investigative journalist who exposed sexual abuse accusations against Yves Jean-Bart, the former Haiti football federation president, is facing a defamation lawsuit by Jean-Bart, Human Rights Watch said today.
The journalist, Romain Molina, documented abuses against underage players in the Haiti Football Federation under Jean-Bart’s leadership and supported survivors in Haiti and worldwide. The journalist’s articles appeared in the Guardian and in YouTube videos. A hearing in the case is scheduled for March 27, 2023, in Paris.
“Romain Molina’s goal was to speak up for the powerless against the powerful,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “It is deeply troubling to see Haitian football federation leaders using the French courts to try to stifle press freedom and silence survivors and journalists.”
In May 2020, Jean-Bart, then still-president of the Haitian Football Federation, filed a complaint with a Paris Court, accusing Molina of defamation.
In November 2020, FIFA, the international football governing body, banned Jean-Bart for life following its own investigation into sexual abuse, calling the sexual exploitation under his rule in the federation “inexcusable, a disgrace.”
In February 2023, the Court of Arbitration for Sport wrongly annulled FIFA’s lifetime ban and other sanctions on Jean-Bart. On March 20, FIFA announced it will appeal the decision, due to “very serious procedural and substantive flaws.”
Human Rights Watch independently interviewed more than a dozen male and female survivors and witnesses in the federation and received testimony from victims that the federation president sexually harassed and coerced young players into having sex with him.
The Guardian’s Molina, football players’ union FIFPro, and Human Rights Watch brought to FIFA extensive evidence of systemic human rights abuses in Haitian football, including confiscation of players’ passports – a marker of human trafficking – labor rights abuses, grooming child athletes for sexual exploitation, and threats to kill witnesses and survivors.
Following the Guardian’s reporting, Jean-Bart criticized Molina and other journalists and human rights investigators for exposing his crimes. Journalists and witnesses have not only faced threats of legal action. Human Rights Watch documented that in August 2020, armed men sought out a witness to abuses at the workplace of the witness, whose home was then shot up and ransacked. Human Rights Watch has since documented multiple threats to witnesses, victims of abuse, and family members.
Multiple players told Human Rights Watch of abuses under Jean-Bart’s leadership, including that he fostered a climate of sexual exploitation for young players. At least three other vice-presidents of the Haiti federation have been suspended or banned for life for sexual abuse. One female former national player told Human Rights Watch: “My chance to play abroad depended on whether I slept with the president.”
“Many victims of sexual abuse in Haiti were former child athletes and national youth team members who will live with trauma for the rest of their lives,” Worden said. “FIFA has the responsibility and duty of care to protect athletes and children across its operations, based on its Human Rights Policy and FIFA Guardians program, which makes football leaders responsible for child protection.”
Human Rights Watch has reported on human rights abuses in Haiti, including systemic gender-based violence, for more than three decades. In 2011, Human Rights Watch released a report, “Nobody Remembers Us”: Failure to Protect Women’s and Girls’ Right to Health and Security in Post-Earthquake Haiti, that documented sexual violence and difficulties accessing post-rape care. Human Rights Watch has long advocated for protections for victims of sexual and gender-based violence, and worked directly with Haitian women’s rights and human rights groups to end abuse and ensure justice for survivors.
Human Rights Watch worked with a longtime Haiti partner, the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains, RNDDH), which published its own report about alleged sexual abuse at Haiti’s football federation. The RNDDH report on sexual abuse in the Haiti federation found that among other abuses, Yves Jean-Bart had a child with a female athlete.
Human Rights Watch has also interviewed a victim of Haiti’s former sports minister, Evans Lescouflair, who was arrested by Interpol in July 2022, seeking to escape Haitian justice, accused of repeatedly raping an 11-year-old student. Lescouflair was also a top official in Haitian football and was president of a youth football club.
“Impunity for sexual abuse has long remained an unacceptable norm in Haiti’s football federation,” Worden said. “Now Jean-Bart is trying to coopt the French legal system in his pernicious efforts to stifle press freedom and silence survivors of sexual abuse.”