22 February 2021

Political Crisis, Shrinking Civic Space Compounding Dire Economic, Humanitarian Situation in Haiti, Special Representative Tells Security Council

A tense political crisis, shrinking civic space and chronic development deficits are exacerbating dire humanitarian conditions in Haiti, the senior United Nations official in the country told the Security Council in a videoconference meeting today, while calling on international partners to support crucial elections scheduled for later in 2021.

Helen La Lime, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), briefed the 15-member Council on the Secretary-General’s latest report (document S/2021/133), covering the period from 1 September 2020 to 31 January 2021.  She said that, despite the precarious calm currently prevailing in the Caribbean nation, efforts by part of the opposition party to unseat President Jovenel Moïse — as well as actions taken in response to a recent alleged coup attempt — have further entrenched the country’s year-old political crisis and compounded its increasingly dire economic, social and humanitarian challenges.

“As the country prepares to enter a tense pre-electoral period, the polarization that has defined most of President Moïse’s term in office has become even more acute, as signs of a shrinking civic space abound and an already alarming humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate,” she said.  Recalling that Haiti was plunged into an institutional crisis in January 2020 when Parliament ceased to function, she said relations between the Executive and the Judiciary branches of power have grown increasingly fraught ever since.  President Moïse continues to govern by decree, and his recent issuance of decrees effectively retiring and replacing three high court judges led to a strike that now threatens to paralyse an already dysfunctional judicial system.

She outlined mounting concerns over the shrinking of civic space in Haiti, citing an “overly broad definition of terrorism” articulated in a November decree on public security, which includes lesser offenses such as vandalism and obstructing roads.  Threats and attacks against journalists, lawyers, judges and human rights defenders have been increasing and risk chilling the public debate and curtailing inalienable rights.  Meanwhile, Haiti’s humanitarian situation is growing increasingly dire, with latest estimates projecting that some 4.4 million people will require humanitarian assistance in 2021 as a result of acute food insecurity.

While citing the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact, gang violence and Tropical Storm Laura as contributing factors to Haiti’s humanitarian decline, she stressed that the situation’s underlying drivers are closely correlated with persistent sociopolitical tensions and chronic development deficits.  Against that complicated backdrop, she said, progress continues in preparing for the various electoral events scheduled in 2021, including the setting up of offices of the Provisional Electoral Council in Haiti’s 10 regions.  Haiti’s Government has contributed $20 million to the United Nations-managed electoral basket fund to finance the purchase of voting materials and the training of electoral personnel, as well as to cover the operational and logistics costs for a referendum on a new constitution — the draft text of which was made public on 1 February.

Emphasizing that much remains to be done in the electoral arena, she said there exists a general consensus among Haitian stakeholders and the general population on the need to change the country’s current charter — viewed by many as one of the root causes of Haiti’s chronic instability.  Despite some strides and financing, the entire electoral process remains starkly underfunded, she warned, calling for urgent attention from Haiti’s international partners.  “The Haitian people deserve the opportunity to express themselves through the ballot box in an appeased climate and to actively decide on the direction their country will take, free from the fear of intimidation and political violence,” she said, underlining BINUH’s readiness to support the process and cautioning against delays.

Vivianne Roc, Director, Plurielles Haiti, also briefed the Council, recalling that she was six years old when she witnessed the death of a man.  “I was terrified that day,” she recalled, and no one had taken the time to explain to her what had happened.  In 2006, her family fled their home due to a conflict between gangs, a common problem.  “Clashes between gangs are a regular occurrence,” she said, and her neighbourhood has become a lawless zone.  “The blood always fades from the tarmac, but never from my memory.”  In 2020, she fled home again, appalled by the political spectre hanging over Haiti.

Noting that Plurielles is an eco-feminist organization that represents young people from the ghetto, she said its efforts focus on gender equality, equality for young people and fostering peace.  Set up in 2010, it aims to help young people who have lived through horrendous experiences and provide them with hope.  “You are no longer alone,” she assured, stressing that Haitians are mobilizing for justice.  Among her recommendations, she proposed the creation of rehabilitation centres for young prisoners, social and education programmes that allow young people to rebuild their lives, stepped-up controls on trafficking in weapons and controlled substances, the establishment of call centres for female victims of domestic violence and local protection networks for young peacebuilders.  “Without them, there will be a vacuum,” she said.

