Press Release

IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression Concerned about Violence and Increased Political Tensions in Haiti

October 11, 2019

   Related links


   Contact info

IACHR Press Office

   More on the IACHR
A+ A-

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression are concerned about increased violence in the context of the political crisis that has been ongoing in Haiti since mid-2018. This crisis includes pressures to end the president’s mandate and a disproportionate use of force by police to repress demonstrations. The IACHR urges the State to adopt all measures necessary to ensure the right to peaceful assembly and to take urgent action to preserve Haitians’ lives and integrity, as well as ensuring that journalists can do their job. The IACHR further asks all political forces in Haiti to return to peaceful political negotiations and to preserve the country’s democratic institutions.

According to the information the IACHR has received, social protests over economic and political issues have increased in recent weeks, focused on a rejection of President Jovenel Moïse. The crisis triggered by the publication in January 2019 of a report on PetroCaribe funds management related to corruption committed by authorities and other actors has been compounded by shortages of fuel and food and by power outages, and it has seen widespread violence caused by organized gangs. The Commission received information from representatives of Haitian civil society organizations during its 173rd Period of Sessions. These reports highlighted that basic public services—including healthcare and education—had been brought to a standstill, which particularly affected children, women, and older persons. The IACHR shares the concerns expressed by the United Nations on October 2, about difficult access to hospitals and emergency services and potential shortages in the supply of drinking water in critical facilities, such as orphanages.

According to local media reports, the current scenario marked by profound political and social dissatisfaction has served as a backdrop for violence, which culminated in September with at least 17 dead in protests. In particular, the IACHR highlights the events of September 23, when a Haitian senator opened fire near the country’s Parliament. Two people—a reporter and a security guard—were injured in this episode.

As noted by the Special Rapporteurship in its R151/19 statement of June 14, following the murder of journalist Pétion  Rospide, the various instances of violence during demonstrations and protests in the country have included attacks against reporters who were covering public demonstrations. In his radio program, Rospide  himself had denounced attacks by violent demonstrators against various media outlets, particularly radio stations (the country’s most popular communications medium). According to publicly available reports, a journalist was injured on September 30, when a police officer had fired real ammunition to disperse demonstrators in Port-au-Prince. As he was taken to hospital on a motorcycle, the reporter—Edmond Joseph Agenor, of the Radio Sans Fin (RSF) radio station—was allegedly chased by a crowd of demonstrators who threw stones at him.

The Commission profoundly rejects these acts of violence and urges the Haitian State to take any measures necessary to protect the lives, personal integrity, and safety of its people. The State needs to take all actions necessary to ensure that social protests remain peaceful. The IACHR and its Special Rapporteurship stress that a demonstration should only be dispersed based on the duty to protect the population, and that this should be done using the safest, least harmful means available. The use of force in public demonstrations should be exceptional, and it should only be exercised when it is strictly necessary, based on internationally recognized standards. The authorities must promptly and thoroughly investigate police actions during these protests and impose any necessary penalties.

The IACHR was further informed about hate speech inciting violence over the Internet and on the radio, which is allegedly worsening political polarization and attacks against the media in general. The IACHR stresses that, given what history has taught us about serious crimes fueled by inciting hatred against certain groups, all democratic societies need to adopt any measures necessary to prevent and punish such actions, especially in a regional context where discriminatory discourse is on the rise.

“Adverse conditions in Haiti prompt three main priorities: restarting political talks, ensuring free and peaceful protests, and fully restoring the basic services that have been brought to a standstill by the escalation of violence,” said Commissioner Flávia Piovesan, IACHR Rapporteur for Haiti. “In this context, the Commission will further pursue and even strengthen its efforts to monitor the ongoing situation in the country,” Commissioner Piovesan said.

“The State has a duty to ensure that journalists and communicators who are reporting in the context of public demonstrations will not be arrested, threatened, attacked, or have their rights restricted in any other way for doing their job,” said Edison Lanza, the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 258/19