Sustained wave of protests in Haiti met with excessive force

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. As previously reported on the Monitor, the Caribbean country has been immersed in a political crisis since 2018 and people have often mobilised to demand change. Newspapers such as Deutche Welle have called it the country’s “longest wave of demonstrations for years”.

In this period, many basic public services have been brought to a standstill. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), since the beginning of the school year in September 2019, most children across Haiti have been unable to go to school. Accessing food, drinking water, medicine and fuel has been particularly difficult for those outside the capital.

Peaceful Assembly

In September 2019, thousands of demonstrators joined mass protests which were met with excessive use of force, including the use of firearms and tear gas by security forces, leaving at least 17 people dead between 16th and 30th September 2019. Looting and arson were often reported by international and local news services, as violence escalated along with calls for the resignation of President Jovenel Moïse.

On 31st October 2019, Amnesty International published a brief verifying evidence of the unlawful use of force by Haitian security forces in the protests between 16th September and 31st October 2019. According to the human rights CSO, there were several instances in which Haiti’s police used live ammunition against protesters and made indiscriminate use of less lethal weapons – in violation of international standards. Videos verified by Amnesty show incidents where police officers launched tear gas at peaceful protesters, fired on protesters with less-lethal ammunition at extremely close range, and beat a protester.

On 1st November 2019, OHCHR stated that at least 42 people had died and 86 were injured since this wave of demonstrations began. Many of the injured had gunshot wounds. Reports received by OHCHR indicate that security forces were responsible for 19 of the deaths while the rest were killed by armed individuals or unknown perpetrators.

On 18th November 2019, the Associated Press reported at least four people were shot and wounded during a small protest in Haiti’s capital after a speech by President Jovenel Moïse.

Expression

On 10th June 2019, reporter Pétion Rospide of Radio Sans Fin was shot and killed while driving home in Port-au-Prince. Rospide hosted radio programmes covering general news, politics and social issues. He had recently reported on allegations of corruption in the PetroCaribe scheme, a regional energy programme subsidised by Venezuela which has been at the centre of the current political crisis.

On 22nd July 2019, journalist Kendi Zidor was shot by unidentified men on a motorcycle while driving home in Port-au-Prince. Zidor reports for broadcaster Téle Pacific and daily newspaper Le National. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), he has received death threats since publishing an editorial criticising Haitian authorities in May 2019.

On 10th October 2019, radio journalist Néhémie Joseph of Radio Méga and Radio Panic FM was found dead in Mirebalais. The reporter was found inside his car with several gunshot wounds. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Néhémie had previously received threats and had been accused by politicians of inciting protests on social media.

Amnesty International’s report states that at least eight reporters have been injured during this wave of demonstrations. On 14th November 2019, CPJ and Reporters Without Borders published a joint statement expressing concern about the increasing threats against the press in the country. According to the two press freedom organisations, there have been multiple occasions when journalists covering breaking political news or protests have been shot at by protesters, security forces, and even elected officials.

Association

Sectors of the police have joined in the protests, demanding better salaries, insurance and the right to unionise. Some of the officers who joined the demonstrations also claim that they have not been paid in months.