Security Council Session on the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH)
19 June 2020
Statement by Mr Jacques LETANG
To the United Nations Security Council
Madam President, honourable representatives of Member States of the Security Council,
It is with pleasure that I take the floor to shed light on the situation in Haiti in my dual capacity as President of the Haitian Bars Federation (Fédération des Barreaux d’Haïti – FBH) and as a member of the Human Rights Office in Haiti (Bureau des Droits Humains en Haïti – BDHH).
- The coronavirus epidemic has had a profound impact on the world. Haiti has not been spared by this wave, with a combination of health risks, testing of institutional strength and economic crisis. The public services are virtually failing. The most basic rights are not guaranteed, while the depreciation of the gourd and the hurricane season directly jeopardize the lives of millions of Haitians who are already food insecure. The rapid spread of the virus is particularly worrying in prisons, where prison conditions continue to deteriorate. The contingency and debottlenecking plans announced by the authorities have so far not been implemented.
- The state is losing more and more of its monopoly on legitimate violence. Many working-class neighbourhoods are being transformed into lawless zones, where everyone’s life is subject to the goodwill of increasingly well-armed and organized gangs. Most of the public institutions located in downtown Port-au-Prince are deserted. Armed bandits regularly make the authorities, who are responsible for guaranteeing public order, flee the Court House! The State is less and less in control of the territory, including in the provinces, and one sometimes even wonders whether it has not lost control of the police, whose demands have repeatedly expressed themselves with violence…
- Massive human rights violations are on the rise. The La Saline case is undoubtedly one of the most serious massacres in our contemporary history; unfortunately it is not the only one. More than seventy-one people were killed on the night of November 13, 2018, dozens and dozens since then, not counting the women who were serially raped, the houses set on fire, the hundreds if not thousands of displaced persons, the charred bodies abandoned in the streets… It is a neglected generation that is now being initiated into the harshest of cruelties…
- The problem is primarily one of impunity. Despite the precautionary measures ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in December 2019, there is no longer even an investigation as the case has been blocked for months at the level of the Court of Cassation. This is a clear message that the State sends to victims who put their lives at risk to file a complaint: at the national and international level, they will get neither protection nor justice. The question of the involvement of the authorities in the perpetration of these atrocities is raised in many reports, including that of MINUJUSTH, or the more recent one of BINUH on the Bel Air massacre. These accusations are extremely serious, yet nothing is happening.
- It is this same impunity that hinders the fight against corruption. In spite of citizen mobilization and the edifying reports published by the Court of Auditors (Cour des Comptes) on the waste and misappropriation of billions of dollars, it is so far illusory to hope for the organization of a PETROCARIBE trial.
- These shortcomings are closely linked to the dysfunction of the justice system. Arbitrary detention is the rule. Access to a judge is not guaranteed to defendants who spend years in so-called « prolonged » pre-trial detention. Nor is access to a judge guaranteed to victims, first and foremost those of gender-based violence, who are most often silenced. The Superior Council of the Judiciary ((Conseil Supérieur du Pouvoir Judiciaire – CSPJ)J) has not lived up to its disciplinary role. The certification process has never been carried out, and judges’ mandates are renewed at the will of the executive. Far from embodying the renewal of an independent judiciary, this collegial body has become bogged down in political instrumentalization and a corporatism geared towards defending bad practices – first and foremost, non-compliance with the judicial tariff. Calling for a new strike that will once again paralyse the system, the magistrates denounce the ridiculous percentage granted to the judiciary in the last national budget.
- The electoral process is deeply perverted. The Constitutional Council (Conseil Constitutionnel) and the Permanent Electoral Council (Conseil Electoral Permanent) have still not been set up, giving rise to countless institutional tinkering. Far from forging democracy, elections generate above all interference, violence and the instrumentalization of power. They do not establish a bond of trust between the people and their leaders.
