, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which occur regularly in practice. The reform was met with sharp resistance and public protest by conservative cultural and religious groups.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||1 / 4|
The government generally does not restrict travel or place limits on the ability to change one’s place of employment or education. However, insecurity has prevented free movement, particularly in Port-au-Prince, as roads are frequently blockaded by criminal groups, police, or protesters, and many residents avoid unnecessary travel due to widespread gang violence.
The government’s flawed response to natural disasters has prevented many displaced residents from returning to their homes, forcing them to live in poor conditions for extended periods. As of early August 2021, according to the United Nations, about 19,000 people were internally displaced. Tens of thousands more were displaced as a result of an earthquake in mid-August. In addition, more than 6,125 people, or 1,500 households, had been displaced when their houses were burned down by armed gangs in October 2020.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2 / 4|
Although the legal framework protects property rights and private business activity, it is difficult in practice to register property, enforce contracts, and obtain credit. Poor record keeping and corruption contribute to inconsistent enforcement of property rights, and business owners are subject to extortion by criminal groups.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2 / 4|
Basic freedoms related to marriage, divorce, and custody are generally respected. However, there are no laws specifically addressing domestic violence, which is a widespread problem. Both domestic violence and rape are underreported and rarely result in successful prosecutions, with justice officials often favoring reconciliation or other forms of settlement. Spousal rape is not recognized as a criminal offense.
The reformed penal code that was set to take effect in June 2022 would decriminalize abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, in cases of rape or incest, or when there is a threat to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman. Abortion was prohibited entirely under existing law. The reformed code would also reportedly lower the legal age of sexual consent to 15.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||0 / 4|
Socioeconomic mobility is obstructed by entrenched poverty and inequality. Legal protections against exploitative working conditions in formal employment are weakly enforced, and most workers are informally employed. As many as 300,000 children work as domestic servants, often without pay or access to education; they are especially vulnerable to physical or sexual abuse. Other forms of child labor are common.
To escape dire social and economic conditions at home, many Haitians have risked human trafficking and dangerous land and sea journeys to reach countries including the Bahamas, Brazil, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and the United States.