Government Working to End Impasse, Permanent Representative Says, as Civil Society Activist Cites Corruption, Gang Violence, Political Vacuum
Political deadlock in Haiti, entering its second year, has paralysed national institutions, hobbled the economy and fuelled chronic insecurity amid spotty progress and ever-worsening living conditions for more than 4 million citizens, the Security Council heard today.
Helen La Lime, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), said the country can only surmount the multifaceted crisis through a combination of strong national will and steadfast international support. Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on BINUH (document S/2020/123) — the special political mission that replaced the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH) in October 2019 — she highlighted several achievements, saying that consensus on a political agreement outlining details of a proposed reform agenda and an electoral calendar emerged from recent negotiations.
However, key actors have yet to settle on a way to designate a Prime Minister or form a new Government, she continued. Citing a range of challenges that risk exacerbating living conditions further and weakening State institutions, she said collective success will be measured by progress towards meeting the benchmarks set out in the Secretary-General’s report: political consensus; addressing gang violence; promoting human rights; addressing unemployment and socioeconomic grievances; and encouraging a State presence in communities by providing basic services.
Also briefing members, civil society activist Marie Yolène Gilles, Executive Director of the Fondasyon Je Klere, provided a snapshot of the situation on the ground, describing a worrisome political vacuum that has left civil society oppressed, armed gangs that are better equipped than State authorities, and the commission of heinous crimes every day in a climate of impunity. Corruption is deeply entrenched and a person can become a millionaire within a few years of joining the Government, she said, urging the Council to play its role in helping Haiti overcome the biggest obstacle to justice by strengthening normative and institutional frameworks. The Council can also help the State reduce the firepower of armed groups, she added.
Council members voiced concerns that without an end to the impasse, there is little chance for progress or to meet the Secretary-General’s recommended benchmarks. The Dominican Republic’s representative, whose country shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, recalled his delegation’s repeated warnings to the Council against withdrawing MINUJUSTH in October 2019, emphasizing that any reconfiguration of a mission must consider closely the situation on the ground. Pointing to the chaos prevailing in Haiti, where 40 per cent of the population faces acute food insecurity, rampant violence and a frozen political process that is proving ever more difficult to thaw, he expressed hope that the closure of MINUJUSTH serves as a lesson, emphasizing that BINUH should now focus on conducting a thorough study of the origins of the crisis and then join forces with the United Nations country team and the Government of Haiti to tackle its root causes.
The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines warned that failure to reach an immediate political settlement could result in renewed violence, with the concomitant breakdown of law and order having detrimental effects in the region. Emphasizing that member States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are duty-bound to help their sister Caribbean nation find a peaceful resolution, she declared: “As the first free black nation in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti is a cornerstone of our Caribbean civilization.” Striking a historical note, she stressed the importance of reparations for Haiti, saying the fact that it was made to pay, rather than receive, reparations for its experiences of mass enslavement remains lamentable. The extraction of 80 per cent of Haiti’s national budget to pay reparations until the mid-twentieth century created a significant vacuum in nation-building efforts, she noted, underlining the fact that the country’s persistent underdevelopment is rooted in past experiences that remain crucial when considering the current reality.
France’s representative, citing poverty as one cause of the impasse, described Haiti’s crisis as a political one, saying that despite the involvement of the United Nations and a range of other stakeholders, the parties have not agreed to the return of constitutional order. Haiti currently lacks any form of parliamentary representation, she noted, calling upon all parties to commit themselves to dialogue and to holding the delayed elections.
The representative of the United States said constitutional reform must not become a pretext for delaying elections, emphasizing: “Only Haiti’s leaders can make the decision to break the deadlock and address the drivers of this chronic instability.”
Haiti’s representative said the Government continues to work hard towards finding a way to overcome the political impasse, tackle gang violence and restore State authority across the country. The Haitian National Police, with a force of 15,000 officers, needs more training, resources and equipment to continue its work. Still, gains are being made in addressing human rights violations, he said, adding that arrests have been made in connection with several reported massacres, including those in the La Saline section of Port-au-Prince. He said the Government is encouraged by the emphasis — in the Secretary-General’s report — on the zero-tolerance approach of the United Nations to sexual exploitation and abuse during peacekeeping operations, he said, stressing that Haiti is particularly worried about the abandonment of orphans fathered by United Nations peacekeepers. Greater rigour and transparency are needed to help victims, he said. He concluded by underlining that the Government is fully aware of the complexity and fragility of the situation facing Haiti. What is important is the selflessness of all political actors in forging real dialogue and finding lasting solutions.
