By Sir Ronald Sanders
On February 20, the UN Security Council received a grim report of deteriorating human rights and collapsing rule of law in Haiti. The troubling situation includes widening malnutrition, kidnappings for ransom, rapes and gang violence. And, while all of this is happening, the courts in the Capital, Port-au-Prince, have been closed since September 2019; president Jovenel Moïse, unable to secure Senate approval for a government, has been ruling by decree.
For every country in the world, apart from the most failed of failed states, the closure of courts to arbitrate disputes, try criminals, protect citizens from abuse and generally, to dispense justice, would be a frightening development. Neighbouring countries and others that proclaim a deep commitment to human rights worldwide would have condemned this situation and demanded action to remedy it.
Further, the unchecked power of a president to rule entirely as he wishes would create consternation within democratic countries and among democratic nations of the global community. The situation is particularly alarming in Moïse’s case since in the presidential election of November 2016, he received less than 20 percent of the voter turnout which was not large and that followed a series of postponed and controversial elections. He was not a leader elected with overwhelming support.
Yet, there has been a deafening silence on Haiti. Apart from the UN Special Representative, Helen La Lime, the principal external interlocutors in Haitian affairs, the US, Canada, the European Union, and the representative of the Organisation of American States (OAS), have sought no action to curb the downward spiral into increased violence and a growing movement by groups of Haitian people to take the law into their own hands.
Disappointingly, the OAS secretary-general, Luis Almagro, who needed no urging to condemn governments in Venezuela and Nicaragua for violations of human, civil and political rights, has not seen it fit to bring the troubling situation in Haiti to the attention of the Permanent Council of the OAS.
Instead on February 24, in the wake of popular protests, including by the police, Almagro chose to tweet that he condemns violence and “advocates for the solutions that the country needs”.
Almagro is capable of much more than such a trivial response to Haiti’s continuing descent into recession, with at least 4.6 million Haitians facing a humanitarian crisis. To be clear, Almagro should bring charter violations of all states to the attention of the OAS – Venezuela and Nicaragua which he has done, but others too.
None of this is fair to the people of Haiti. It is no wonder that so many of them believe that they are a nation to which the global community prefers to blind its eyes while their suffering continues.
Of course, the lack of any consideration of Haiti in the OAS is tied to the support of the Moïse government for the positions of the governments of the US and the Lima Group on Venezuela; and the backing of the US government for the re-election of Almagro as the OAS secretary-general. The government of Haiti’s vote is vital to the achievement of 18 votes required to accomplish this purpose.
The ambassador of the Dominican Republic to the UN, José Singer, starkly pointed out the chaos in Haiti to the UN Security Council meeting on February 20. There is, he said, “a deep constitutional crisis, rampant violence fuelled by illicit traffic and the excessive accumulation of small arms, weapons, and ammunition, which has significantly contributed to the spread of organized crime including gangs”. The Dominican Republic government is gravely concerned about events in Haiti because refugees fleeing the country regularly cross the land border of the island that Haiti and the Dominican Republic share. He lamented the dissolution of the UN Peacekeeping force last October – a regrettable development on which I commented publicly.
The government of The Bahamas also has similar reasons to be concerned, particularly as its islands have been the reluctant recipients of Haitian refugees, and there is now, popular demand to send them back to Haiti, especially after the ravages last year to Grand Bahama and the Abacos Islands.
In July 2019, the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM) attempted to play a role in resolving the deteriorating situation in Haiti. The Community sought the agreement of Moïse to send a team of heads of government, led by the then chair, Allen Chastanet the prime minister of Saint Lucia. CARICOM received no reply. Subsequently, the CARICOM secretary-general, Irwin LaRocque, again wrote proposing that a technical mission be sent to Port-au-Prince. That too; met with deafening silence.
So concerned were the CARICOM leaders about the worsening situation in Haiti that the current chair, prime minister Mia Mottley of Barbados, was mandated to speak with president Moïse by phone during the recently held CARICOM Summit in Barbados. Moïse did not attend the meeting, sending instead his appointed foreign minister, Bochit Edmond, who arrived on the last day of the meeting. It is left to be seen whether this second attempt by CARICOM to engage Haiti will yield any results.
The UN Special Representative, Helen La Lime, told the UN Security Council of the failure to reach a political settlement in Haiti.
“Despite progress regarding the nature of the reforms to be undertaken, including that of the Constitution, political actors have yet to settle on a formula that would lead to the designation by president Moïse of a consensual prime minister and the formation of a new government. The lack of agreement on this matter, as well as on the remaining length of president Moïse’s term, threatens to needlessly prolong a situation that has already lasted too long.” She said.
While she did not say it, a big part of the impasse in reaching a solution is that the opposition parties do not trust the interlocutors who have been trying to broker a settlement. They might have more confidence in CARICOM, but first, president Moïse must agree to CARICOM engagement with all political players in Haiti.