Situation of Human Rights of Women in Haiti

147th Period of Sessions, Commission Hearing. Photo by Elan Cameron (March 16, 2013).

Commissioners: Rosa María Ortíz, Tracy Robinson

Petitioners: Cellule de Défense des Droits de la Femme (CEDEDROFEMME)

State: Haiti

On March 16, 2013, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held a thematic hearing on human rights violations perpetrated against women in Haiti. Petitioner Cellule de Défense des Droits de la Femme (CEDEDROFEMME) explained that its primary concern is the extensive rape and human rights violations of women in Haiti that has been going on for far too long. Over the last five years, CEDEDROFEMME has assisted rape victims who are scared to speak up about their rape and as a result live in fear. Additionally, CEDEDROFEMME alleged that in Haiti, the rights that are enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) are not seen as applicable to women equally as they are to men.  CEDEDROFEMME said that something must be done to respect the rights of women and to eradicate the violence that affects the entire nation.

The representatives for the Haitian State said that progress has been made to protect women’s rights and to strengthen the national response to violence against women. The state explained the ways in which the Ministry of Women’s Rights is combatting sexual violence crimes that affect women and young girls. They explained that in 2004, the Ministry made it a primary goal to eliminate violence against women and young females through several measures. First, the Ministry created a National Tri-partite structure whose mission it is to harmonize all initiatives in the struggle for women’s rights and protection. Members of the Tri-partite include the Ministries of Health, Culture, Justice, Energy, and Education. According to the state, the Tri-partite has prepared support for victims of violence, and together drafted legislation that will assist the need for prevention of sexual violence attacks. Additionally, the Ministry stressed that public policy is being implemented for 2012-2016 to eliminate discrimination against women. It will punish violence against women, and will provide for the creation of special courts to address these issues. The state stresses that in Haiti, rape is now considered a felony, and no longer a crime against honor. With this shift to classifying rape as a felony, the state has seen many convictions for rape.

The state further explained that many social measures have been adapted to help the struggle of women. For instance, the state explained that awareness campaigns, which educate young children in schools on sexual violence, have been implemented. Additionally, scholarships for women to strengthen education equality have also been implemented and shelters for victims of violence continue to be built.

The state concluded by stating that as a result of these measures Haiti has made huge progress. The state said that there is no epidemic of rape in Haiti, as in other countries where rape is used to suppress and terrorize women. In Haiti, the representatives said, rape is primarily the result of domestic violence and it generally occurs within the home.

Commissioner Rosa Ortiz, the Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child, asked how the Ministry of Culture has been involved in changing the image of women in Haiti considering the role culture plays in violence. Additionally, she asked how social services for women could become more available and known to victims in remote areas. Commissioner Tracy Robinson was concerned with more data collection and statistics of which demographics suffer the most sexual violence, who is convicted of rapes, and whether the public was able to participate in the drafting of the previously mentioned legislation.

In response to the Commissioners’ questions, the state explained the process by which data is collected and distributed to the Ministry for Women and Rights of Women. The Ministry develops statistics from the reports and trains the police on how to respond to victims of rape. Additionally, many women’s groups were consulted on awareness campaigns, legislative proposals and the government continues to use them a resource. In response to the question of culture, the state explained that the degrading image of women in Haiti has been minimized in advertisements, songs, and their annual event “Carnival”. The government has developed awareness campaigns promoting women’s dignity, and progress has shown that violence decreased this year at “Carnival” for the first time. Additionally, the Ministry is working with other organizations and offices to make social services more available and to provide more lighting in remote areas that are typically prone to violence.

The Commissioners closed by thanking both parties for coming and stressed the importance of this topic. The Commissioners expressed that their utmost concern is that everyone has the right to be free from violence. The Commission stressed that the State not look at rape as only a domestic issue, but rather a domestic and systematic issue that should not be forgotten.

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