Also speaking were representatives of Tunisia, Russian Federation, South Africa, China, Germany, United Kingdom, Estonia, Viet Nam, Indonesia, Niger and Belgium.
The meeting began at 3:03 p.m. and ended at 4:44 p.m.
HELEN LA LIME, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), briefed by videoconference from Port-au-Prince, reporting that a political impasse has paralysed the functioning of institutions, hobbled the economy and fuelled continued insecurity since July 2018. She added that in recent months, she has worked with the Organization of American States (OAS), as well as stakeholders in Haiti, to create a suitable environment for a negotiated resolution of the crisis that would catalyse reform with a view to restoring public confidence in the State, improving living conditions and laying the groundwork for elections.
Presenting the latest report of the Secretary-General on BINUH (document S/2020/123), she noted that a consensus emerged from recent negotiations on a political agreement outlining details of a proposed reform agenda and an electoral calendar. However, key actors have yet to settle on a formula for designating a Prime Minister, on forming a new Government and on the remainder of President Jovenel Moïse’s term in office. That lack of agreement threatens to prolong a situation that has already lasted too long at a time when Haiti is entering its second year under a caretaker Government and faces an economic recession, she emphasized, noting that 4.6 million people require humanitarian assistance.
The current challenges also risk jeopardizing the integrity and effectiveness of the Haitian National Police and other key institutions, she warned, emphasizing that national leaders must rise to the occasion and commit themselves to finding a way out of the impasse. Political agreement notwithstanding, the road to improved governance through reform will be arduous, she said. Stressing that gang violence, corruption, impunity, poverty, gender inequality, limited access to basic services and severe depletion of natural resources remain at the root of recurring political and socioeconomic crises, she said BINUH’s deployment in October 2019 opened a new chapter in relations with Haiti, premised on deeper and more targeted collaboration.
She went on to state that collective success will be measured by progress towards meeting the benchmarks set out in the Secretary-General’s report: political consensus; addressing gang violence; promoting human rights; addressing unemployment and socioeconomic grievances; and encouraging State presence in communities by providing basic services. Highlighting some of the cross-cutting work undertaken by the United Nations, she cited the recent joint report by BINUH and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on human rights violations perpetrated in the Port-au-Prince neighbourhood of Bel-Air between 4 and 6 November 2019. With recent developments in mind, she declared: “Haiti can surmount this multifaceted crisis only through a combination of strong national will and steadfast international support.” She went on to underline that the new United Nations presence is uniquely placed to help State institutions and to ensure that Haiti is once again on the path to stability and sustainable development.
MARIE YOLÈNE GILLES, Executive Director, Fondasyon Je Klere, spoke via videoconference from Port-au-Prince, saying her organization promotes human rights, provides training, monitors public institutions and provides legal services to the poor. “Heinous crimes occur every day,” she said, highlighting the reality on the ground. Armed gangs are better equipped than State authorities, and gang activities are seen even in areas not far from the Presidential Palace. Freedom of movement is not guaranteed and citizens fear rape, extortion, kidnapping and embezzlement, among many other crimes, she said. Rape scenes are filmed and published on social media, she added, explaining that rape is used as a political weapon. The courts are closed, and people are detained without due process, she said, adding that protests against the Government are rampant because perpetrators of crime enjoy Government support.
She went on to describe how people become millionaires in two to three years if they join the executive or legislative branches of Government, a hotbed of corruption, which is the biggest obstacle to justice. Grass-roots uprisings are suppressed, but the ambitions of protesters are fair and deserve to be considered. She provided recommendations for Council action, urging the 15-member organ to successfully complete its transition period with a view to the return to democratic order broken down since 13 January 2020. The Council could help the State reduce the firepower of armed groups and effectively lead the fight against corruption by strengthening its normative and institutional framework, she said, adding that it would help in auditing the police force.
