Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1991

Following Haiti's first free and democratic elections in
December 1990 and January 1991, Jean-Bertrand Aristide took the
oath of office as President on February 7. However, on
September 29, enlisted elements of the army revolted and forced
President Aristide to leave Haiti. With armed soldiers
occupying the interior of the Legislative Palace, a majority of
both houses of, the legislature on October 7 declared the
presidency vacant and the next day confirmed Supreme Court
Justice Joseph Nerette as provisional President. In the days
after the soldiers' rebellion, both the Organization of
American States (OAS) and the United Nations General Assembly
passed resolutions urging member states not to recognize the
Nerette presidency and to adopt economic sanctions and
political measures against Haiti in order to restore
constitutional order and President Aristide to his
constitutional office. OAS-sponsored negotiations for
President Aristide 's return were continuing at year's end.
The army is responsible for state security and enjoys
considerable legal and institutional autonomy, particularly in
military and security matters. The military's human rights
record improved under the Aristide Government, but that trend
was reversed following the September coup, when the army
committed numerous and serious human rights violations. In
both rural and urban areas, army units serve as police,
although the Constitution calls for a separation of the police
and army. Many rural section chiefs, responsible for many
human rights abuses in past years, were dismissed during the
first months of Aristide 's presidency. However, in their
stead, Aristide attempted to install "rural police agents,"
many of whom were suspected of being local activists of the
President's political movement, Lavalas. Following the
September coup, the military began to reinstall the rural
section chiefs.
Haiti is a densely populated and extremely poor country in
which the vast majority of the population suffers from
unemployment and economic inequalities. Economic opportunities
remain severely restricted for all but the wealthiest classes
of society. Notwithstanding significant fiscal and
administrative reforms during Aristide' s first 8 months in
office, Haiti's fragile economy made little progress prior to
the rebellion on September 29.
Haitians suffered frecjuent human rights abuses throughout 1991,
including extrajudicial killings by security forces and
partisan mobs, disappearances, torture and other mistreatment
of detainees and prisoners, arbitrary arrest and detention, and
executive interference with the judicial process. The Haitian
people's right to choose their own government was ultimately
denied them when the military overthrew the freely elected
Government of President Aristide in September.. Although there
were few institutional advances made to improve respect for
human rights during the Aristide Government, there were fewer
instances of abuse by soldiers, which resulted in a greater
sense of personal security. However, the Government proved to
be unwilling or unable to restrain popular justice through mob
violence and ensure the rule of law for all citizens
irrespective of partisan interests. Following the coup,
particularly in certain quarters, the army resorted to
brutality and massacre to control the population; credible
estimates placed the dead nationwide at between 300 and 500.
In the remaining weeks of 1991, the army employed violence on
several occasions to intimidate opposition political
supporters, popular organizations, the urban poor, and the
media, and otherwise to discourage antiregime activity. The
army arbitrarily arrested numerous active supporters of the
President, raided and looted the homes of many of his ministers
after issuing arrest orders for them, and violently closed
almost all of the country's media for several weeks.
Section l Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
Hundreds were killed in political violence during 1991. At
least 75 persons were killed in incidents of "popular justice"
by mobs as well as shootings by Tonton Macoutes (henchmen of
the Duvalier dictatorship that ended in 1986) following the
failed coup attempt of Duvalierist strongman Roger Lafontant in
early January. Political killings included those of Sylvio
Claude, twice a presidential candidate and a prominent party
leader, who was murdered the evening of the September coup
after speaking out against Aristide; well-known Port-au-Prince
radio personality Jackie Gary Simeon, the host of a popular
radio call-in show and a strong supporter of President
Aristide; and Roger Lafontant, murdered on September 29 at the
National Prison where he was serving a life sentence for his
January 7 coup attempt.
The Aristide Administration, in its first months in office,
attempted to hold military personnel and law enforcement
officers accountable for some human rights excesses, especially
extrajudicial killings of civilians. Numerous abusive
personnel were transferred or removed from office, and a few
specific disciplinary actions were instituted. As a result of
a disturbance on March 9 in the town of Montroius which cost
the lives of a 14-year-old boy, two soldiers, and another
civilian, six members of the armed forces were arrested.