Before Council members took the floor, they heard a statement by Jovenel Moïse, President of Haiti, who also joined the meeting virtually.  Thanking the United Nations for its support of his country’s quest for stability and the Secretary-General for his “exhaustive and balanced report”, he noted that the latter outlines various actions taken by his Government to restore political stability.  Emphasizing that 2020 was an extremely difficult year marked by a pandemic virus and related economic challenges, he cited national measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus and strengthen the health-care system.  Nevertheless, COVID-19’s economic impact has been severe, he said, advocating for a proposal to cancel a trillion dollars of debt for some of the world’s poorest nations.

Against that backdrop, he said Haiti has also been impacted by the refusal by some political actors to accept election results, as well as violent attempts to overthrow its constitutional Government — all of which have rendered the situation on the ground even more challenging.  He also referenced serious development deficits and longstanding plundering by oligarchs, while outlining attempts by his Administration to reverse those decades of corruption.  Noting that the radical opposition party has made repeated violent attempts to overthrow his Government in the last four years — including an attempted coup d’état on 7 February — he also noted related increases in gang violence supported by corrupt oligarchs.  “This policy of chaos has meant that the Government has had to take off the gloves,” he stressed, citing efforts to dismantle gangs and bolster police presence.

“The Government is working as hard as it can to restore order,” he continued, describing policies aimed at neutralizing armed groups across Haiti.  Thanks to United Nations support, a system has been put in place to manage the flow of weapons, and legally binding tools have been put in place to combat corruption, organized crime and kidnapping.  Noting that his Government plans to issue a report responding to reports of human rights violations in the coming weeks, he noted as one example that individuals dressed as journalists sometimes use those disguises to target State security forces, attempting to take down the popularly elected Government.  In line with the mandate bestowed on him by voters, he pledged to continue to pursue crucial reforms, preserve the rule of law, prepare for upcoming elections and improve the living standards of all Haitians.

The representative of the United States, recalling that Haiti’s legislative elections were due in October 2019, said that before and after that date, Council members called on political stakeholders to set aside their differences to address the most pressing challenges.  “They chose not to do so,” he said, noting that the responsibility to hold elections rests with the Government.  The United States is disturbed about the prolonged period of rule by decree, as such actions should be limited exclusively to essential functions, safety and the conduct of elections.  Removing and appointing three Supreme Court justices, creating a national intelligence agency and controlling the independent audit agency all risk damaging Haiti’s core democratic institutions.  While an enormous amount of work remains to be done, 2021 must be the year for legislative and presidential elections in Haiti.  Despite a strengthened focus on law enforcement, gang violence is a serious problem.  Kidnappings alone rose by more than 200 per cent in 2020, and he urged authorities to step up efforts to investigate and prosecute such crime.  The United States is also troubled by the lack of accountability for human rights abuses.  Drawing attention to his country’s efforts to promote an independent and credible judicial sector in Haiti, he expressed concern over the use of executive orders, affecting this sector, while economic instability, fuel shortages and acute food insecurity continue to undermine development.  He urged authorities to bring the current rule by decree to a swift conclusion, as only through a stable and fully representative Government can these issues be meaningfully addressed.

The representative of Norway said the turbulent political situation in Haiti is troubling.  Underscoring the urgent need for nationally owned governance reforms, she said the commitment to democratic principles must be a prerequisite.  She urged political actors to commit to dialogue in order to forge a common agenda, expressing deep concern about Haiti’s vulnerability due to climate disasters, which increase the risks of poverty and internal displacement, and therefore, instability.  Haiti also is among the world’s most food insecure nations, with 4.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, a staggering figure.  To sustain livelihoods, the Government must urgently invest more in food production.  She also called for a comprehensive Government response to community violence and bringing perpetrators to justice, whether gang members or members of security forces, drawing attention to the “alarming” situation for women and children and advocating better access to sexual and reproductive health services.

The representative of the Russian Federation said political turbulence in Haiti has fomented criminal gang activity, hitting civilians “particularly hard”.  He expressed concern over the kidnapping of two citizens of the Dominican Republic, expressing understanding about the concerns of protesters calling for security.  The situation has deteriorated further due to the lack of political consensus, which in turn, has led to a blockage in the Parliament.  Welcoming the Secretary-General’s readiness to provide Haiti with electoral support, at the country’s request, he called for a single set of criteria for extending such support.  Recalling the Council’s warning that if Haiti continues to enact unilateral decisions it will only foster unrest, he went on to call for mutual respect for dialogue, based on existing legislation, and assured that the Russian Federation will work to ensure that United Nations assistance helps to stabilize the situation.

