Please see the Department of State’s brochure for victims of crime.
Being the victim of a crime in a foreign country can be a devastating and traumatic experience. While no one can undo the emotional trauma, physical injury, or financial loss you may have experienced, the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince is ready to help. We are very concerned about violent crimes committed against U.S. citizens in Haiti. We will assist you in managing the practical consequences of being a crime victim and provide you with information about accessing the local criminal justice system, as well as other resources for crime victims abroad and the United States. This office can assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family or friends on your behalf and explain how funds can be transferred. We can also help you to better understand the criminal justice system in Haiti, which is very different from the system in the United States.
The information included in this guide relating to the legal requirements in Haiti is provided for general information purposes only. The information may not be accurate or relevant to a particular case. Questions involving interpretation of Haiti laws should be addressed to legal counsel licensed to practice law in Haiti. The investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local Haitian authorities. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may assist local authorities in certain cases of kidnapping, hostage-taking and terrorism.
Victims of crime file police reports or register complaints at the nearest commissariat. If possible, crimes should be reported in the jurisdiction where they happened, and as soon as possible. Special attention is given to all foreigners. A relative or witness may file a police report on the victim’s behalf, and a copy of the report is given on the same day to the person reporting the incident. Therefore, a witness, or someone designated by the victim may file a report if the victim has left the country. Crimes may be reported to an overseas police station, who would then contact the HNP through their Embassy/Consulate in Haiti. If the victim has difficulties filing a police report with an official, they should contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate immediately. They may need a police report to file for crime victim compensation or insurance reimbursement. If a police report is filed, it should accompany the incident report which is filed with the embassy.
Many crime investigations never result in the arrest of a suspect. Direction Centrale de la Police Judiciaire (DCPJ) or Haitian National Police (HNP) are responsible for investigating crimes. Victims should expect forensic evidence to be collected (fingerprints, photographs, etc.). The HNP investigator in charge of the case will be the main contact for the victim to get information about the progress of the investigation. A victim should report threats, harassment or intimidation by the accused or his/her family or friends to the HNP/DCPF investigator as soon as possible. There is no time limitation on any case until it is solved.
If someone is arrested, s/he will be detained until the trial unless the judge decides to release the person.
The victim will be notified of the arrest, normally by the judge. The victim will be asked to identify the perpetrator in a police lineup.
Haitian law requires that formal charges be brought against the accused within 48 hours after his arrest. The Prosecutor (or "Commissaire du Gouvernement") is responsible for filing charges against the accused. After the accused has been formally charged, the Prosecutor forwards the case to an Investigative Judge (Juge D’Instruction). This process is similar to a Grand Jury investigation in the U.S. The Investigative Judge performs his own investigation to determine if there is enough evidence against the accused to send the case to trial. Following his investigation, the Investigative Judge forwards his findings and recommendations back to the Prosecutor, who has the option to agree with the recommended action, to appeal to the Investigative Judge to alter his opinion, or to ask for further investigation. The Haitian legal system differentiates between correctional offenses or misdemeanors (with sentences ranging from 6 months to 3 years) and serious offenses (with sentences ranging from 3 years on up). Minor offenses can often be dealt with more directly without action from the Investigative Judge. For serious offenses (as well as more complex misdemeanors), the Investigative Judge has the final say over whether a case goes to trial. For misdemeanors not submitted to the Investigative Judge, it is the Prosecutor who determines whether the case will go to trial.
Jurisdiction over criminal cases belongs to The Tribunal de Premiere Instance. While the same court hears the case, the official name of the Court changes depending on the type of case. For example, for misdemeanors, the Tribunal de Premiere Instance will be referred to as the Correctional Court or "Tribunal Correctionel." For serious offenses, it will be referred to as the Criminal Court or "Tribunal Criminel."
The victim can expect the case to spend the longest amount of time in the pre-trial period. Judges do not take active control over their dockets as in the U.S., and the speed with which a case goes to trial is often dependent on the skill of the attorneys. If a victim has decided to file civil charges against the accused, he/she may choose to be represented by an attorney. Victim assistance groups are not common in Haiti, therefore it is important to select an attorney who will represent the victim's interests well.
In all cases, the victim is invited to to provide testimony to the Investigative Judge or the Prosecutor. Official testimony usually leads to a better understanding of the case by the authorities. However, the victim is not required to appear if he/she is not filing civil claims against the accused. The victim will need to indicate in his/her letter of complaint a choice of representation. The victim is also welcome to provide written testimony if he/she cannot provide testimony in person.