CHERITH NORMAN-CHALET (United States) said her delegation remains concerned about the present instability and called for dialogue and political accord, with elections to be held as early as possible to end the present impasse. While constitutional reform is effective, it must not be a pretext for delaying elections, she said, emphasizing that only Haiti’s leaders can make the decision to break the deadlock and address the drivers of chronic instability. She went on to state that many of the benchmarks mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report will remain unmet until political commitments are made to overcome the impasse. Reiterating that the Government must investigate and prosecute those responsible for the Bel-Air incident, she highlighted the importance of addressing all human rights violations and holding perpetrators accountable.
JOSÉ SINGER WEISINGER (Dominican Republic) said the political crisis remain the main driver of the present impasse. Expressing regret over the consequences of the withdrawal of the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH), he said the establishment of new peacekeeping configurations must be based on objective analysis and the presence of sound institutions capable of handling various responsibilities. However, despite repeated warnings against ending United Nations peacekeeping mission too soon, the Council decided to approve the drawdown and today, the results are chaos, rampant violence, instability and the excessive accumulation of small arms and lights weapons, which is contributing to the flourishing of gangs and organized crime groups, which in turn is subjecting the population to undue instability and insecurity. Recalling that 4.1 million Haitians are suffering from acute food insecurity, totalling 40 per cent of the total population, he said the present situation does not bode well for BINUH to fulfil its mandate and foster a sustainable development agenda. Having hoped that the MINUJUSTH experience will serve as a warning about premature exit strategies, he said BINUH should conduct a thorough study of the origins of the crisis and then join forces with the country team and the Government to tackle those root causes. In the meantime, all Haitian leaders must work towards overcoming the impasse, and he appealed to the international community to support the country’s efforts in this regard.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), describing the situation in Haiti as unquestionably dire, said the international community has a formidable task to help alleviate its difficulties. Resolving the constitutional crisis is the first step towards restoring some semblance of stability, she said, calling upon all the parties to engage urgently in an inclusive good-faith dialogue. Warning that failure to reach an immediate political settlement could result in renewed violence, with the concomitant breakdown of law and order having detrimental effects in the region, she emphasized that member States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are duty-bound to help their sister Caribbean nation find a peaceful resolution. Acknowledging lingering issues that still plague Haiti, including institutional shortcomings relating to the rule of law, she said urgent attention must be paid to sexual and gender-based violence, food insecurity, exploitation of children and the adverse effects of climate change. She went on to emphasize the importance of reparations for Haiti, stressing that the fact that it was made to pay, rather than receive, reparations for its experiences of mass enslavement remains lamentable. The extraction of 80 per cent of Haiti’s national budget to pay reparations until the mid-twentieth century created a significant vacuum in nation-building efforts, she noted, underlining that Haiti’s persistent underdevelopment is rooted in past experiences that remain crucial when considering the current reality. “As the first free black nation in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti is a cornerstone of our Caribbean civilization,” she affirmed, urging the international community to accompany the country on the road to prosperity and never to abandon it.
ANNE GUEGUEN (France), describing the crisis as a political one, said that despite the involvement of the United Nations and a range of other stakeholders, the parties have not agreed to the return of constitutional order. Haiti currently lacks any form of parliamentary representation, she noted, calling upon all parties to commit themselves to dialogue and to holding the delayed elections. Civil society is calling for transparency as part of the fight against corruption and impunity, she emphasized, citing poverty as another cause of the impasse. She went on to stress that all perpetrators of human rights violations must be investigated and brought to justice.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia) said his delegation is closely monitoring the complex political situation since 13 January, when Haiti faced an institutional vacuum owing to the postponement of elections. The current state of affairs, coupled with economic and social challenges, will have a negative impact on the security situation, which will ultimately cause more daily suffering, he said, emphasizing that the United Nations must continue to play a role in helping the country break the vicious cycle in which it finds itself. While commending regional efforts to reduce tensions, he stressed that Haiti must discharge its responsibility to maintain security, since the United Nations presence is not a peacekeeping operation. A successful democratic transition is a prerequisite for stability, he added.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) emphasized the importance of dialogue as the only option to resolve the current crisis. The priority of the United Nations must be to support the establishment of frank dialogue through modalities that are acceptable to all parties, he said. With resources scattered, priority must be accorded to political stability, he said, adding that it is also essential to guarantee peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. He went on to point out, however, that such challenges are not unique to Haiti, explaining that the country is a clear example of the foundations of statehood weakened. Stressing that double standards and interference in domestic affairs are unacceptable, he expressed support for Haiti’s sovereignty and self-sufficiency.
