I am pleased to be here in Haiti, a country that has been of special interest to me for many years. The United States has a long and special relationship with the government and people of Haiti. Over the last three days, in Port-au-Prince and Cap Haitien, I have met with a number of senior government officials, including the Minister of Justice, the Director General of the Haitian National Police, the Office of Citizen Protection, the Minister Delegate to the Prime Minister for Human Rights and Fight Against Extreme Poverty, and the Secretary of State for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities. I also met with a wide range of organizations representing Haiti’s vibrant civil society, officials from MINUSTAH and its human rights section, religious leaders, and representatives of trade unions.
Haiti has taken a number of important steps to advance human rights in the last year. The government committed to ratifying several human rights treaties and submitted its first report on implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to the United Nations. Haiti’s report under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) was discussed at the UN Human Rights Council last March, and the government has committed to implementing 122 UPR recommendations. The government also has taken steps to reform laws relating to the rights of workers, inclusion of persons with disabilities, and the rights of women.
Most of my meetings here focused on the critical need to strengthen the rule of law by enhancing the independence of the judiciary, addressing prison conditions and detention issues, and reforming police and security policy and practice.
Greater judicial independence is key to breaking the cycle of impunity and building a culture of accountability in Haiti. The government deserves credit for establishing the Superior Council of the Judiciary (CSPJ) and appointing most judges to the Court of Cassation. The CSPJ’s removal of a judge in the Mercidieu Valentin Calixte case is also an important early action. The extent to which these institutions are able to exercise judicial oversight, monitor the performance of prosecutors and judges, and remove those who are unqualified or unfit to serve will be the measure of their success. Much work remains to be done in this critical area.
Criminal justice and detention policy and practice also pose serious challenges the government needs to address. Prisons are extremely overcrowded, and many of those being held are subject to prolonged and sometimes arbitrary pretrial detention. These problems are linked to continued weaknesses in the criminal justice system and its lack of capacity to investigate, charge, and try people in a timely manner. Collaboration between the Martelly administration and Parliament to pass the updated criminal codes is an important part of the solution to these problems.
I also focused on policing and security practices. Police are the first line in the defense of human rights – they are obliged to protect the rule of law and the rights of citizens. When they fail in these responsibilities, the state has a duty to hold them accountable through both administrative and criminal procedures. For example, the police and the judiciary can and should do more to improve their performance in the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of gender violence cases. When officials violate the law – for example, by using excessive force or subjecting people to arbitrary arrest – the state has a duty to pursue criminal accountabilty against them. No one is above the law, and demonstrating accountability for official misconduct is critical to restoring public trust.
Three years after the earthquake, Haiti is at a crossroads. As the country begins to move beyond disaster relief, this is an opportune time for Haiti – both its government and citizens – to commit to a new era of democratic governance and accountability. As a close partner and friend, the U.S. government stands ready to assist in this process. But ultimately, this country’s future belongs not to the United States, the UN, or any other international actor. It belongs to and is in the hands of the Haitian people themselves. My visit has made it clear to me that many Haitians deeply desire and are eager to work toward a different future. We stand ready to support them.