The representative of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, also speaking for Kenya, Niger and Tunisia, expressed concern that Haiti’s continued political deadlock “has placed the country on a precipice”.  Echoing the call issues by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) on all parties to engage in meaningful dialogue in the interest of peace, she said the non-existence of a parliament in Haiti since January 2020 resulted from the failure to convene overdue legislative elections.  There is therefore an urgent need to uphold the rule of law and national electoral processes, guided by the spirit of constitutional order and with the needs of the people at the forefront.  Emphasizing that any way forward must be Haitian-led and Haitian-owned, she called on the parties to set aside their differences and to launch a national reconciliation process.

Reiterating her support for the country’s National Commission for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration as well as efforts to draft a national strategy on community violence reduction, she said the nexus between peace, security and sustainable development is interwoven into Haiti’s human rights situation.  Deploring persistent human rights violations and calling for an end to impunity, she voiced regret over the lack of progress in particular judicial investigations and executing pending arrest warrants.  As Haiti’s socioeconomic and humanitarian realities require urgent international assistance, she urged donors to contribute to the 2021-2022 Humanitarian Response Plan, while pledging her country’s support to BINUH, CARICOM and the Organization of American States (OAS) — as well as the wider international community — as they accompany Haiti in its pursuit for stability.

The representative of Estonia expressed concern about the lack of political stability in Haiti, urging all political actors to resolve their differences through peaceful dialogue.  The elections process and announcement of the electoral calendar constitutes an opportunity that should be wisely used to overcome long-lasting political crisis and restore democracy and stability in Haiti.  It is crucial that the referendum on the constitutional amendments in April, as well as legislative and presidential elections later in 2021, will be conducted peacefully.  Recent reports about the rising level of violence, killings, kidnappings and gang-related criminality are extremely worrisome.  Stressing the importance of enhancing accountability, he called on the Government of Haiti to improve the justice system and adopt a national action plan on human rights, which has been pending since 2019.  Noting that 47 persons died in detention from 1 September to 15 January, he asked the briefer about the steps taken by the authorities to remove such deficiencies in the judicial system and the mission’s perspectives to improve the Haitian judicial system.

The representative of India said today’s meeting provides a chance for the Council to examine the situation in Haiti, especially against the benchmarks outlined in BINUH’s mandate.  Noting some strides, he said the people of Haiti regrettably continue to suffer from decades-long challenges and now face heightened political tension as well as the impacts of COVID-19.  He cited the lack of objective interpretation of constitutional law, which has only exacerbated political differences, calling for the rule of law and the holding of free and transparent elections later in 2021.  Among other priority areas, he spotlighted reforms in policing and other security-related areas, institution-building and a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration project being carried out through the Secretary-General’s peacebuilding fund.  As a major troop contributor, India has a long history of supporting Haiti, and provided immediate support in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in 2016 as well as at the outset of the pandemic, he said, noting that it is now sending 10,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to the country.

The representative of Viet Nam said that the polarization within the political actors and unscheduled electoral framework agenda have remained the biggest challenges hindering the constitutional reforms, causing instability and fuelling anti-Government protests.  She urged all parties to make further efforts to reach a political agreement on the modalities and timing of the elections acceptable to all Haitian stakeholders, including the political representation of women and youth.  Women, children and other vulnerable groups have remained at risk of violence and continued to be marginalized in the political life of the country, she said, urging the Government and local authorities to uphold their responsibilities in dismantling gang groups and criminal organizations.  Stressing the importance of national unity, she called on Haitian authorities and all other concerned parties to give the highest priority to the interests of the people and demonstrate a spirit of mutual understanding and trust to overcome current differences.

