(New York) – Witnesses and sexual abuse survivors who could provide evidence in an investigation of the Haitian Football Federation (Fédération Haïtienne De Football, FHF) president, Yves Jean-Bart, have reported efforts to intimidate them in Haiti and the United States, Human Rights Watch said today. The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), football’s world governing body, and the authorities in Haiti and the United States should adopt prompt and effective measures to protect them.
Athlete survivors, family members, and now a coach who was the federation’s longtime technical director have accused Jean-Bart of sexually abusing young athletes training at the national football academy, the Centre Technique National in Croix-des-Bouquets. Top Haitian women’s and human rights groups have called for a fully independent judicial investigation into allegations of sexual violence, forced abortions, and sexual bargaining at Camp Nou Academy. FIFA has confirmed that its independent ethics committee is investigating the allegations in Haiti. Jean-Bart was suspended on May 24 for a 90-day period, which ends August 24.
“As the end of Jean-Bart’s 90-day suspension by FIFA approaches, Human Rights Watch has received reports of threats against witnesses and survivors of sexual abuse in Haiti’s football federation,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “Haiti’s justice system and FIFA have a duty to protect any athletes or officials who come forward as whistleblowers with evidence or testimony of threats and retaliation.”
Jean-Bart has been Haiti’s football federation president since 2000 and was re-elected for a sixth term in February 2020. The federation oversees youth, men’s, and women’s teams, coaching, refereeing, and training. Jean-Bart has publicly denied the allegations.
Human Rights Watch has spoken to seven survivors of sexual abuse, including men and women’s national team players and officials. In recent weeks, several of them said they have been followed or threatened, or have received suspicious offers of assistance, and believe the threats or overtures are efforts to intimidate them from cooperating with judicial authorities or the FIFA investigation of Jean-Bart. As head of Haitian football, Jean-Bart has wielded huge power for decades, and has high-level connections into the government, political, and legal systems.
Athletes who are speaking about abuses to Human Rights Watch and the media are both in and outside Haiti, but all said they worry about their personal security. Several witnesses have moved for their safety.
Examples of reports Human Rights Watch received of threats and inducements to witnesses include offering large sums of money or jobs in exchange for silence and sending armed men to monitor homes or workplaces. Unidentified men have appeared at a witness’s home in Haiti when they were not present, and started shooting possessions and ransacking it.
“In the Haitian justice system, there is not adequate protection for victims and witnesses,” said Pierre Esperance, the executive director of National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains, RNDDH), which has researched and published a report about alleged sexual abuse at Haiti’s football federation. “In Haiti, there is no guarantee of judicial rights, which plays an important role in maintaining impunity and corruption in the country. That’s one of the reasons people are afraid to complain in … [the] court system. If the victims and witnesses are afraid to provide evidence to FIFA or to the justice system, these abuses will continue and the next generation of athletes will suffer.”
In response to a request for comment, FIFA wrote that, “FIFA has zero tolerance for any form of abuse, harassment or exploitation in football and commends the bravery of anyone, victims or witnesses, who wish to come forward and report misconduct.”
FIFA encouraged witnesses to report threats to FIFA’s confidential whistleblower system. FIFA has also recently published a minimum Package of Care to support victims who wish to come forward and has adopted survivor-centered case management when investigating reports of abuse.
“In addition to protecting survivors and witnesses, FIFA should exercise its authority to extend the suspension of the FHF president and expand it to all officials implicated in sexual abuse or threatening or menacing witnesses during its investigation,” Worden said.
Haitian authorities should fully investigate all allegations against Jean-Bart and other FHF officials for sexual assault and harassment of players, as well as against those accused of facilitating the abuse or covering it up.