Some Speakers Question Efficacy of Longstanding United Nations Presence in Country
Amid deteriorating socioeconomic conditions and a lingering political impasse, political and civil society leaders in Haiti must ensure that parliamentary and presidential elections take place within the current calendar year to enable an orderly democratic transfer of power in February 2022, experts told the Security Council today.
“As Haiti prepares to enter a new electoral cycle, an inclusive and participatory process will be essential to consolidate the path toward good governance and political stability,” said Helen La Lime, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), as she briefed the 15-member Council.
Presenting the Secretary-General’s latest 120-day report on the situation on the ground (document S/2021/559), she said a resurgence in COVID-19 cases recently prompted the authorities to declare a new state of health emergency, resulting in the Provisional Electoral Council’s decision to postpone the proposed constitutional referendum scheduled to take place at the end of June. While the authorities have sought to widen consultations on the new draft Constitution, the process continues to elicit criticism from various stakeholders due to its perceived lack of inclusivity and transparency. She warned that the debate over the constitutional referendum should not detract from the timely organization and holding of the overdue parliamentary, local and presidential elections, which must remain the primary focus.
Chantal Hudicort Ewald, a member of the Port-au-Prince Bar Association and a former member of the 1986-1987 Haitian Constitutional Assembly, pointed out that the steps required to convene local, legislative and executive elections have not been undertaken within the legally mandated timeframe, a failure which has polarized society and inhibited dialogue. On the security situation, she said criminal gangs who are “armed to the teeth” make the law in a country supposedly subject to an arms embargo, making public participation in any form of electoral process all but impossible. Meanwhile, high poverty rates force most people to focus on merely satisfying their basic needs.
Addressing those concerns, Claude Joseph, Acting Prime Minister of Haiti, reassured Council members that the Government remains committed to holding elections by the end of 2021 to renew the political landscape, restore the operation of democratic institutions and ensure a peaceful transition of power in February 2022. Indeed, the Government is “working overtime” to move the electoral process forward and there is “nothing to worry about”, save for certain logistical and safety issues which are being addressed. Recalling that Haiti had 15 different transitional Governments between 1986 and 2016 — which resulted in total institutional paralysis — he warned that any Government of that kind must now be avoided.
As Council members took the floor, delegations stood unified in calling for the holding of free, fair, transparent and credible legislative and presidential elections within the timeframe set by the current electoral calendar.
The representative of the United States said that, since the Council’s last briefing on Haiti four months ago, the Government has not sufficiently focused on addressing the country’s most urgent priorities, including organizing upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. The Haitian people deserve an opportunity to elect their leaders and restore democratic institutions, he said, adding that a newly elected President should succeed President Jovenel Moïse when his term ends on 7 February 2022.
The delegate of the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, also speaking on behalf of Kenya, Niger and Tunisia, stressed that political inertia cannot continue if Haiti is to achieve its aspirations of peace, stability and prosperity, urging all stakeholders to soften their deeply entrenched positions. “History has shown us that no matter how difficult your challenges are, you rise,” she said, recalling that Haiti was the first Black nation to gain independence by overcoming colonialism and slavery.
Mexico’s representative underscored the importance of Haiti’s stability and prosperity to Latin America and the Caribbean, agreeing with other speakers that parliamentary, presidential and municipal elections must be held before the end of 2021. Only through dialogue and democratic renewal will Haiti be able to resume its path to sustainable development, he stressed.
Some Council members, expressing concern over Haiti’s challenging security, humanitarian and human rights situations, questioned the efficacy of international support for the country over the decades.
In that vein, the representative of China emphasized that the huge amount of resources invested in Haiti by the United Nations have not produced the expected results. It is time to explore new ideas and ways to help, he stressed, urging the Council should learn lessons from the past and carefully consider the United Nations presence when BINUH’s mandate expires in October.
Along the same line, the United Kingdom’s representative said that such a failure rightly begs questions about the tools and approaches deployed over the years. However, she expressed support for BINUH, noting that the new United Nations integrated presence in Haiti better positions the Organization to assist the country than past iterations of its presence.
Also speaking were the representatives of Norway, India, Viet Nam, France, Russian Federation, Ireland and Estonia.
The meeting began at 3:04 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), presenting an update first on the political developments in the country, noted that a resurgence in COVID-19 cases recently prompted the authorities to declare a new state of health emergency. The resulted in the Provisional Electoral Council’s decision to postpone the proposed constitutional referendum scheduled to take place at the end of June. Even though the authorities have sought to widen consultations on the new draft Constitution, the process continues to elicit criticism from various stakeholders due to its perceived lack of inclusivity and transparency. Meanwhile, technical preparations for the referendum have also been plagued by critical operational delays.