The representative of China said Haiti is trapped in multiple economic and social crises, stressing that “the Haitian people seem to have lost hope for the future”.  The Government and political leaders should be held responsible for such despair.  Political parties have engaged in feuds, politicians “have done nothing at all” and national governance has almost failed.  The constitutional referendum, followed by parliamentary and presidential elections, will shape the country’s future, and he strongly urged all political parties to abandon self-interest and instead listen to the views expressed by people of “all walks of life” in fostering a return to stability.  He expressed support for BINUH’s efforts to advance political dialogue, cautioning that external efforts will be to no avail unless political parties demonstrate political will.  Since the 1990s, the United Nations has invested huge resources to help Haiti out of crisis.  The Council itself has deployed several missions, costing nearly $8 billion, while international donors and partners have made “enormous” efforts to restore stability.  “All such investments seem not to have been used wisely nor yielded the desired results,” he said, urging the Organization to consider its future in Haiti and to avoid “fruitless investments”.

The representative of Mexico said Haiti’s prosperity and stability is a pending issue for the Americas and violence there is a source of great concern.  Efforts must focus on democratic consolidation, and with it, economic and social stability.  Noting that 2021 is a crucial year for Haiti’s democratic transition, he urged political actors, with international support, to work together to guarantee peaceful, transparent and participatory elections.  He also urged authorities to spare no effort or resources to hold a constitutional referendum, with the results reflecting the views of Haitian society, noting that Mexico can offer technical training to electoral authorities, with a view to conducting elections.  For its part, BINUH must have fluid communications and support authorities in crafting a strategy that addresses the deep-rooted causes of social discord.  He also called for the creation of a national framework for managing weapons and munitions, in line with international arms control guidelines, and more broadly welcomed Haiti’s decision to align its development strategy with the 2030 Agenda for Social Development.  Expressing concern over attacks on human rights defenders, he went on to urge full respect for the freedom of expression and affirm that decisions about Haiti’s future are the exclusive purview of Haitians themselves.

The representative of Ireland said the situation in Haiti requires the Council’s attention, noting that the country’s people have for far too long been suffering from a range of interrelated economic, political and humanitarian crises.  The situation today remains extremely fraught, with the cancellation of legislative elections, the dissolution of Parliament and the widespread use of political decrees putting trust at further risk.  Calling for the holding of free, fair and inclusive elections, she urged all the parties to engage in dialogue and to sensitively and carefully manage the issue of constitutional reform through an inclusive consultation process.  She also called for the protection of journalists and peaceful protesters, voicing concern about the recent redefinition of the crime of terrorism, as well as over heightened levels of violence and human rights violations.  Ongoing challenges faced by Haiti’s legal and penal systems, and the removal of judges earlier in February, are also worrying, she added.  Emphasizing that all that instability and violence is driving a humanitarian crisis, she called on the parties to do their part in supporting a peaceful and stable future.

The representative of France joined other speakers in underlining the deteriorating and untenable situation in Haiti, as well as worrying developments such as the increasing use of Government decrees.  Stressing that the conduct of free and fair elections must not be delayed, she called for those responsible for serious crimes, including murder, to be brought to justice immediately.  Given the resurgence of violence, and especially the crime of kidnapping, Haiti’s authorities must redouble their efforts to ensure full respect for the rule of law.  Spotlighting corruption as among the main drivers of loss of trust among the Haitian population, she described BINUH’s work — especially in shoring up political dialogue — as indispensable, and pledged France’s continued support.

The representative of the United Kingdom, Council President for February, spoke in his national capacity, expressing a deep concern for the political, social and humanitarian landscape, and the entrenchment of the problems faced by the Haitian population.  “In what should be a year of democratic renewal for the Haitian people, we call upon all political actors to work together to find common ground in order to build the right conditions for the successful conduct of democratic processes,” he said.  In this context, he welcomed the commitment of BINUH to supporting and facilitating democratic processes, working closely with key Haitian institutions.  Echoing the calls made in the Secretary-General’s report encouraging the national authorities to spare no effort in surmounting the logistical challenges to elections, particularly the registration of citizens, he voiced concern about the deteriorating human rights situation.  Any impunity for perpetrators of human rights abuses risks undermining the stability of the country and puts Haitian lives at risk, he warned.

Mr. MOÏSE clarified that Haiti has not revoked the three Supreme Court judges, simply outlined the possibility for them to leave.  The Constitution outlines that judges cannot be removed.  However, article 5 of the 2007 decree states that judges cannot participate in political affairs.  Noting that the President of the Court has a verbal and written position on the matter, which requests judges wishing to participate in political affairs to resign from their position, he said that he can forward a copy of this document on the matter to the Security Council.

For information media. Not an official record.