- More than ever, we find ourselves in a political impasse. There is no more parliament, no more local authorities, no more legitimate government. The President declared the institutions whose continuity he had a duty to ensure had lapsed. Legislation is now adopted by decree, without consultation. The absence of any institutional checks and balances is further reinforced by the prolongation of the state of emergency, which jeopardises respect for individual liberties and suspends public procurement procedures. Eyes are now turning towards the end of the presidential term. As is often the case, the polemic focuses first on the fluctuating interpretation of the Constitution… It has been almost a year since the Haitians have been experiencing the confinement that the world has discovered in recent months! Everything seems to be in place so that as soon as the epidemic is over, we’ll be back in a new peyi lock…
- Clearly, the objectives set for the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) are not being met. When one considers the resources invested over the past decades, the deterioration of the situation seems almost unintelligible. The fundamental causes of the instability have not been resolved, on the contrary, and one wonders how the « friends of Haiti » are allowing so much violence and misappropriation to take place… Do they not have the means to hold the State accountable for its commitments, be it only international commitments?
- It should be noted that BINUH has inherited several sensitive files. The cholera tragedy has fuelled a great deal of mistrust towards the United Nations, which has had such difficulty in acknowledging its responsibility – if not its guilt. What about reparations for the thousands of victims? Although the UN Secretary-General has finally announced that he wants to assume the consequences of the failure of zero tolerance of sexual abuse, there is no mention of criminal or even disciplinary condemnation, as actions for recognition of paternity and alimony remain theoretical until now. I myself am assisting the bereaved family of a young high school student who was hit by a UN car and who had been assured for years of compensation that never arrived.
- There is a contradictory injunction to want both to guarantee respect for human rights and to accompany a weak state. By wanting to « support the State », the missions link their destiny to that of the State, risking losing objectivity, if only in the deciphering of indicators. And what happens when the State itself violates fundamental freedoms? The question arose in January 2010, when MINUSTAH police officers failed to intervene to prevent officers of the national police from firing at point-blank range at defenceless detainees in the civilian prison in Les Cayes.
- The strategy of « continued international support » must be questioned when the « strength of national will » is questioned. This is the case of the saga of the « national dialogue ». It is also the case of the support offered to the CSPJ or the institutions supposed to act against corruption, which, far from being independent, have demonstrated their willingness not to act for change. The establishment of the National Council for Legal Assistance (Conseil National d’Assistance Légale) is another example. Donors have welcomed the rapid installation of an ad interim directorate dependent on the executive, which has thus bypassed the establishment of the Board of Directors, which is provided for in the new law! For its part, the latest press release from BINUH has drawn widespread criticism. In this context of institutional vacuum, how can one support a contested government in carrying out a constitutional reform?
- The international community is locked in a one-on-one dialogue with the government in power. Its support seems to depend more on strategic interests than on concrete human rights actions. De facto, the imperative of stabilization silences popular protest, preventing an essential counterbalance to the excesses of power. As a result, it is preparing veritable social time bombs.
- The Haitian civil society cannot be overlooked. Unfortunately, the United Nations too often consider militant organizations as mere project operators, subcontractors or the upholders of bureaucratic logic. Yet they play an indispensable role as watchdogs of democracy in a situation where we are losing new points of reference every day. Civil society actors must be listened to, relayed and supported.
I thank you for giving me the opportunity to say so today.
Statement of Special Representative Helen La Lime
Monsieur le Président, distingués membres du Conseil,
- Je vous remercie de m’avoir de nouveau accordé le privilège de vous informer sur l’évolution de la situation en Haïti. Just as most of the world, Haiti is currently contending with the COVID-19 pandemic. While the confirmed numbers of infected people and deaths pale in comparison with some of the other countries in the Americas, the pandemic is nonetheless stretching this country’s already fragile health system and testing its meager social safety net.
- Three months to the day after President Jovenel Moïse declared a health emergency due to the confirmation of the first cases of coronavirus, authorities continue to struggle to open medical centers dedicated to the treatment of COVID-19 patients. A country of more than 11 million inhabitants, Haiti currently only has the capacity to treat a few hundred patients at a time, with more beds becoming available every day. This situation is in part due to suboptimal coordination within the State apparatus, at both the national and local levels, as well as to inadequate funding of the national response plan. It is also the result of the initially staunch opposition by local communities to seeing such centers open in their midst – a manifestation of the lingering climate of denial, stigma, and discrimination that exists in the country.
