Hundreds of Haiti’s national police officers (PNH) were in the streets of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and the northern city of Cape Haitian Sunday, demanding better work conditions and a union to represent and defend their rights. This is the second time in a month police have protested.
“We need a union that can represent us when things aren’t good,” a member of POLIFRONT, Haiti’s Border Police unit of the National Police, told VOA Creole. He was in uniform and wearing a black face mask. “I’m talking about abuse, our meager 19,000 (Haitian gourdes) salary (about $208), which is not enough.”
The officer said the police are suffering because they don’t enjoy the same benefits reserved for their leaders, and they don’t have anyone to represent and defend them when they need it most.
“If we remain strong, we’ll get everything we need,” another police protester, dressed in civilian clothing, from the Mobilized Intervention Unit (BMI) of the national police told VOA.
“The police is a legal force, recognized by the constitution, which also gives us the right to form a union. So if the constitution allows us to form a union, that means we will have it one way or another. And we should only be working eight hours a day, according to the law,” he added.
According to the officer, although a law was passed and signed by the director of the national police force, it has not gone into effect, and police officers often are subjected to long work days.
The Port-au-Prince protest was festive, with a truck and deejay accompanying the protesters in the streets while blaring motivational songs, ending with the country’s national anthem. “For the flag, for the nation,” they sang to a tune very similar to France’s national anthem “La Marseillaise.”
Up north in Cape Haitian, hundreds of police officers took over the streets for a noisy, festive, peaceful protest. “Si yo pa reponn nou, nou pral nan rebelyon. We’ll shift to rebellion mode if they don’t respond to our demands” they chanted. Their demands are the same as their colleagues’ in the capital: better wages, insurance, health care and a union.
Some of the protesters held posters that said: “Policemen are not slaves,” “Too many policemen have been imprisoned for no good reason” and “19,000 gourdes cannot take care of a family.”
Haiti’s National Police force has been plagued by allegations of corruption. They have also been accused of human rights violations for firing on unarmed civilians and using excessive force during peaceful protests.
Earlier this month, the United Nations human rights office and Amnesty International expressed concern about the situation and asked the Moise administration to investigate the incidents “promptly, thoroughly and effectively.” National Police officials say the force that exists today is a work in progress and far more professional, but that problems persist.
During a recent visit to police stations in Carrefour and Petionville, two suburbs of the capital, President Jovenel Moise told the press he asked for officials to give him a detailed report on the officers' working conditions so they could be addressed as soon as possible. He also commended the police for their dedication and hard work.
On November 15, a new police inspector general was named. In his inauguration speech, Herve Julien urged young officers to stay far away from politics for the good of the national police force.