President Aristide, however, appeared less concerned about
prosecuting members of the military accused of human rights
abuses if they were supporters or appointees of his
Government. The police on July 26 tortured and murdered five
young men who were in police custody; following an
investigation, the Army recommended to President Aristide that
a lieutenant and the enlisted men under his command at the time
be brought to trial for the killings. The President attempted
publicly to exonerate the officer, believed to be a militant
Aristide supporter. President Aristide also failed to condemn
categorically all recourse to popular justice through mob
violence. The Aristide Government made no effort to identify
and bring to justice those responsible for the wholesale
killing, looting, and burning that occurred after the failed
Lafontant coup in January. The only response to three official
requests to the Aristide Government for information on the
status of the investigation into the death of an American
citizen, Richard Andre Emmanuel, who was killed by mob violence
in late February, was that the investigation "was still in
progress .
Human rights abuses increased significantly immediately
following the September coup. At least 300 civilians were
killed during and after the military rebellion on September 29
against President Aristide. Immediately after the coup,
Haitian troops engaged in random shootings and selected
killings of residents in poor neighborhoods who were suspected
pro-Aristide organization leaders. In
Lamentin, troops avenged the murder of one or two soldiers by
indiscriminately shooting 30 to 40 people, and, on October 2,
soldiers killed several civilians in Cite Soleil, a poor
neighborhood iri Port-au-Prince. In the months following the
coup, the army resorted to violence on several occasions to
intimidate perceived opponents of the regime. On December 15,
a rural section chief shot and killed Astrel Charles, a Member
of Parliament, in his home in Pignon in what is believed to
have been a personal dispute. A clandestine radio station
threatened 98 known Aristide supporters with death on December
      b. Disappearance
There were no reported disappearances while the Aristide
Government was in power. There were many reports of persons,
including active Aristide supporters and other perceived
opponents, being out of contact with friends and family. At
year's end it was not possible to determine whether these
people went into hiding, fled the country, or had been
clandestinely abducted. There were two confirmed cases of
abduction. Felix Lamy, a journalist for Radio Galaxie, was
abducted on December 10 by armed soldiers; his whereabouts
remained unknown as of year's end. Dr. Dieudonne
Jean-Baptiste, a brother of the president of the Papaye Pessant
Movement, was reportedly abducted by members of the police in
Port-au-Prince; his whereabouts also remained unknown.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Beatings and other cruel treatment of detainees were
substantially less common under the Aristide presidency than in
previous years. However, there were several credible reports
of torture and other abuse of detainees and prisoners (see
Section l.a.) both during the initial Aristide tenure and since
the coup.
Following the September coup, the army resorted to torture and
violence on several occasions to intimidate and discourage
perceived opponents and antiregime activity. Scores of armed
soldiers arrested and badly beat the mayor of Port-au-Prince,
Evans Paul, on October 7. Other Aristide supporters, such as
popular musician Manno Charlemagne and prominent businessman
Antoine Izmery (both released), were arbitrarily arrested and
sometimes beaten. On October 12, the army arrested and in many
cases beat between 100 and 150 students who were holding a
pro-Aristide press conference at the State University of
Haiti. There was widespread intimidation of journalists: on
November 9, for example, Paul-Jean Mario, a radio reporter, was
arrested and remained imprisoned at year's end.
Prison conditions remained abysmal. Prisoners continued to
suffer from a lack of the most basic hygienic facilities, as
well as inadequate food and health care. Guards routinely
extorted money from prisoners for basic services and favors.