- The pandemic, whose spread has accelerated in the last month, has to date officially affected over 4,900 people and led to 84 deaths. Even though its true toll is likely much higher, its effects are only starting to be felt by Haiti’s citizens, a majority of whom were already living in bleak socio-economic conditions. As a result of the multiple, inter-connected crises that have affected the country in recent years, Haiti’s economy contracted by 1.2 per cent in 2019 and is projected to shrink by a further 4 per cent this year. Factories are operating at reduced capacity because of the need to implement measures to slow the spread of the virus. The specter of a further increase in unemployment looms large; the Gourde continues to lose value against the US dollar; and inflation consistently exceeds 20 per cent. In the absence of adequate resources to support Haiti’s emergence from the recession in which it is plunged, the hard-won security and development gains achieved over the course of the past decade and a half risk coming undone, and a primarily domestic problem could transform into a regional issue, should an already alarming humanitarian situation continue to worsen, and increasing numbers of Haitians be tempted to seek better fortunes abroad.
Distinguished members of the Council,
- Since I last addressed you, Haiti has enjoyed a relatively appeased political climate. The exhaustion of 18 months of popular mobilization against President Moïse, and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, led parts of the opposition to call on Haitians to come together to face the virus, an initiative which allowed newly appointed Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe to govern. Yet, early signals of the Executive’s intention to begin preparations for long overdue legislative and local elections have reignited passions and reintroduced acrimony in the public discourse and political debate.
- The past weeks have seen a marked increase in the frequency and intensity of clashes between rival armed gangs that are vying to control greater swathes of territory in the most populous neighborhoods of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area in an effort to exert influence on the outcome of elections in those constituencies. A growing number of opposition figures are contesting the length of President Moïse’s term in office and calling for a transitional administration to take over, one which would ostensibly launch reforms and organize subsequent polls. The vicious circle of mistrust, recrimination, and ultimately violence, is once again starting to define the dynamics of Haitian politics, at a time when the entire society should be unified in its response to the pandemic, and striving to lay more virtuous and lasting foundations on which to build its future.
- Haiti has for too long resorted to expedient agreements to address political problems, to the detriment of the principles that undergird its Constitution. Yet, the ambiguities of the latter, which cannot be authoritatively interpreted in the absence of the Constitutional Council for which it provides, have regularly forced political actors to work around it. It is becoming increasingly evident that a reform of the Constitution is required to break the circle and create the conditions for institutional stability, good governance and the rule of law, three essential characteristics for the country to thrive. Such reform can only be successful as a result of a nationally-owned process that combines strong leadership with genuine efforts by all stakeholders to put aside short-term political interests.
- Over the course of the past four months, despite the pandemic, BINUH, working in ever closer collaboration with the United Nations Country Team, has not lost sight of the six benchmarks, the priorities it has set through the Integrated Strategic Framework. It has spared no effort to assist Haitian authorities and institutions in considering key issues that impede the forging of a national consensus as well as the country’s progress towards stability and sustainable development. Through the use of good offices, the mission has continued to encourage actors from across the political spectrum to constructively engage with one another. Along with its partners, it has advised the Haitian National Police in the successful resolution of long-standing labour disputes within its ranks, and assisted judicial actors in devising a virtual hearings system that will allow courts to continue functioning despite the current impossibility for them to physically convene.
- Though seemingly small in scope, these accomplishments will contribute to ensuring that the country’s police force remains cohesive as it maintains order and seeks to interdict the actions of armed gangs, and that the judicial system remains habilitated to meet the State’s obligation to guarantee a victim’s right to access justice. Unfortunately, we continue to operate in a context where the upholding of the principle of accountability remains a key challenge, as evidenced by the lack of progress in the investigation and prosecution of the recent emblematic cases of Lilavois, Grand Ravine, La Saline and Bel-Air which involve human rights violations and abuses by gang members, law enforcement agents, and political officials.
- Working with civil society, BINUH will pursue its efforts to encourage authorities to amplify the fight against impunity and the promotion of human rights. Through a sound use of the panoply of tools at its disposal, the UN system in Haiti will continue to support the expansion of the multiple aspects of the response to COVID-19, accompany the country on the path of crucial institutional and economic reform, and provide assistance to ensure the timely holding of free, fair, and transparent elections, in an appeased climate.
- To ensure the success of these endeavours, and to address the root causes of its instability in a meaningful and sustainable manner, Haiti relies on the full support of this Council, as well as on the continued engagement of international partners. Both are greatly appreciated.
Je vous remercie.