UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) - Security Council Open VTC

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19-Jun-2020 01:42:26
Haiti’s stability in peril without strong response to COVID-19, legal expert tells Security Council.

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Amid protracted political, economic and institutional crises in Haiti, a strong response to COVID-19 is urgently needed to prevent an erosion of national stability, a top legal expert in the country told the Security Council in a 19 June videoconference meeting.

Jacques Létang, President of the Haitian Bar Federation and member of the Human Rights Office in Haiti, said COVID-19 has tested his country’s institutional strength. Public services are virtually failing, and basic rights are not being guaranteed. The rapid spread of the coronavirus is particularly worrying in prisons, as announced contingency plans have not been put in place. 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”, and most public institutions in Port-au-Prince are deserted.

“The State is less and less in control of the territory,” he said. Massive rights violations are on the rise. The La Saline case is just one of the most serious massacres in Haiti’s contemporary history. More than 71 people were killed on 13 November 2018, with “dozens and dozens” more since then. “The problem is primarily one of impunity,” he assured. Despite precautionary measures ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2019, the investigation has ended, as the case has been blocked for months at the Court of Cassation.

He said such actions by the State send a message to victims: they will receive neither protection nor justice. There are serious questions around whether authorities were involved — “yet nothing is happening”. Such shortcomings reflect dysfunction in the justice system, where access to a judge is guaranteed neither for defendants who spend years in prolonged pretrial detention, nor victims. Far from embodying a renewed spirit of independence, the Superior Council of the Judiciary is bogged down by corporatism geared towards defending bad practices. The electoral process is “deeply perverted”.

Describing Haiti as being at a political impasse, with no Parliament, no local authorities and “no more legitimate Government”, he said legislation is adopted by decree. The absence of institutional checks and balances is reinforced by the prolonged state of emergency. Eyes are now turning towards the end of the presidential term, with the polemic centred on fluctuating interpretations of the Constitution. “Clearly, the objectives set for the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) are not being met,” he said.

To be sure, he said the mission has inherited several sensitive files. The cholera tragedy has fuelled mistrust towards the United Nations, which has faced difficulty in acknowledging its responsibility — if not guilt. He asked about reparations for victims and the lack of discussion around criminal or even disciplinary condemnation for acts of sexual abuse, despite the Secretary‑General’s announced desire to address the failure of zero tolerance. By wanting to “support the State”, the United Nations links its destiny to that of the Government, at the risk of losing objectivity, he said.

Indeed, he said the international community is locked in a one-on-one dialogue with the Government, with its support appearing to depend more on strategic interests than human rights actions. “As a result, it is preparing veritable social time bombs,” he said, stressing that civil society actors must be heard and supported.

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