Health care in the National Prison was further complicated by
internal partisan quarrels within the Ministry of Health that
led to widescale dismissals in the summer, including doctors
assigned to periodic prison visits. The National Prison
remained overcrowded throughout Aristide's tenure. Mass
escapes and the payment of bribes for release immediately after
the coup, as well as a general pardon of political prisoners
and the dismissal of several cases resulted by year's end in a
dramatic reduction in the prison population. The de facto
regime was less inclined to leave uncharged prisoners in
prison; the police under the de facto Government tended to
arrest and sometimes beat prisoners, then release them if a
judge so ordered.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Arbitrary arrest and detention remain among the most persistent
human rights abuses in Haiti. By law, a person may be arrested
only if apprehended during the commission of a crime or if a
judicial warrant has been issued for the arrest. While some
effort was made in 1991 to ensure that persons were not
arrested without a warrant, freqxiently persons were detained
for weeks, sometimes months, without access to family, friends
or legal counsel, and with no judicial action being taken on
their cases. In at least one political case, persons continued
to be held in detention despite a court order for their
release. Persons detained were routinely interrogated without
the presence of legal counsel, in violation of the Constitution.
Cto June 29, Roland Alcindor and Wilfred Alexis, two members of
a political party headed by former presidential candidate
Hubert Deronceray, were arrested by members of the President's
security detail in the southern provincial city of Petit Goave
for demonstrating against Aristide. Ignoring a court order for
their release, agents of Aristide's personal security service
went to Petit Goave and transferred Alcindor and Alexis to the
National Prison where they were held incommunicado and denied
access to legal counsel . Despite repeated promises by the most
senior officers of the Government to review the case
personally, the prisoners were still in detention at the time
of the September coup. The Aristide Administration detained
former president Ertha Pascal Trouillot on April 4 on charges
of complicity with the Lafontant coup attempt. The former
president spent a night in the National Prison and was released
under house arrest the following day. The charges against
Trouillot subsequently were investigated and dropped in late
July. Prime Minister Rene Preval personally interrogated
prisoners at the National Prison in politically sensitive
cases; the detainees did not have access to legal counsel
during these interrogations. Local authorities in the coastal
city of Jacmel arbitrarily arrested several American seamen in
May and held them without charges for several days despite
repeated consular protests.
Following the September coup, there were numerous arbitrary
arrests of prominent supporters of President Aristide. In
October populist singer Manno Charlemagne and Aristi-de campaign
financier Antoine Izmery, both of whom had been arrested by the
current de facto authorities of the Nerette/Honorat regime,
were released from illegal detention, as was the wife of Prime
Minister Preval.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the
right to a fair public trial, and expressly denies police or
judicial authorities the right to interrogate persons charged
with a crime unless the suspect has legal counsel present or
waives this right. This right was, nonetheless, routinely
denied throughout 1991, especially in cases involving state
security (see Section l.d.).
The Aristide Government repeatedly attempted to interfere with
the judicial process or usurp it through "mob justice."
Shortly after assuming office, and without consultation with
the Senate, the Aristide Government attempted to appoint five
new justices to the Supreme Court. The executive maintained
that a constitutional provision and a law passed by both houses
of the legislature granting the executive special authority for
6 months to reform the judiciary and public administration
provided sufficient authority to name the disputed justices.
Legislators, however, insisted that the law in question could
not supersede specific constitutional requirements and that the
Constitution expressly grants only the legislature the right to
interpret the intent of legislation.
On July 29, Roger Lafontant was tried after he was charged with
attempting to overthrow the Government by force in January. In
public comments prior to the trial. President Aristide said
that he believed Lafontant should be condemned to life in
prison for his crime, although Haitian law calls for a maximum
sentence of 15 years. On the day of the trial, hundreds of
people demonstrated in front of the courthouse, carrying tires
and gasoline cans and threatening to kill the judge in the case
if Lafontant were not condemned to life in prison. After a
22-hour trial, the judge condemned Lafontant to life at hard
labor. Serge Beaulieu, a radio personality closely identified
with extreme Duvalierist views, was bound over for trial on
charges of inciting a riot. He had spent 6 months in prison
with only belated and limited access to his attorney and family
while awaiting completion of a judicial investigation in his
case. The only evidence cited by an appeals judge in September
to confirm the propriety of sending Beaulieu' s case to trial
was the presumption of his guilt based on the fact that a mob
had ransacked Beaulieu 's house following the failed Lafontant.
coup attempt.
