An overhaul of Haiti’s archaic 185-year-old criminal laws provides stiffer penalties for rape, decriminalizes begging and, for the first time, addresses modern-era crimes like cyber security and terrorism financing while giving a clearer definition of what constitutes sexual harassment.
But the language of the new penal code on the legalization of abortion, discrimination based on sexual orientation, bestiality, scrubbing criminal records of felons and the age of sexual consent for girls is stirring controversy. Outraged Haitians have taken to the streets in protest and support of a Change.org petition demanding protection of the country’s morality, and a retreat by the government.
The laws, published by President Jovenel Moïse by executive order in late June, have been met with so much cultural, religious and societal resistance that more than 135,000 Haitians have signed the online petition describing the series of changes as “attacks by the government on the morality of Haitian society, on its customs and culture, while ignoring the real needs of the population.” In Creole and English, visitors are asked to reject “the legalization of child prostitution, incest, bestiality and homosexuality in Haiti.”
“The new laws are not necessarily in line with general Haitian values and customs,” said Pastor Gregory Toussaint, the founder of Tabernacle of Glory Church in North Miami and several Protestant churches in Haiti.
Toussaint, a rising firebrand preacher whose megachurch broadcasts services to Haitians in several languages, launched the Change.org petition last month in conjunction with the Protestant Federation of Haiti so that government officials, he said, can have “a sense of what the people are thinking and how many people are pretty much unhappy with the changes in the code.”
“A penal code is a legal document and like any legal document, you have things that are unsaid. We call them loopholes… and they can be exploited in a certain way,” he said. “The claims we are making is that, a lot of the things the penal code is promoting, they are actually doing it through the loopholes; the fact that it’s talking about a certain subject but it’s not talking about it completely. As a result, it leaves room for interpretation.”
The Moïse administration has pushed backed on the accusations while also inviting the public to debate the 1,036 different laws, which don’t go into effect for another 22 months.
In a stern letter, the Catholic Church voiced its objection to several of the provisions. Following a Mass in the seaside village of Jacmel in mid-July, the Association of Salesian Cooperators of Haiti led parishioners in a peaceful march through the town’s streets chanting anti-Jovenel, anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality and anti-same sex marriage .
But it is the Protestant pastors, who have quietly been leading a growing movement in Haiti since the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, who have been the most vocal.
The Church’s outcry
Long publicly silent on the growing opposition and frustration to Moïse, who has been ruling by presidential decree since January, the widespread insecurity and deteriorating human rights landscape, the Protestant churches are breaking their silence and emerging as a new counter-force. Pastors are publicly condemning the laws as illegal, taking on the administration and vowing to continue to send their flock into the streets in protest amid a COVID-19 pandemic and talk of upcoming elections. continue reading