KGAUGELO THERMINA MOGASHOA (South Africa) commended efforts to move beyond the political impasse in Haiti, including consultations with civil society to address unrest in some parts of the country. While also praising plans to hold elections later in 2020 and in 2021, she emphasized that serious challenges remain, nevertheless, among them increasing instances of kidnapping, as well as sexual and gender-based violence, and negative functioning of the judicial system and human rights standards. As for the humanitarian situation, she expressed concern over the negative impact of the political crisis on Haiti’s economy, citing worsening food insecurity and reduced access to basic services. Urging the parties to continue to engage in talks with a view to adopting a new constitution that reflects the aspirations of all Haitians, she pledged South Africa’s continuing support for BINUH.
YAO SHAOJUN (China) said the present political crisis has resulted in increased polarization at a time when gang violence is exacerbating the security situation. Calling upon national authorities to consult with a view to resolving the political crisis and creating the conditions for reform, he said the international community should continue to promote development and help Haiti address its challenges. While instability is a long way off, he expressed hope that the country will find a path to sustainable development and economic growth.
JUERGEN SCHULZ (Germany) encouraged Haiti’s leaders to continue the inclusive national dialogue and take steps towards holding elections. Alarmed that the prolonged political standoff is encouraging gang violence, he condemned all attacks on civil society, noting that corruption, incitement to violence, hate speech and threats have only exacerbated the situation. While commending the Haitian National Police, he said performance gaps persist, including in their handling of gang violence. He called upon the institution to improve relations at the community level, while expressing concern about funding shortages that could threaten its effectiveness. The transition to a non-peacekeeping mission is taking place at a time when Haiti finds itself in a severe crisis, he said, adding that, against that backdrop, the international community should lend its support. Otherwise, the situation will probably persist unless the authorities address the root causes of violence and conflict. The future lies in the hands of Haitians themselves, he emphasized.
DAVID CLAY (United Kingdom) welcomed steps taken by BINUH, adding that the identified benchmarks and targets should be integrated into ongoing efforts. Emphasizing the need to overcome the current impasse — including by holding credible and transparent elections — he welcomed the strengthening of the Haitian National Police and encouraged the authorities to focus on ensuring continued improvements. Meanwhile, the human rights situation remains a concern, he said, citing violations, impunity and reported incitement to violence, among others.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) said it is critical to define an electoral calendar and create the conditions for holding elections. He also welcomed the implementation of a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) training programme aimed at increasing women’s political participation, as well as the ratio of women parliamentarians. He went on to point out that other Latin American and Caribbean countries offer useful examples of how to build effective and sustainable peace agreements. While commending the role of the Haitian National Police in maintaining peace, he said reports of rising levels of violence — including kidnappings, hijackings, robberies and gang-related criminality — are extremely worrisome. He went on to condemn gang involvement in recent protests that led to violent escalations, calling for the strengthening of access to justice, reparations for victims and more respect for human rights. The goal of a stable Haiti with fully functioning, unified State institutions can only be achieved through a Haitian-owned and Haitian-led political process, he emphasized.
DINH NHO HUNG (Viet Nam) said the multifaceted difficulties and risk of instability have a negative impact on Haitian livelihoods and enjoyment of human rights. He called upon political parties to engage in national dialogue with a view to building consensus and reaching a peaceful resolution for the sake of sustained stability and development. The Government, Parliament and all political parties bear the primary responsibility of serving the people, he emphasized, calling for bold measures to address poverty and socioeconomic instability. Meanwhile, the international community and countries in the region should provide the necessary support.