Persons with controversial political reputations charged with
various crimes against state security experienced significant
difficulty engaging competent counsel. Lawyers and human
rights groups were afraid to take on such cases because of
Aristide 's continued ambiguity about mob violence. Some
attorneys who initially had agreed to accept politically
controversial cases later dropped them because they received
threats against themselves and their families. In the weeks
immediately preceding the September coup, there were at least
three known instances of lawyers who were either arrested or
narrowly escaped popular justice through mob violence because
of their association with politically suspect defendants.
f . Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
During and following the September coup, there were many
credible reports of soldiers and other armed persons entering
private homes for illegal purposes. The homes of a number of
Ministers of the Aristide Government were looted by uniformed
personnel, and family members were threatened.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Freedom of speech is provided for by the Constitution but was
often abridged by violence and intimidation, particularly
following the September coup. In addition to one
government-owned and -operated television and radio station and
a daily newspaper, there also are many private radio stations,
one private television station, and several private daily
During and after the rebellion against Aristide, several
pro-Aristide reporters and radio stations were attacked by
military personnel and forced off the air by soldiers (see
Section I.e.). Popular pro-Aristide radio commentator Jackie
Caraibe was murdered (see Section l.a.). Many journalists from
the state-owned radio, television, and newspaper went into
hiding or sought refuge in embassies. Pro-Aristide journalists
from private media operations also fled or took refuge. In
response to threats from both Aristide supporters and
opponents, most broadcast stations suspended news broadcasts.
There were credible reports of foreign journalists having their
materials confiscated by soldiers and being forced to leave
certain areas of Port-au-Prince at gunpoint. Some private
radio stations and newspapers resumed their activities in late
October; most exercised considerable self-censorship in their
reporting of events.
Following the failed Lafontant coup attempt in January, angry
pro-Aristide mobs attacked Duvalierist radio stations and
newspaper offices that had been strongly critical of President
Aristide. Throughout the subsequent months, many Haitian
journalists were fearful of mob action if they openly
criticized the Aristide presidency too harshly. These fears
were compounded by Aristide' s own public criticism and thinly
veiled threat in early February (for which he subsequently
apologized) against a reporter from Haiti Observateur, an
expatriate newspaper widely distributed in Haiti. In the weeks
just prior to the September rebellion, however, most
journalists were beginning to abandon their earlier caution and
had begun openly to criticize government personalities,
actions, and programs with much less reserve.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly and
association, but these rights were severely restricted
following the September coup. There were credible reports from
all parts of Haiti indicating that the de facto Government was
engaged in a systematic effort to inhibit any type of
association. Soldiers would fire into the air to disperse
gatherings. Community organizers, even of nonpolitical
organizations, were arrested and sometimes beaten, harassed, or
intimidated into fleeing their own communities. Only
anti-Ar istide organizations were allowed to demonstrate. When
some students attempted to organize a press conference, police
units raided the university building in which they were
meeting. There were credible reports from several towns that
Haitians were inhibited from gathering to listen to radio
broadcasts from the Voice of America and other foreign
stations, and that church groups perceived to be pro-Aristide
were discouraged from meeting.
On August 13, the Parliament, as well as the offices of a
number of the Aristide Government's critics—the labor union
Autonomous Central of Haitian Workers (CATH), and the political
organizations National Front for Change and Democracy (FNCD)
and United Democratic Committee (KID)—were attacked by mobs
who many observers believe were inspired by those close to the
Administration. This move coincided with an attempt by the
Chamber of Deputies to debate a motion of no confidence in the
      c. Freedom of Religion
Religion is an integral part of Haitian life and culture and is
practiced widely. Roman Catholicism is embraced in varying
degrees by about 75 percent of the population. Voodoo, a
mixture of African animism and Christianity, is also practiced
by a majority of Haitians. Various Protestant denominations
and foreign missionary groups openly proselytize in Haiti.
There are no government restrictions on missionary activities,
affiliations with overseas coreligionists, or religious
instruction or publishing.