Expressing a deep concern over the ever-growing polarization of Haitian politics, as evidenced by some actors exhorting the population to resort to violence to disrupt the referendum process, she urged all stakeholders to refrain from such inflammatory discourse. As Haiti prepares to enter a new electoral cycle, an inclusive and participatory process will be essential to consolidate the path towards good governance and political stability. Warning that the debate over the constitutional referendum should not detract from the timely organization and holding of the overdue parliamentary, local and presidential elections, she urged all political and civil society leaders to ensure that elections take place within the current calendar year, resulting in an orderly democratic transfer of power in February 2022.
Turning to the security and human rights situations, she said criminal gangs were responsible for 78 homicides between 1 February and 31 May, and repeated episodes of gang violence have resulted in the displacement of more than 16,000 people from several areas of Port-au-Prince since January. The strength of the Haitian National Police is not commensurate with the size of the country’s population, and the chronic state of insecurity starkly underscores the limits of a law enforcement-centred approach to the gang issue. However, she welcomed the fact that a Government task force has completed its review of the national strategy on gang violence, which is now ready for approval.
Noting that the United Nations team continues to work hand in hand to help the authorities address immediate challenges — as well as the structural drivers of instability — she said several joint initiatives are under way. Those include efforts to implement the national social protection policy; reinforce food security and community resilience; catalyse the fight against impunity and corruption; and operationalize the humanitarian-development-peace nexus. Appealing to Member States to contribute to the 2021-2022 Humanitarian Response Plan, she said that the Plan still requires some $198 million to meet the needs of 1.5 million people.
CHANTAL HUDICORT EWALD, member of the Port-au-Prince Bar Association and former member of the 1986-1987 Haitian Constitutional Assembly, said the steps required to convene local, legislative and executive elections in Haiti have not been undertaken within the legally mandated timeframe, a failure which has polarized society and inhibited dialogue. Executive dismissals of individuals within the judiciary have exacerbated already tense relations between those two branches of Government, and a weakened, dysfunctional judiciary has prevented access to justice and accelerated prison crowding. Adding that the executive branch exerts legislative power via presidential decrees, she said a decision was made to undertake a constitutional reform and hold elections. On that reform, she said, civil society believes that the Government should have drawn on the procedure used in 1986, which allowed for broad public participation.
Turning to the security situation, she stressed that the current sociopolitical context makes public participation in any form of electoral process all but impossible, as high poverty rates force most people to focus on satisfying basic needs and “gangs make the law”. The urban and surrounding agricultural areas of Port-au-Prince are controlled by armed gangs, difficult intercity travel makes going to work a daily risk for employees and Port-au-Prince’s courthouse is bordered by gang-controlled territory. Furthermore, gangs in the capital have joined forces and are “armed to the teeth” in a country supposedly subject to an arms embargo. Against that backdrop, she said the situation is further complicated by a recent resurgence of a particularly virulent form of COVID-19, while access to hospitals remains limited and no vaccines are officially available.
She also pointed out that women — comprising some 52 per cent of the national population — sacrifice everything to guarantee their children’s education and safety, and remain the “pillars of the economy.” However, they continue to be marginalized in Haitian society, despite the key role they play in economic and social life. Citing a broad lack of trust in State institutions and the political class, she said people do not believe that those in power want to or can tackle the country’s insecurity. “The country is in disarray,” she emphasized.
JEFFREY DELAURENTIS (United States) said that since the Council’s last briefing on Haiti four months ago, the Government has not sufficiently focused on addressing the country’s most urgent priorities, including organizing upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. Noting that the United States was part of the Organization of American States (OAS) delegation that recently visited Haiti to discuss the political stalemate, he said he looks forward to receiving the regional bloc’s report on that mission. The Haitian people deserve an opportunity to elect their leaders and restore democratic institutions, he said, adding that a newly elected President should succeed President Jovenel Moïse when his terms ends on 7 February 2022. He Welcomed the decision to indefinitely postpone the constitutional amendment referendum, given that discussion on that issue has not been sufficiently inclusive or transparent. Stressing that the focus now must remain on holding free and fair elections, he announced that the United States will provide more than $3 million to the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening to that end, along with funds to support the Haitian National Police and COVID-19 vaccine doses donated through the global COVAX facility. Also noting that the United States provides funding for capacity-building, he said none of Haiti’s complex challenges can be fully addressed without the political stability that free and fair elections will bring.
