SRFOE warns about the press freedom situation in Haiti and urges the Transitional Presidential Council and regional States to adopt assistance measures for journalists.

May 3, 2024

Washington D.C. – On World Press Freedom Day, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (SRFOE) of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reiterates its concern for the grave situation of journalists in Haiti, a country that currently faces the greatest challenges to press freedom in the hemisphere. This Office urges the Presidential Transitional Council, as well as the other OAS Member States, within the mandate of the UN Multinational Security Support Mission in Haiti, to adopt assistance mechanisms and necessary measures that take into account the safety and protection of journalists in Haiti so they can carry out their work safely and freely.

The latest IACHR country report, published in 2023, notes that the various crises currently plaguing the Haitian State consist of two interconnected cycles that, based on the SRFOE's cross-cutting analysis, have undermined press freedom on a scale and speed unprecedented in the region.

The first cycle, which elapsed between 2018 and mid-2021, was marked by the growth of protests in the face of social discontent over the increase in the price of gasoline, accusations of corruption against the government, as well as failed efforts to consolidate a functional electoral system. During this first cycle, the Rapporteurship recorded in its annual reports the murder of at least 4 journalists, perpetrated mainly by gangs; the disappearance of 1 journalist; physical aggressions against 12 reporters covering demonstrations, including gunshots and less lethal weapons; armed attacks against 6 members of the press for their investigative work on corruption and public safety; and 3 threats against media facilities.

The second cycle has developed since the assassination of President Jovenel Mo´se on July 7, 2021. This event led to the worsening of the institutional and democratic breakdown in the country and, with it, the worsening of the security situation. The interim government of Prime Minister Ariel Henry postponed elections in 2021 and 2023, which resulted in a gradual decrease in the number of elected officials in office. This vacuum of authority has facilitated the proliferation of gangs in the country, as well as their presence and territorial control. The most recent estimates suggest that there are approximately 200 gangs, of which at least 23 operate in Port-au-Prince in two rival coalitions, G-PEP and G-9, which, in turn, compete for more than 80 percent of the metropolitan area of the Haitian capital. From September 2022 to March 2024, due to gang violence, there were more than 4,000 murders, 1,800 kidnappings and 2,100 injuries, according to figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti. Likewise, more than 53,000 people have fled the capital since March of this year, adding to the 310,000 people previously displaced.

Since July 2021, the Office of the Special Rapporteur has recorded the murder of 11 journalists, most of them in the context of their coverage of clashes between criminal gangs for territorial control; the kidnapping of at least 10 press workers as a strategy of intimidation and extortion by armed groups; the forced internal displacement of 9 journalists and their families; the exile of at least 3 more reporters; aggressions against at least 10 reporters who, despite carrying out their work in multiple protests, were wounded by lethal projectiles and canisters; as well as armed attacks against the headquarters of 2 media outlets.

This Office has determined that "silenced zones" present certain common characteristics, namely, the presence of organized criminal structures; high levels of administrative corruption that facilitate the co-optation of state institutions; the absence of an effective response on the part of authorities in charge of the administration of justice, as well as prevention and protection mechanisms; and the lack of support for journalists that expose them to greater risk. The alarming number of murders, disappearances, kidnappings, attacks and threats against journalists, the multiple instances of forced internal displacement and exile, as well as the repeated attacks against the facilities of radio stations and television networks, show that Haiti, and especially its capital, is a silenced zone and a perilous place for journalists.

The combination of these factors constantly inhibits journalists in the country, and especially in Port-au-Prince, from carrying out their work, limits freedom of expression, and produces a chilling effect on the free flow of information, as well as fear in the press to report on matters of high public interest. This Office believes that without journalism, civil society organizations, State entities still operating, and the international community will face greater challenges in responding to the country’s political, economic, social and humanitarian crises.

In view of the inauguration of the Presidential Transitional Council on April 25, 2024, as well as the preliminary deployment process of the Multinational Security Support Mission in Haiti, this Office calls on both actors to undertake timely efforts to protect journalists as part of their strategy to restore security in the country and pave the way for elections.

Finally, the Office of the Special Rapporteur announces that it is preparing a report whose objective is to assess the difficulties faced by journalists in Haiti in carrying out their work, and the impact this has on the media ecosystem. The report will address in detail the value of journalism in guiding national and international responses to the crises in Haiti by civil society actors, state institutions and the international community. As part of this report, the Rapporteurship will continue to engage in dialogue with local reporters and international correspondents to monitor the press freedom situation in the country.

The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression is an office created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to encourage the hemispheric defense of the right to freedom of thought and expression, considering its fundamental role in the consolidation and development of the democratic system.

No. R089/24

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