IACHR Concerned About the Political and Institutional Situation in Haiti, Calls for Dialogue and Respect for Human Rights and the Rule of Law

February 23, 2021

Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is concerned about violence, excessive use of force, attempts to disrupt the constitutional order, and efforts to destabilize institutions in Haiti since February 7, 2021. The Commission urges the State to ensure full respect for democratic institutions and for the separation of powers. The IACHR calls on all political and social actors to stick to pathways for institutional dialogue and respect the principles and rules of constitutional and democratic frameworks. The State must protect the right to protest, in keeping with international standards. 

According to publicly available reports and information received by the IACHR through its monitoring mechanisms, an increase in political and social tension has been observed in Haiti since February 7, in the context of a controversy about the duration of the president's mandate. The IACHR is concerned that this situation has led to the arrests of at least 23 individuals who were allegedly involved in a failed coup d'état. The Commission further notes that, during the weekend of February 6, a Supreme Court justice allegedly appointed himself acting president and that a presidential act of February 8 sent three Supreme Court justices into retirement. The Commission stresses its press release of January 22, 2020, which-in the context of the end of mandates for two thirds of the Haitian Senate and 119 members of the country's Chamber of Deputies-noted the need to relaunch political dialogue and preserve democratic institutions. The IACHR urges the State to investigate these events and establish what happened, and to take action to ensure non-recurrence.

The Commission further stresses that these events have happened in a context marked by protests and heightened social violence, and by allegations of an excessive use of force. In particular, according to information obtained by the IACHR's Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression, two journalists were allegedly attacked and injured with rubber bullets on February 8, as they covered clashes between demonstrators and the security forces in the Champs-des-Mars area of Port-au-Prince. Alvales Destiné, owner and reporter in the Actualités Locales TV channel, was allegedly shot in one hand and Jeanril Méus, a reporter for the Tele Pam channel, was allegedly shot in the abdomen. Both were rushed to Bernard Mevs Hospital for emergency care. The IACHR's Special Rapporteurship has been told that Jeanril Méus remains in critical condition and is awaiting surgery. According to media reports, there were further protests on February 15, when thousands of people poured onto the streets of Port-au-Prince. Non-lethal weapons and tear gas were allegedly used on that occasion. At least one person was killed and several reporters were injured.

The IACHR and its Rapporteurship stress that the State has a duty to guarantee the exercise of the right to protest, which includes the rights to peaceful, unarmed assembly and to freedom of association and expression. Both individual and collective protests seek to publicly express opinions, views, and values that show dissent or opposition, advocate certain positions, or demand respect for certain rights. Protests play a crucial role for the defense of democracy. States therefore need to act based on the legality of any public protests or demonstrations and to assume they are not a threat to law and order.

The Special Rapporteurship stresses that freedom of expression protects the right to record and disseminate incidents that occur during protests. Media workers covering protests play a fundamental role by gathering and disseminating the details of what happens there, including the actions of law enforcement agencies. The State must provide journalists with the highest level of protection, so they can do their work freely and ensure that society is well-informed about matters of significant public interest.

The IACHR notes that these incidents are happening in the context of institutional and political processes in Haiti, including preparations for parliamentary elections and debates concerning constitutional reform. The Commission stresses that developing mechanisms for institutional and political dialogue is essential to protect and strengthen Haiti's democratic institutions. The IACHR therefore urges all political and social actors to engage in talks and respect human rights and the rule of law. 

Given the political instability and social tensions observed in Haiti since mid-2018 (with instances of political paralysis and with social services brought to a standstill during the second half of 2019, through practices like Peyi Lock), the IACHR stresses the need to respect judicial institutions and the constitutional order. As it said in its press release of January 22, 2020, the IACHR stresses the intrinsic ties between respect for human rights, democracy, and human and economic development. The IACHR further notes the election schedule published on January 8 by Haiti's Temporary Electoral Council. The IACHR urges all actors involved to use, in order to participate and voice their complaints, means and instruments that comply with the country's Constitution and legislation, and to respect Haiti's democratic institutions at all times. 

Finally, the IACHR stresses that it will continue to monitor, through its Rapid and Integrated Response Coordination Unit, the structural and systematic aspects of political and social tensions in the State of Haiti. 

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

No. 038/21