Cases are heard by a single judge, except for murder cases, which require a trial by jury. While the judicial process is a lengthy one, only the "audience" and the "judgment" are held publicly at the Parquet (the Parquet in Port-au-Prince is located down-town on Boulevard Lalue/John Brown/Pan American next to the Immigration Building). The audience is the hearing in which the judge hears the case, and is required to last at least three hours, usually from ten in the morning until one in the afternoon. The judgment and sentencing occur at two in the afternoon. If the accused is found guilty, sentencing occurs at the same time. The Prosecutor will arrange for the sentence to be carried out, which can take two to three days. If the victim is a party to the suit, the Prosecutor will inform him/her of the outcome.
The victim must bear in mind that while the court hearings are not lengthy affairs, the judicial process itself can draw out over several
There is no limitation on the amount of time a case can spend before the Appellate Court. However, the parties only have ten days after the judgment to appeal a verdict. The victim will be invited to provide testimony at the appeal, but is not required to appear.
You may want to consider hiring a local attorney to secure appropriate legal guidance. Local legal procedures differ from those in the United States. Although the (public prosecutor) is responsible for prosecuting your case, an attorney you hire can promote your interests with the police and the court. While our office cannot recommend specific attorneys, we can provide you with a list of attorneys (PDF 107.03 kb) who have expressed interest in representing U.S. citizens.
Victim Compensation in Haiti:
The Haitian government does not provide monetary compensation to crime victims.
Additional Information: Haitian Law and Legal Procedures
Haitian law and legal procedures are very different from those in the United States. Law in the United States is based principally upon English Common Law. Law in Haiti is based upon the Roman and Napoleonic Codes. Many of the same rights, however, are found in both U.S. and Haitian law. Therefore, if you believe that any of your rights have been violated, you should report the violation to the consular officer and your attorney. The Embassy tries to bring each case in which the rights of a U.S. citizen are violated to the attention of the Haitian Government as it is the responsibility of the Haitian Government to take corrective action.
Many U.S. citizens are frustrated by the uneven application of Haitian law and legal procedures frequent in the Haitian judicial system. For example, while the Haitian system contains the presumption of innocence of an accused person, in practice a defendant may find it necessary to prove that he or she is not guilty. Moreover, Haitian judges sometimes improperly apply criminal procedures to civil cases. Consequently, arrests are often used in civil cases to compel a second party to appear before a judge or to pay debts or a settlement.
Haitian legal procedures before and after an arrest
Haitian criminal procedures require the police to obtain an arrest warrant from a judge before anyone can be arrested. The arrest warrant must set forth the criminal charges and cannot be executed by the police between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. An arrest can be made without a warrant in cases where a perpetrator is caught in the act of committing a crime or if there is a suspicion of a narcotics violation.
Within 48 hours after arrest, the accused must appear before a Justice of the Peace (Juge de Paix) or the prosecutor (Commissaire du Gouvernement), and will be preliminarily charged or released. The law also requires that the police present a report to a judge within 48 hours of the arrest.
The police may deny a prisoner access to legal representation during the first 48 hours in order to take care of administrative matters such as paperwork. After 48 hours, however, the accused must be allowed to see a lawyer and must be informed of the charges.
The Role of the Prosecutor and the Investigative Judge
Under Haitian criminal procedures, a prosecutor generally reviews each prisoner's file and decides which court should hear the case. In most cases involving serious crimes, the prosecutor will first send the file to an investigative judge (Juge d'Instruction) who will determine if the facts support referral to trial. This formal investigation is similar to the U.S. procedure of a grand jury investigation and includes verification of evidence and testimony of witnesses. The investigative judge must conclude his or her investigation within two months. If the prosecutor determines that the charges have not been completely verified by the investigative judge, he can ask for further investigation without specifying a time period within which the investigation must be completed.
Once the investigation is completed and the prosecutor determines there is enough evidence, he makes a recommendation of formal charges to the investigative judge who issues an indictment. A copy of the indictment is served on the accused and a trial is scheduled. The issuance of the indictment can be appealed and an application for provisional release of the accused can be made.
The Haitian court system
The Haitian judicial system has two courts of first action: the Peace Tribunal (Tribunal de Paix) and the First Action Tribunal (Tribunal de Premiere Instance). The Peace Tribunal is for relatively simple cases, both civil and criminal. The First Action Tribunal has several divisions: the Correctional Court (Tribunal Correctionel) hears cases relating to major crimes such as armed robbery; the Criminal Court (Tribunal Criminel) is devoted to more serious crimes such as drug offenses and murder; and the Civil Court (Tribunal Civil), the Commercial Court (Tribunal Commercial), the Labor Court (Tribunal de Travail) and the Property Court (Tribunal Terrain) hear respectively civil, commercial, labor and property disputes. Trial is normally by judge, although a trial by jury is possible in cases of very serious crimes such as murder.
