(Washington, DC) – Haitian authorities should request international assistance to conduct prompt, thorough, and impartial investigations into the murder of President Jovenel Moïse and other recent, serious acts of violence, Human Rights Watch said today. Others recently killed include two journalists who were also activists in Port-au-Prince.
In the early morning of July 7, 2021, a group of armed people burst into President Moise’s private residence in the Pelerin neighborhood of Port-au-Prince and killed him. The attackers also injured Moïse’s wife, Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph said. Nearly a day later, Haitian police engaged in a shootout with people they claimed were the suspected assassins, killing four and taking two others into custody.
“We condemn the assassination of Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, a criminal act that undermines the country’s stability” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, Americas deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “Haitian authorities, with the support of the international community and a diverse cross-section of civil society, should take rights-respecting steps to help stop the violence, hold those responsible to account, and resolve the ongoing institutional crisis.”
While the line of succession for the next president is unclear, Haitian authorities should make their best efforts to guarantee comprehensive and independent investigations, preserve evidence, provide additional capacity to the Haitian National Police, and provide security and resources to judicial officials working on these investigations. To determine the most effective format for international cooperation with these investigations, the authorities in charge should consult with key civil society figures and international experts.
Haiti has been facing an intensifying crisis due to an ongoing political dispute regarding when Moïse’s term as president would end or has ended. A recent decision by electoral authorities to postpone a constitutional referendum until September, at the same time as presidential and legislative elections, appears to have increased tensions. Joseph took office as interim prime minister in April, but a new prime minister, Ariel Henry, was scheduled to replace him this week and has objected to Joseph remaining in office. In an address to the nation Wednesday morning, Joseph declared a state of siege and reported that the Superior Council of the National Police had met, and that the situation was under control.
Violence in Haiti has escalated in recent years. According to the National Human Rights Defense Network and the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), massacres, kidnappings, homicides, armed robberies, and gender-based violence have increased since 2018.
On June 29, a day after the announcement to postpone the referendum, armed individuals on motorcycles fired indiscriminately at people in various parts of Port-au-Prince, killing 19 and injuring another. Diego Charles, 33, a reporter for Radio Vision 2000 and an anticorruption activist, and Antoinette Duclaire, 33, a journalist for the online newspaper LaRepiblik and a feminist and political activist, were killed in the Christ-Roi neighborhood.
Charles was hit by two bullets, one in the right flank and the other in the right forearm, and Duclaire was hit by seven bullets on her head, chest, and arms, the National Human Rights Defense Network reported.
The next day, the government issued a news release condemning the killings and the “indiscriminate violence” that affects the Haitian population. It reported that a National Police investigation had revealed that the June 29 incident was a terrorist attack by an organization known as Fantom 509.
Nongovernmental organizations told Human Rights Watch that gangs operating in Port-au-Prince, including Fantom 509, reportedly have ties to the National Police, which undermines accountability for their crimes. They said that government measures to combat crime and violence by armed gangs remain largely unsuccessful and that impunity continues, in part due to the alleged links between the police and gangs and the weakness of Haiti’s justice system.
At least three more journalists have been murdered in Haiti since 2018. No one has been charged in connection with these killings.
Haiti is party to core human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the American Convention on Human Rights, that protect the rights to life, to physical integrity, and to liberty, among others. Haitian authorities are obligated to protect these rights effectively, including by taking adequate measures to protect people from reasonably foreseeable threats to their lives by non-state actors, including criminals and organized crime.
The authorities also are obligated to effectively, promptly, thoroughly, and impartially investigate human rights violations, to hold those responsible for abuses to account, and to guarantee access to justice and reparations for victims.