MUHSIN SYIHAB (Indonesia) noted with concern that the mandates of Haiti’s lower house of Parliament, at least one third of the Senate and all elected municipal offices expired on 13 January, without any renewal, leaving a political vacuum. Calling for more sincere, effective and concrete plans for an inclusive national dialogue — as well as urgent constitutional and structural reforms — he said the prolonged political standoff and the ensuing economic downturn are creating a downward spiral that encourages violence. While BINUH has already spent 33 per cent of its mandated time, most of Haiti’s benchmarks — over which the Government should have full control — remain unmet, he noted. “We believe there is still hope in Haiti,” he said, spotlighting several important recent strides and commending the national police for their work in combating gang violence, despite a lack of resources.
NIANDOU AOUGI (Niger) noted that the national Parliament has ceased to function since 13 January due to the postponement of legislative elections. Expressing further concern about the socioeconomic situation, especially the food crisis reported by the World Food Programme, he stressed that resolution of the conflict will only emerge from dialogue among Haitians. A return to normality will invite greater foreign investment and help the economy recover, he said, urging the Council to pay urgent attention to Haiti’s political situation.
MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), Council President for February, spoke in his national capacity, noting that Haiti’s political impasse has exacerbated the humanitarian situation, called for the holding of delayed elections and political accountability. Recalling the protests of 2018 and 2019, in which the people demonstrated their will to fight corruption and impunity, he emphasized that those voices must be heard. Underscoring the need for constitutional and structural reform, he said impunity and poor security conditions are the main drivers of frustration. Haiti’s political elites must regain the trust of the people. Condemning attacks against journalists and civil society activists, he said gang violence must also be addressed immediately, while calling for efforts to address sexual and gender-based violence. “Transition to a new, strengthened institution must be a gradual one,” he said, commending the United Nations good offices. The Government must now take tangible steps to resolve the political crisis, he added.
FRITZNER GASPARD (Haiti) said the Secretary-General’s report marks the start of a new chapter in his country’s relations with the United Nations after 15 years of peacekeeping operations. It also comes as Haiti faces a severe political, economic and social crisis with incalculable consequences for social cohesion. Underscoring the country’s worrying economic situation, the World Bank is forecasting growth at 1.4 per cent in 2020 and 0.5 per cent in 2021, he noted. The Government supports the report’s main conclusions and notes with satisfaction the attention it gives to efforts by the Head of State to launch a dialogue with a view to forging agreement among the principal actors, notably the opposition, the business sector and civil society. Although there is still no comprehensive agreement, significant progress has been achieved by bringing the main political actors to the table, he emphasized, noting that the discussions — which continue this week – have found common ground around the need for a Government of national unity, a revised constitution and an agreement on elections, he said, welcoming BINUH’s role in the dialogue process. Tangible progress remains possible, he added.
He went on to state that the fight against criminal violence is a major challenge, with the Secretary-General’s report showing the scale of the phenomenon and the insufficiency of measures taken so far, he said. The Haitian National Police, with 15,000 officers and limited operational capability, have done their best, but greatly need more training, resources and equipment. Restoring the authority of the State in all corners of the country has, now more than ever, become a necessity, he emphasized. Without a doubt, the political crisis has had a negative impact on the functioning of the judiciary, and much remains to be done to ensure its independence. The same can be said about human rights, but although numerous violations have been reported, significant progress has also been made, he said, citing a recent visit by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and its plan to hold hearings in Port-au-Prince between 1 and 10 March.
Regarding massacres, particularly those in the La Saline section of the capital, he said 16 individuals have been arrested since a criminal investigation began on 4 January 2019 and verdicts are expected any day now. The Government is encouraged by the report’s emphasis on the zero-tolerance approach of the United Nations to sexual exploitation and abuse during peacekeeping operations, he continued. Such odious acts, which compound the suffering of the most vulnerable members of Haiti’s population, can only sully the Organization’s image. Those responsible, from wherever they may have come, must be prosecuted and punished, he said, stressing that Haiti is particularly worried about the abandonment of orphans fathered by United Nations peacekeepers and that greater rigour and transparency are needed to help victims. He concluded by underlining that the Government is fully aware of the complexity and fragility of the situation facing Haiti. What is important is the selflessness of all political actors in forging real dialogue and finding lasting solutions. Going forward, the Government is counting on stronger and more coherent international support, suited to Haiti’s needs, he said, underscoring the need for coordinated, balanced and unconditional support, as well as the mobilization of adequate resources.