After a case is decided in one of these courts, it may be appealed to the Appelate Court (Cour d'Appel) and then to the Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) and in some instances to parliament itself (Haute Cour de Justice).
EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Haiti are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration website so that they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Haiti. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. The U.S. Embassy is located on Boulevard du 15 Octobre, Tabarre 41, Tabarre, Haiti. Tel: 509-2229-8000, Fax: 509-2229-8027, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
SPECIAL INFORMATION FOR CASES OF SEXUAL ASSAULT AND RAPE: Physical evidence is very important in sexual assault cases, and can deteriorate as time passes. As such, victims should not change clothes, avoid bathing if possible, and have a physical exam at the first opportunity. You should take these steps even if you are unsure about whether to report the crime to police. If you decide to pursue a prosecution at a later time, these steps preserve evidence that will assist the prosecutor. A consular officer or after-hours duty officer from the U.S. Embassy may be able to accompany victims of sexual assault for the medical exam.
Contact Dr. Percque (3701-4406 or 3461-1342) of the Embassy’s Health Unit, who will provide advance notice to Dr. William Pape to have the testing kit available upon arrival at the GHESKIO Clinic, 33 Boulevard Harry Truman, Port-au-Prince, Haiti (509) 2222-0031.
GHESKIO (Group Haitian d ‘Etudes Sarcoma Kaposi et d ‘Infections Opportunistique), provides diagnosis and treatment for several thousand patients with sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia each year. In collaboration with the Haitian Ministry of Health, GHESKIO developed national guidelines with simple algorithms for diagnosis, treatment, and preventative counseling for sexually transmitted infections.
The Center provides Rape Counseling: Specialized counseling, post-exposure antiretroviral therapy, emergency contraception, and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases are provided to women who have suffered sexual violence.
HNP/DCPJ authorizes forensic sexual assault exams once there is complaint. They are done in every case. Medical doctors perform forensic sexual assault exams, and they should go to Gheskio or to the General Hospital. The victim may bring a support person, and is expected to pay for the exam.
Rape/sexual assault charges can filed without an exam, however if the victim decides not to have a medical exam, it may shed some doubt and weaken the case. The victim will be interviewed by multiple people, but not at the same time. It may be a male or female HNP officer from the judicial section of the HNP. Acquaintance rape (date rape) is taken seriously. As of this report, the HNP has not encountered any cases of spousal rape. There are laws that protect the identity of sexual assault survivors.
SPECIAL INFORMATION FOR CASES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: There are 2 local shelters with limited resources that have been supported post-earthquake by the international community. They are not ideal places to seek services at the moment for walk-in clients. They provide shelter but are not quite capable of monitoring compliance of law enforcement post-assault. There are no special provisions for children at these sites. The “kay fanm” shelter is specifically for children. The language of service is Kreyol and French.
SPECIAL INFORMATION FOR CASES OF CHILD ABUSE: Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor—Institute of Social Well-being and Research (IBESR) and The Brigade for the Protection of Minors (BPM) are the government authorities responsible for the protection of children. IBESR is the primary authority for investigation of child abuse; BPM however has a mandate to place children in protective custody following a referral from IBESR or in determination of best interests for the child, meaning they are able to shelter children at their site until IBESR is able to provide follow up. The BPM can be contacted at #188. IBESR is the Government of Haiti office responsible for children’s welfare and well-being. They maintain records on abuse. More generally, any cases of suspected or confirmed abuse should be reported to the law enforcement authority. BPM can place a child in protective custody regardless of citizenship.
The local resources which have expertise in helping child victims are IBESR and BPM (for the Haitian Government) and for the International community— International Medical Corps and GHESKIO are 2 options in Port-au-Prince. Outside of Port-au-Prince services are limited. American children under Chief of Mission authority should be examined by the Medical Unit of the American Embassy. If this is not practical or possible, children should be seen at local health clinics in the company of a trusted adult. GHESKIO is a trusted center for post-assault victims and is supported by the US government. Pre-trial detention in Haiti is a grave problem. It may be many years before an alleged criminal is brought to trial.
SPECIAL INFORMATION FOR CASES OF KIDNAPPING: If the passport of the victim has expired or has been lost/stolen, an emergency, no-fee, direct return to the U.S. PPT may be issued. If their money and/or credit cards were stolen by the kidnappers, the victim is eligible for emergency repatriation loan assistance (7 FAM 390). Crime Victims Assistance information for the state the victim resides in or is returning to can be provided. This information is available on www.travel.state.gov. The Embassy may contact FBI Crime Victims Assistance Specialist Dahlia Williams in Miami, cell phone: (305) 787-6508. Ms. Williams provides excellent support to victims who reside in the U.S.