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

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22-Feb-2021 01:59:44
Political crisis, shrinking civic space compounding dire Economic, humanitarian situation in Haiti, Special Representative tells Security Council.

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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 video conference 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.

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