The United States voiced exasperation Monday with Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s one-man rule, blaming his government for the country’s delayed legislative vote during a U.N. Security Council meeting as the embattled leader tried to defend himself on the world stage.
Representing the U.S, Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis reminded fellow diplomats that legislative elections in Haiti were due in October 2019. Both before and after that date, he said, the council “repeatedly called on Haiti’s political stakeholders to come together, to set aside their differences, and to find a way forward.”
“They chose not to do so,” DeLaurentis said. “However, ultimate responsibility for creating an atmosphere conducive to free and fair elections, and then conducting those elections, must rest on the government. The United States is disturbed that Haiti’s prolonged period of rule by decree continues. “
The U.S.’s stance came as the Caribbean nation is embroiled in a worsening political crisis and the international community expresses mounting concern at Moïse’s rule. In an unusual move, the president himself spoke at the meeting, accusing “powerful oligarchs” and a “radical opposition” for his nation’s woes. Diplomats weren’t convinced, calling Haiti’s deteriorating state of affairs under his leadership “worrying” and “shocking.”
“Unpredictability looms large,” Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Ambassador I. Rhonda King said.
Discussing the situation in #Haiti at the #UNSC this afternoon, emphasised the need for genuine & inclusive dialogue to address political instability, & expressed concern over:
The worsening security situation & its impact
Humanitarian need, including food insecurity pic.twitter.com/2I7OD4mb1K
— Ireland at UN (@irishmissionun) February 22, 2021
Moïse has been ruling by decree for over a year. Opposition leaders contend his time in office ended Feb. 7. Moïse disagrees, saying he has another year as president. His detractors have gone so far as to install their own interim president.
Speaking at the virtual event, Moïse accused the opposition of creating armed gangs, said drug traffickers were behind a rogue police outfit known as Fantom 509 that has been carrying out flash protests across the capital and attacking government property and dismissed concerns about attacks against journalists.
He told the council that people “dressed up as journalists” attacked the police force.
Moïse also defended his overzealous use of executive orders and the removal of three Supreme Court judges, which has been denounced as a violation of Haiti’s constitution by a number of foreign diplomats and human rights groups.
“The violent attempts over many times to overthrow the constitutional government by corrupt people have left the situation very difficult,” Moïse said in his remarks, which went 20 minutes over his allotted 5 minutes. “This policy of chaos has meant that the government has had to take off the gloves.”
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres’ latest report on Haiti, released ahead of the Security Council meeting, paints a worrisome picture of Haiti’s ongoing crisis. Human rights defenders, journalists, judges, lawyers and others continue to be the target of threats and acts of intimidation, with at least 13 documented cases between September and January, the report said.
In the past 12 months, kidnappings increased by 200% compared with the previous year, the report found. Homicides were also up, increasing by 20% in 2020, with three quarters of the cases recorded in the western part of the country, which encompasses the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area.
“The human rights situation in Haiti continued to be negatively affected by the activity of gangs and the continued failure of State authorities to adequately protect citizens’ rights to life and security,” the report concluded.
The report noted the government has said it is working to address public safety issues, increasing the budget for the Haiti National Police force. But investigators also found “scant impact on the Haitian criminal justice system.”
The U.N. leader nonetheless seemed to back Moïse’s push to change the constitution, saying that a “minimum consensus among all political stakeholders” could help make it a success. The opposition has rejected his attempt to create a new magna carta and there are questions over its legality. Haitian officials have placed $20 million in a U.N.-controlled fund for the constitutional referendum as well as legislative, municipal, local and presidential elections slated for the fall.
Guterres’ representative in Haiti, Helen La Lime, noted that Moïse’s recent decrees effectively retiring three Supreme Court judges and appointing their replacements prompted several magistrates’ associations to go on strike and renewed protests demanding his departure from office. She also noted the moves could further paralyze an already dysfunctional judicial system.
Security Council members conveyed Monday that they view elections as the only way out of the crisis.
“I have no reservation at all in stating that this situation is untenable in the long-term,” France’s Assistant Permanent Representative Nathalie Broadhurst said, adding that some of the decrees taken by the Haitian authorities are “worrisome.”
The planned elections, Broadhurst said, were a step in the right direction but they “must contribute to an exit from the crisis and not add to current confusion.”
She then said that three conditions must be fulfilled for Haiti to gain stability: Minimal security conditions so that elections can take place in satisfactory conditions; the distribution of identification cards, to guarantee broad electoral participation; and an impartial electoral judge must be put in place so that results are accepted by everybody. Moïse has unilaterally appointed a nine-member electoral commission without political consensus to run the referendum and the elections.
But even that, France acknowledged, will require a lot of effort given the number of Haitians who still do not have a national Identification card, and what some diplomats described as an ambitious electoral calendar for September.
Moïse told council members Monday Haiti will hold the constitutional referendum in June. He previously had said April.
“It is not our place to speak on this process; we merely wish to ensure that the various stakeholders in the country have the opportunity to debate the text and its institutional implications in the long-term and above all, not further delay the conduct of the various elections,” Broadhurst said.
Ahead of Monday’s meeting, Human Rights Watch called on the council members to press the government of Haiti to uphold judicial independence, respect due process, and repeal its recent arbitrary changes to the Supreme Court’s composition.
“Getting rid of Supreme Court justices you dislike and appointing new ones without following regular processes will not solve a political crisis,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, deputy Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “There is no possible resolution to Haiti’s crisis without rule of law and an independent judiciary.”
In a separate report, Defend Haiti’s Democracy noted that under the current administration, systematic human rights abuses have escalated dramatically, and there is a growing consensus of civil society across Haiti, supported by international human rights professionals, activists and politicians, calling on the international community to support ordinary Haitians’ calls for urgent change.
“Politically-motivated massacres, kidnappings and murders have become a way of life for ordinary Haitians,” the report said. “Fear among the general population is of a level not experienced since the Duvalier era.”