However, there were serious incidents of politically motivated
violence directed against religious groups in 1991, especially
after the September coup and during the period following the
failed Lafontant coup attempt. In January the Archbishop of
Port-au-Prince—closely associated with the Duvalierist
regime—was forced to flee for his life because of his
denunciation of Aristide. The sacking of the Nunciature, the
mob attack on the Papal Nuncio, and the serious wounding of his
assistant, shocked many in Haiti. There were credible reports,
some from Lavalas supporters who were themselves horrified by
the attack, that radical partisans of the President both
organized and participated in the event. In addition to the
violence directed against the leadership of the Catholic Church
(with whom the President had longstanding differences), there
were reports in January and sporadically thereafter that
populist groups had threatened various Protestant missions in
certain areas of the country and caused several pastors to flee
their congregations.
After the September coup, there were credible reports of
arrests and threats of arrest of pro-Aristide clergy, of
military forces entering places of worship during services, and
that church groups perceived to be pro-Aristide were prevented
from congregating.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The most serious 1991 violations of freedom of travel occurred
shortly after President Aristide took office when hundreds of
former officials of previous governments were subjected to a
constitutionally questionable ban on foreign travel. Former
president Ertha Pascal Trouillot was subject to an official ban
on foreign travel from Aristide 's inauguration on February 7
until August 16 when the restriction was lifted after a
magistrate's finding that there were no grounds to prosecute
her on state security charges. The de facto Government which
took power after the September coup followed a similar pattern
of restricting travel within and without the country,
especially in cases involving Aristide' s ministers and closest
advisers, most of whom sought refuge in various foreign
Throughout 1991, Haitians continued to leave Haiti bound for
destinations throughout the Americas.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
This right was exercised early in 1991 when President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide took office in February following free
and fair elections. However, he was forced by rebellious
soldiers to flee the country in September after a military coup
that left hundreds dead. Most senior members of his
Administration either went into hiding, fled the country, or
took refuge in foreign embassies. At soldiers' gunpoint on
October 7, the legislature declared the presidency vacant and
the next day installed Supreme Court Justice Joseph Nerette as
provisional President. After nearly a week of maneuvering
among the country's various political party leaders, human
rights activist Jean-Jacques Honorat, who was appointed Prime
Minister in the Nerette regime, was finally able to form a
cabinet of mostly technocrats and little-known political
After his election victory. President Aristide and his
supporters often excluded or intimidated their political
opponents or those perceived as such. Partisan mobs attacked
political party headquarters, the media, and the Church
following the failed Lafontant coup attempt in January. In
early August, after the Chamber of Deputies began an
interpellation of Prime Minister Rene Preval, a mob of
thousands of angry demonstrators appeared at the Legislative
Palace to threaten legislators with death should they vote to
censure Preval. Several legislators were physically abused
trying to enter the legislative chambers, and police at the
scene made only limited efforts to keep the mob at a distance
from the parliament building. At the same time, another
violent mob attacked the headquarters of Aristide' s former
political party sponsor and the labor union offices of populist
labor organizer Jean-Auguste Mesyeux, who had been agitating
for weeks for Preval 's resignation. After the September coup,
pro-Aristide human rights groups were forced underground.
Although many of these groups attempted to report on
conditions, limitations on their ability to travel freely and
communicate openly inhibited their ability to monitor fully the
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Several local human rights groups operated in Haiti in 1991.
They monitored human rights violations, and at least one such
organization, Chadel, published a monthly bulletin of human
rights violations. Other human rights organizations, such as
the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church, also
published periodic reports. There were no reports of any
effort by the Aristide Government to interfere overtly with the
activities of domestic human rights organizations.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Some 95 percent of Haitians are descendants of African slaves
who gained independence from France in 1804 . Most others are
mulatto or of European, Middle Eastern, North American, or
Latin American origin. Haitian law makes no distinctions based
on race. However, there are longstanding social and political
animosities among these various groups, many of which date back
before Haiti's revolutionary period. There are two official
languages in Haiti: Creole, which is spoken by virtually all,
and French, which is spoken by no more than 20 percent of the
population. Those unable to read, write, and speak French are
limited in their social and economic activities. Many argue
that the country's French-speaking elite have used language
requirements as a barrier to the advancement of the country's
Officially, there is no discrimination against women. Women
have occupied prominent positions in both the public and
private sectors in recent years. In some social strata,
however, women's roles have been limited by tradition. Peasant
women remain largely in the traditional occupations of farming,
marketing, and domestic tasks. Violence against women is known
to occur with some frequency, but there are no statistics to
document its extent. Because of societal traditions, domestic
violence often is not reported to police authorities.
 Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
The Constitution and the Labor Code guarantee the right of
association. Workers, including three in the public sector,
are specifically granted the right to form and join unions
without prior government authorization. However, a union,
which must have a minimum of 10 members, is required to
register with the Ministry of Social Affairs within 60 days of
its establishment.
There are five principal labor federations in Haiti: the
Autonomous Central of Haitian Workers; the National
Confederation of Haitian Teachers; the Federation of Unionized
Workers; the Confederation of Haitian Workers; and the
Independent General Organization of Haitian Workers. Each of
these organizations maintains some affiliation with various
international labor organizations.
Tripartite negotiations (labor, management, and government),
which began in 1986 to revise the Labor Code, made little
progress during 1991. The existing Code recognizes the right
to strike but restricts the duration of certain types of
strikes. There were repeated public and private sector strikes
in 1991. Most of the public sector strikes concerned political
demands by workers over government appointments to management
positions within various government ministries and public
enterprise firms. Private sector strikes also frequently
targeted employers with demands for dismissal of various middle
or senior level management officers.
During President Aristide's 8 months in office, there were
credible reports of efforts by Lavalas activists to encourage,
entice, or compel the formation of an umbrella organization of
the country's labor organizations. Labor activists expressed
their concerns that the Lavalas movement was seeking either to
compel their adhesion to a Lavalas organization or neutralize
the existing labor organizations by wooing away their rank and
file members through offers of access to government favors,
patronage, or resources controlled by Lavalas.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Trade union organizing activities are protected by the Labor
Code, and those who interfere with this right may be fined.
Employers, however, still routinely attempt to prevent workers
from organizing labor unions, and government enforcement
remains mostly ineffective. Constant reorganization of the
Social Affairs Ministry under the Aristide Government rendered
government activity in this area even less effective than it
had been in recent years. Collective bargaining has never been
widespread in Haiti and was even less common in 1991. Most
wages are unilaterally determined by the employer.
There are no export processing zones.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Labor Code prohibits forced or compulsory labor, but
enforcement of these provisions is practically nonexistent.
The common practice of forced domestic labor by children in
Haiti, commonly called "restavek," continued unabated during
1991. Thousands of young children from rural families are
"adopted" and "educated" by more affluent city dwellers to
serve as mostly unpaid domestic labor. The children are
compelled to work long hours, receive poor nourishment and
little or no education, and are frequently beaten and sexually
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The minimum age for factory employment is 12 years. Fierce
adult competition for jobs ensures that child labor is not a
factor in the industrial sector. Children do work at odd jobs
in both rural and urban settings in Haiti to supplement family
income. Enforcement of the law, which is the responsibility of
the Ministry of Social Affairs, has been criticized by the
International Labor Organization as inadequate.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage is set by law. Last set in 1984, Parliament
and President Aristide were close to agreement on a substantial
minimum wage increase when the President was deposed. The
current minimum wage, insofar as it is observed, would not
provide a worker and family with a decent living. Moreover,
the majority of Haitians, who work in the agricultural sector,
must survive on considerably less than the minimum wage.
The Labor Code governs individual employment contracts. The
Code sets the normal workday at 8 hours, and the workweek at 48
hours, with 24 hours of rest on Sunday; it establishes minimum
health and safety standards, particularly for hazardous
occupations. The Government has not systematically enforced
labor laws regarding wages and minimum health and safety
regulations. These laws and regulations are somewhat better
observed in the industrial sector, which is concentrated in the
Port-au-Prince area and is more accessible to outside scrutiny.