Last Updated 9 September 2021

A multi-party, semi-presidential republic, the island of Haiti gained independence in 1804, making it the first modern independent nation of Latin America and the Caribbean. Haiti is predominantly a Christian country, with the largest denomination being Roman Catholicism. Many Haitians (regardless of religious affiliation) also hold spiritual beliefs deriving from Haitian Vodou, a form of belief that blends traditional religions of West Africa and Roman Catholicism and brought to Haiti during the Atlantic slave trade of the 16th to 19th centuries.1https://theconversation.com/what-is-haitian-voodoo-119621

Systemic Discrimination
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Constitution and government

The Haitian Constitution and other laws and policies generally protect and, at the same time, respect religious freedom. However, there were reports of societal abuses or discrimination against minority religions, including practitioners of Haitian Vodou and Muslims.

By law, religious institutions must register with the government to receive government benefits; however, there is no penalty for operating without registration. Registration affords religious groups standing in legal disputes and provides tax-exempt status.2https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/171783.pdf

Religious privileges

Despite Roman Catholicism’s status as the official religion in the country coming to an end with the adoption of the 1987 constitution, an 1860 concordat between the Holy See and the state is still in place, and Catholicism retains traditional authority socially, as well as privileges from the state. The Haitian government confers monetary assistance to Catholic priests, bishops and archbishops.

The National Council for Haitian Muslims, composed of Sunni and Shia groups, continues to seek official government recognition. Although the government granted the Ahmadiyya Muslims a registration number in 2018, it did not grant the group full recognition. No Muslim group has successfully attained full recognition by the government. 3https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/haiti/

Education and children’s rights

The government provides financial support to some Catholic schools in the country. This assistance is not available to other religious groups.

Organised missionary groups and missionaries who identify with a broad range of religious groups operate privately-funded schools and orphanages (as well as clinics and hospitals.)

Family, community and society

Vodou practitioners continue to be stigmatized and persecuted for their beliefs, which are poorly understood and treated with suspicion. According to the Haitian Vodou Federation, in 2019 a Vodou priest from Mackandal was attacked with machetes after being accused of the sudden and unexplained death of a neighbor. In another incident, neighbors set fire to the house of a mambo (a Vodou priestess) whom a Protestant pastor accused of causing the death of an infant.4Ibid

Muslims married in a religious ceremony are restricted from receiving the same government recognition afforded to Christian marriages and can only acquire government recognition through a civil court.

Gender-based violence

Haiti’s criminal justice system does little to protect women and girls against gender-based violence. 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. Gender-based violence escalated in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in 2010 as many were displaced to live in temporary camps. In 2018 it was revealed that Oxfam employees perpetrated sexual abuse and exploitation.

LGBTI+ rights

Although there were no laws criminalizing the changing of one’s gender or sex, local attitudes in Haiti remain unfriendly to openly LGBTI+ identification and expression. Despite an ever burgeoning advocacy and activism by sexual minorities and human rights groups in the country, LGBTI+ individuals still experienced a particularly high degree of hostility from more conservative areas of society, including government officials. Religious and other conservative groups in Haiti have actively prohibited the social integration of LGBTI+ individuals. Parliamentarians in the country have publicly declared that they would not and should not acknowledge any particular type of LGBTI+ rights legislation, including marriage equality.

In 2018, two anti-LGBTI+ bills were passed by the Haitian Senate. The first one included “proven homosexuals” in a list of individuals (alongside pedophiles and child pornographers) to be deprived of a certificate of moral good standing, which is a document that is required for acceptance into certain universities and often an expected part of job applications. The other bill called for banning “demonstrations of support for homosexuality,” and would make so much as attending a same-sex wedding punishable by three years in prison and a fine of almost $8,000, regardless of the fact that gay marriage is not legal in Haiti. While neither measure has passed through Parliament, the bills have nonetheless had an impact by feeding general social acceptability for blatant anti-LGBTI+ discrimination and homophobia.5https://www.pri.org/stories/2018-02-06/why-its-gotten-harder-lgbt-people-haiti-earthquake

In November 2019, Haiti’s leading LGBTI+ activist Charlot Jeudy was found dead in his home. While the full circumstances of his death remain unknown, it was widely suspected to be the result of a hate crime.6https://www.ebar.com/news/news//285210

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The law in Haiti typically affords freedom of speech and press, and, in practice, the government generally respected these rights. The independent media were active and free to express a wide variety of views. However, there were allegations of officials and security agents bothering and even causing threat to some journalists who criticised the government.7state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm

On 14 March 2018, freelance photojournalist Vladjimir Legagneur – who was investigating the consequences of clashes between the police and gangs in Grand-Ravine, where two police officers and nine civilians have been killed – disappeared.

Suppression of protests

Since 2018, Haiti has experienced waves of protests; what began as protests against growing fuel prices, transformed into calls for the president’s resignation after he was accused of overseeing the embezzlement of millions of dollars of public funds.8https://www.france24.com/en/20190601-haitian-investigators-say-president-embezzlement-scheme

Journalists have paid a heavy price; several journalists covering the protests were attacked and beaten. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), has noted increased attacks attacks on journalists, raising particular concern about an incident during which a journalist was shot by a Haitian senator who opened fire outside Haitian parliament on 23 September 2019. 9https://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2019/258.asp At least three journalists have been killed; prominent radio journalist Néhéme Joseph, was killed on 10 October 2019, and Pétion Rospide, reporter for Radio Sans Fin, was shot dead on 10 June 2019 during one of the protests.10https://cpj.org/2019/10/radio-panic-fm-journalist-found-dead-in-haiti-foll.php; https://rsf.org/en/news/journalist-shot-dead-amid-anti-government-protests-haiti On 9 November, Bernard Belle-Fleur, a Télé Soleil and Radio Nationale d’Haïti journalist and operator, was shot repeatedly and killed by unknown assailants.11https://pen-international.org/news/human-rights-day-the-perspective-from-haiti

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