Haiti: Efforts to Strengthen Laws on Sexual Violence
Monday, March 11, 2013 11:30 AM

Haiti is in the process of making a number of reforms to its penal code that will help victims of sexual violence. Amendments will make it easier for victims of rape to prosecute their attackers and mandate state-funded legal aid to victims who cannot afford counsel. The reform will distinctly define sexual assault in accordance with international law, legalize certain types of post-rape abortions, and criminalize marital rape. Further, discrimination based on sexual orientation will be addressed for the first time. As Haiti’s Prime Minister and the Ministry of Justice have indicated their support for the amendments, it is anticipated that Haiti’s parliament approve the reforms within the year.

In addition to reforms by the government, issues of sexual assault are also being addressed at the grassroots level. In some tent camps, internally displaced Haitians have formed units to protect against dangerous threats, including rape. As a result of their strong community bonds, these groups are often more effective at stopping violence than official patrols and peacekeeping troops. Survivors of sexual violence often turn to KOFAVIV, a Haitian women’s group, for support. Women come from various areas of Haiti, mainly Port-au-Prince, for bi-weekly gatherings where survivors can bond and share information with one another.
Further, the issue of sexual assault, and specifically rape, has received more attention in the courtroom. Approximately one out of three criminal trials during last summer’s court session in Port-au-Prince were for rape charges. Thirteen convicted rapists were sentenced, frequently to the maximum jail sentence. Nicole Phillips, an attorney with the Haitian law firm Bureaus des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) said, “It’s extremely significant, considering that a mere 10 years ago, barely any cases were being prosecuted.” She called the prosecutions and reforms to the penal code “a massive step forward.”
Compiled from: Herz, Ansel, “Haiti Moves to Tighten Laws on Sexual Violence,” Inter Press Service News Agency (7 March 2013).