JUAN RAMÓN DE LA FUENTE RAMIREZ (Mexico), underscoring the importance of Haiti’s stability and prosperity to Latin America and the Caribbean, said neither the political nor human rights situations have improved in the country since the Council last took up the issue in February. He stressed that parliamentary, presidential and municipal elections must be held before the end of 2021. Only through dialogue and democratic renewal will Haiti be able to resume its path to sustainable development. Noting that over 1.5 million Haitians require humanitarian assistance, he called on the international community and on national authorities to address those needs jointly, while welcoming the promise of additional funds from the United States. He also expressed concern over the minimal COVID-19 vaccination efforts in Haiti, despite the new state of emergency, and reiterated his call for vaccines to be treated as a public common good.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), also speaking on behalf of Kenya, Niger and Tunisia, stressed that political inertia cannot continue if Haiti is to achieve its aspirations of peace, stability and prosperity. Commending the efforts of the OAS Permanent Council in sending a delegation to Haiti last week, she expressed hope that the mission was able to establish a framework for dialogue among the various Haitian stakeholders towards reaching a palatable solution. To peacefully overcome the current crises through a Haitian-led and Haitian-owned inclusive national political dialogue, all stakeholders must soften their deeply entrenched positions. Resolving the political stalemate appears to be priority for the scheduling of inclusive, free, fair, transparent and credible elections, she said, while noting that Haiti’s many interconnected challenges demand durable parallel solutions. Stressing the need for good governance to obtain loans, technical assistance and debt relief, she urged Haitian political leaders to resolve the current impasse so the nation can accrue those benefits. “History has shown us that no matter how difficult your challenges are, you rise,” she said, recalling that Haiti was the first Black nation to gain independence by overcoming colonialism and slavery, and advocating for reparations to be paid by former colonial Powers.
MEENA ASIYA SYED (Norway) expressed concern about gang-related violence and reports of 295 alleged human rights abuses by gang members and unidentified armed men between 1 February and 31 May, urging the Haitian authorities to hold the perpetrators accountable. Noting that the country is vulnerable to natural disasters which are exacerbated by climate change and environmental degradation, she emphasized the need to consider the systematic impact of climate change. With the arrival of a new hurricane season, extreme weather events are predicted to reach above-normal levels. Meanwhile, lack of resilience leads to internal displacement, which in turn fuels crime and unrest, all contributing to a deteriorating humanitarian situation. In that context, she welcomed the United Nations ongoing work on climate change mitigation through community-based efforts, encouraging BINUH to include more information about the impact of climate change and gaps in resilience for consideration during the Council’s next briefing.
RAVINDRA RAGUTTAHALLI (India) pointed out that the political situation in Haiti has seen no major changes since the Council last considered the issue in February, raising questions about the holding of elections, and called on the Government and the opposition to ensure the election process is completed in 2021 as scheduled. Turning to the deteriorating security situation — where a failed police operation in the Village-de-Dieu area of Port-au-Prince, a prison breakout and recent gang warfare reflect serious challenges — he underlined the need to expedite efforts to address those issues. Those include police recruitment; a review of domestic firearms legislation and the national strategy for reducing community violence; and reform of the judicial and prison systems. There is also a need to enhance humanitarian assistance for the 4.4 million people who require it, he said, expressing his hope that the funding shortages faced by humanitarian actors, including the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), will improve in the coming months.
GENG SHUANG (China) expressed concern that 40 per cent of the Haitian population cannot meet their basic food needs, while also deploring how gang violence has displaced women over the past two weeks. These developments are unacceptable, he said, stressing that the Government of Haiti bears the primary responsibility for that desperate situation. Unfortunately, the constitutional referendum has been postponed, and uncertainty lingers over the holding of scheduled parliamentary and presidential elections this fall. Urging Haiti’s political leaders to put an end to meaningless wrangling, build national stability and develop the economy, he said there can be no external solution and the country must solve its own problems. Recalling that the United Nations has invested a huge amount of resources in Haiti over the past 30 years — which did not produce the expected results — he said it is time to explore new ideas and ways to help. The Council should learn from the past and carefully consider the United Nations presence when BINUH’s mandate expires in October, he stressed.
ALICE JACOBS (United Kingdom) joined other speakers in calling for free, fair credible and transparent elections to enable a transfer of power in February 2022. Her delegation remains deeply concerned by the lack of accountability for human rights violations. “It is frustrating, to say the least, that, after years of international support, this impunity endures,” she said, stressing that only political will from Haiti’s leaders can break this cycle. Decades of international support to Haitian institutions has failing to generate durable peace dividends rightly begs questions about the tools and approaches deployed over the years. Her delegation remains convinced that the integrated United Nations presence in Haiti positions the Organization better to support Haiti’s needs through a more holistic approach.
DINH QUY DANG (Viet Nam) underscored the urgent need for Haiti to hold free, fair, transparent and credible legislative elections that have been overdue since October 2019. Urging all relevant parties to make further efforts to reach a political agreement on those elections’ modalities and timing, he said such an agreement must be acceptable to all Haitian stakeholders and include the political representation of women and youth. Citing a range of longstanding, interconnected threats and challenges — including in the sociopolitical, governance and economic arenas — he said they have fuelled instability and undermined Haiti’s development. Viet Nam looks forward to bold and necessary measures by the Haitian authorities to address poverty and socioeconomic instability.
NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France), expressing concern that elections have yet to be organized, parliament has not met since January 2020 and the President is governing by decree, stressed that the executive branch bears the primary responsibility to end the current political deadlock. National authorities must ensure that credible elections are held in autumn by taking measures to keep voters safe, establishing credible voter lists and accelerating the distribution of identification cards. Turning to the security situation, she pointed out that a “climate of terror reigns in the country” — with increasing gang violence, kidnappings and attacks on law enforcement — and stressed that the national police must be given more resources. Adding that corruption gnaws away at national institutions and undermines public trust, she underlined the urgent need for judicial reform.
DMITRY A. POLYANSKIY (Russian Federation) expressed concern over Haiti’s weak State institutions and deteriorating security, socioeconomic and humanitarian situations, all of which are exacerbated by a health-care system unprepared for the spread of COVID-19. Further, he noted attempts to pressure the judiciary, growing restriction of civil freedoms, broad public disapproval of the Government and increasing control exerted by armed gangs, stressing that Haiti’s downturn results from the paralysis of its political system. Governing by decree is not easing tensions, he stressed, adding that the proposed constitutional changes do not enjoy the necessary broad public support. He underscored that the Council must not disregard the need to resolve political differences while focusing on the security situation, urging members to send a unified signal in support of national dialogue.
MARTIN GALLAGHER (Ireland) joined calls for credible, inclusive and transparent elections to be held in Haiti in a safe, timely manner. Noting that much remains to be discussed in the area of constitutional reform, he said such dialogue should take place in a representative citizens’ assembly that provides for the full participation of women. He also expressed concern over continuing violence, insecurity and economic depression in the country, along with gang-related violence, prison overcrowding, impunity for human rights violations and an alarming rise in kidnappings and homicides. The Government, he stressed, must address serious issues within the judiciary and the shrinking space for civil society — particularly women and youth — as “what affects Haitian women affects the future trajectory of Haiti”. He called on the global community to mount a strong, collective response to child malnutrition in the country, while also calling on the Government to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia), Council President for June, spoke in his national capacity, expressing concern over the ongoing political impasse, lack of accountability and worsening security and socioeconomic situations threatening Haiti’s stability. Progress must be made in setting a reform agenda to ensure that free, fair, transparent and credible legislative, local and presidential elections are held in autumn. To that end, he welcomed the decision by OAS to assist the Haitian authorities in facilitating dialogue among national stakeholders. On the security situation, he called on the authorities to take further steps to advance the national strategy for the reduction of community violence, in light of continuous gang violence and the increased number of kidnappings and killings. He also urged the Government to reform the judicial system in order to enhance accountability and expressed his support for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) establishing a country office in Haiti.
CLAUDE JOSEPH, Acting Prime Minister of Haiti, pointed out that his country has endured a difficult sociopolitical situation for over two years, characterized by recurring attempts to destabilize public order by a “certain fringe element of the opposition that thrives on instability”. Noting that the Secretary-General’s latest report fails to account for progress made by the Government in promoting respect for human rights, combating corruption and strengthening the rule of law, he reaffirmed the President’s commitment to achieving a peaceful national atmosphere through engagement with all relevant stakeholders. “While we wait for the opposition to finally embrace dialogue,” he said, the executive has committed to holding elections by the end of 2021 to renew the political landscape, restore the operation of democratic institutions and ensure a peaceful transition of power in February 2022.
He called on the international community to support national law enforcement — which has fully mobilized to restore security despite limited resources — particularly in the areas of technical assistance and operational capacity. For its part, the Government will offer the people a new Constitution to end the vicious cycle of political instability. Detailing efforts to that end, which included consultations with over 800 civil society organizations, he said a public referendum on the second draft of the Constitution, circulated on 18 May, was postponed due to a resurgence of COVID-19. In the meantime, the Government is “working overtime” to move the electoral process forward. He assured the Council that there is “nothing to worry about” save for certain logistical and safety issues, which are being addressed.
Nevertheless, he emphasized that any type of transitional Government should be avoided, recalling that Haiti had 15 such Governments between 1986 and 2016, which resulted in total institutional paralysis. Honest, democratic, free, inclusive and credible elections are the only way to guarantee the necessary political and socioeconomic stability for Haiti to progress, he stressed.
Taking the floor again to respond to questions raised, Ms. LA LIME said she heard all the concerns voiced. BINUH and the United Nations country team will continue to address the humanitarian situation, improve the security situation and mount the “electoral apparatus” that will ensure the holding of free and fair elections.
Ms. EWALD, also responding, said that while most of the pressing issues facing Haiti were covered in today’s discussion, the scarcity of oxygen available to treat COVID-19 patients was not mentioned. Oxygen tanks remain scarce, she said, recalling that criminal gangs recently invaded the only industrial tank-filling station. That situation demands more attention, she stressed.