The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Haiti is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Haiti is not a State Party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Haiti is a State Party to the 1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights. Article 15 governs the right of assembly:
The right of peaceful assembly, without arms, is recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and necessary in a democratic society in the interest of national security, public safety or public order, or to protect public health or morals or the rights or freedom of others.
Haiti has accepted the competence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to hear complaints by individuals under the jurisdiction of the State that their rights under the 1969 Inter-American Convention on Human Rights have been violated.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
According to Article 31 of the 1987 Constitution of the Republic of Haiti (as amended): "Freedom of unarmed assembly and association for political, economic, social, cultural or any other peaceful purposes is guaranteed."
The Decree of 23 July 1987 on public meetings governs assemblies. According to Article 2, anyone wishing to organize a peaceful meeting or demonstration on the public road must give 48 hours' notice in advance to the local police force. If due notice is not given, the assembly will be prohibited. Article 4 makes the person who has given notice to the Police responsible to ensure the good behaviour of the demonstrators and assembly participants.
While recognising that freedom of expression is a fundamental achievement for which the Haitian people have fought for a long time, the Ministry of Justice reminds everyone "that this freedom can not in any way affect the right to property, the freedom to circulate in peace and to go about its customary activities."
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Police use of force is regulated by an internal regulation: General Order 3 of the National Police. According to this instrument, a police officer should use force only within the limits of what is strictly necessary to neutralise resistance to the lawful intervention of a police officer. Excessive or unnecessary force is strictly prohibited.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
Under General Order 3, a police officer is authorised to use firearms only when it is reasonably necessary to:
- Protect themselves or others from an immediate threat or likely to cause serious injury or death
- Prevent the commission of a crime that would put bystanders in danger of death or serious bodily injury; or
- Arrest an individual already known to have committed a crime involving the infliction of death or bodily injury on others and in the knowledge that the offender's escape could lead to serious injury or death to others.
This is more permissive than international law allows.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
The Human Rights Committee's 2014 Concluding Observations on Haiti did not address the right of peaceful assembly. The issue was also not addressed in Haiti's 2016 Universal Periodic Review under the UN Human Rights Council nor by the 2016 Report of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti.
In late February 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its profound concern about the worsening violence and scarcity in Haiti. The IACHR called on Haiti to respect demonstrations and urges it to launch talks with all the actors involved, to seek a peaceful solution to the serious political and economic crisis that is currently affecting the country. In response to such serious events, the IACHR decided to deploy a Rapid and Integrated Response Coordination Unit (RIRCU), to monitor the human rights situation in Haiti and to respond to that situation.
The Commission referred to protests against corruption and the economic situation, which have coexisted with street and road blockades; violence against demonstrators; occasional shots; arrests; problems for the supply of goods and services essential to provide food, drinking water and healthcare to the population; petrol, gas and power shortages; a partial or total halt in economic activity; school shutdowns; closed customs in ports and airports; and a serious impact on public services. Such events have left at least 26 people dead and more than 77 injured, according to UNICEF information.
Views of Civil Society
In September 2019, a new wave of protests engulfed Haiti. Fuel shortages, spiralling inflation, accusations of government corruption and a lack of water, food and basic services were among the main causes leading people to the streets. The media called it the country’s “longest wave of demonstrations for years”.
Acoording to Freedom House's 2019 report on Haiti,
Antigovernment street protests, which intensified during 2018, drew a violent police response. At one large anti-corruption march in October, eight people were shot dead, 61 were injured, and 42 were arrested by police, according to human rights activists.