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Women hold up signs demanding justice outside the courthouse in Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti, May 14, 2020. That day the hearing of the Haitian Football Federation (FHF) former president Yves Jean-Bart took place, regarding allegations that he sexually abused young female soccer players. © 2020 Associated Press (Dieu Nalio Chery)

(New York) – Haitian law enforcement should effectively investigate serious allegations of sexual assault against the president of the Fédération Haïtienne De Football (FHF), and vigorously pursue appropriate prosecutions, Human Rights Watch said today. As reported in the Guardian, survivors and family members have accused the federation president, Yves Jean-Bart, of coercing young female players at the Centre Technique National in Croix-des-Bouquets into having sex with him.

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), football’s world governing body, has confirmed that its independent ethics committee is investigating the allegations in Haiti. FIFA should exercise its authority to suspend the FHF president and any implicated officials during its investigation, Human Rights Watch said. Such a measure is important to reduce risks of abuse or retaliation against women and girls in the country’s football system. FIFA should also conduct the investigation with a survivor-centered approach and ensure sensitivity, safety, and access to support services when conducting outreach and interviewing suspected victims.

“Haitian authorities need to investigate all allegations of crimes committed against women and girls who dreamed of playing football for their country,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “FIFA president Gianni Infantino has encouraged women and girls to join football, and FIFA has a duty of care to protect all who play from risk of sexual assault by its associates.” 

Jean-Bart has been Haiti’s football federation president since 2000 and was recently re-elected for a sixth term. The federation oversees youth, men’s, and women’s teams, and training. Jean-Bart has publicly denied the allegations.

However, a former Haiti Women’s National Team player who spoke to Human Rights Watch said Jean-Bart used promises of contracts or scholarships and the threat of expulsion from the national training center to pressure young female players into having sex. 

The young woman, who lived and trained at Haiti’s problematic national training center, told Human Rights Watch that women and girls experienced very serious sexual abuse over the years she was based there.

When she sought to advance professionally as a player, she was told her contracts and “my chance to play overseas depended on sleeping with the president.” When she was 16 or 17, she said, “he put his hand on my leg to get me to go with him.” She witnessed a female FHF staff member waking girls up early “to ‘go to the doctor’ and they would come back very late at night in new clothes.” She said teen girls became pregnant and had children by the president. “All of the players, officials, and staff at the center knew what was going on.”

In Haiti, women and girls struggle to access justice, and gender-based violence is a widespread problem. Haiti does not have specific legislation against domestic violence, sexual harassment, or other forms of violence targeted at women and girls. Rape was only explicitly criminalized in 2005 by ministerial decree. In 2017, Haiti’s Ministry of Health released a survey saying one in eight women reported experiencing sexual violence at some point in their lives.

Human Rights Watch has long documented how women in Haiti seeking accountability for sexual violence crimes encounter multiple obstacles, including reproach by members of the public or threats. Some survivors experience threats or reprisals for filing criminal complaints, leading them to drop charges. In one high-profile case, a woman pressed charges against a former justice minister, claiming he had raped her in 2012. She subsequently reported receiving multiple death threats, which led her to withdraw her criminal complaint.

Women’s rights groups in Haiti have urged the Ministry of Justice to take immediate action. “It is absolutely necessary to protect the girls and their anonymity. We are worried about their safety,” Yolette Andrée Jeanty, the director of the association Kay Fanm in Haiti told the Guardian.

On May 21, 2020, Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH), the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights, a leading human rights organization based in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, published a report documenting abuses by Jean-Bart and “demanding a serious judicial investigation.”

Over the past two years, a number of top football officials in the FIFA system across the globe have been accused of sexual harassment or assault. In 2019, Ahmad Ahmad, president of the Confederation of African Football and a vice president of FIFA, came under investigation for multiple allegations including allegedly sexually harassing several women. That investigation is ongoing, and Ahmad denies the allegations.

In Afghanistan, members of the Afghan National Women’s Football team accused the president of the Afghan Football Federation (AFF), Keramuudin Karim, and other AFF officials of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination. FIFA issued a lifetime ban on Karim and fined him 1 million Swiss francs (about US$1 million). FIFA suspended Karim and other senior AFF staff during its investigation into the sexual assault complaints, and eventually banned them from the sport.  

Since 2016, FIFA has enshrined its responsibility to respect human rights in Article 3 of the FIFA Statutes, constituted an independent Human Rights Advisory Board, employed staff members in Human Rights and Child Protection and Safeguarding roles, set up a complaints system for human rights abuses, and adopted a landmark 2017 Human Rights Policy stating that “Human rights commitments are binding on all FIFA bodies and officials.”

In June 2019, FIFA created the “FIFA Guardians” program, which makes football leaders responsible for “responding to concerns about a child” and lays out “guidelines for identification, prevention, and mitigation of risk to children involved in football” (under Step 3). The President’s Message from Infantino reads:

With this toolkit, FIFA has established guiding principles and minimum requirements that will help leaders and organisers in our sport to ensure a safe and nurturing environment for the youngest members of the football family. Such an environment, far from being a privilege, is every child’s right.

The Haitian football player interviewed told Human Rights Watch that athletes and parents were powerless when the president targeted the girls for sexual abuse and threatened them into silence: “He is known to pay mobsters and local gangsters. They will come to the center all the time. A player I know got a recent call that, ‘if you speak, Dadou [Jean-Bart] will kill you.’” 

She said she is afraid. But she also said, “My hope is that ‘Dadou’ can end up in jail to face justice with all the other members of the Haitian Football Federation too, because they knew of his crimes and were involved in sexual abuse.” 

“Moving immediately to suspend Haiti’s federation president and any implicated officials while these serious allegations are investigated would signal that FIFA intends to safeguard young athletes from retaliation,” Worden said. “With threats already made, FIFA has a clear duty of care to limit the ability of those in positions of power to intimidate or silence accusers.” 

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