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UN calls for ‘democratic renewal’ in Haiti

UNITED NATIONS (CMC) — The top United Nations official in Haiti called Monday for a “democratic renewal” in the troubled French-speaking Caribbean country to lift it out of a drawn-out political and humanitarian crisis and to put it back on the path to stability and development.

Helen Meagher La Lime, head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), told the UN Security Council – meeting via video-teleconference – that the polarisation that has defined most of President Jovenel Mose’s term in office has become even more acute, as civic space shrinks and acute food insecurity grows.

The UN said Haiti has been in the grips of a renewed crisis since Parliament ceased to function in January 2020, leaving the president to postpone elections and to rule by decree.

In response, the UN noted that large crowds have poured into the streets, echoing Opposition demands for Mose to step down.

“Only a democratic renewal, resulting from the prompt holding of credible, transparent and participatory elections, can provide Haiti with the opportunity to overcome its protracted political crisis,” La Lime said.

That, in turn, would allow Haitian society and leaders to focus their attention on undertaking the governance and economic reforms necessary to set the country back on the path towards sustainable development, she added.

Joining the meeting from Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, President Mose defended his Administration, saying that it is confronting not only the novel coronavirus pandemic but also “corrupt oligarchs” and a “radical and violent Opposition”, which have tried repeatedly to stage a coup d’tat.

“This policy of chaos has meant that the Government has had to take off the gloves,” he told the Security Council, adding, however, that parliamentary elections, that originally should have taken place in October 2019, will go ahead in September.

Mose, 52, said that his own presidential tenure ends in 2022, five years after he took office.

But his opponents, citing the constitution, claimed that his term of office began when elections were held in 2016 and that now is the time for him to step aside, said the UN, alluding to news reports.

In presenting the UN secretary general’s latest report on Haiti, La Lime said the Opposition has been unsuccessful in mobilising significant public support in its campaign to oust the president.

But, she noted that a raft of presidential decrees has prompted judges to go on strike and threatened civic space through an “overly broad definition of terrorism”, adding that this is taking place “at a time when an estimated 4.4 million Haitians will be in need of humanitarian assistance this year”.

Against this volatile backdrop, La Lime’s preparations for this year’s elections – and for a constitutional referendum – are going ahead.

But, she warned, much remains to be done, and that voting could be delayed due to a lack of international funding.

“Above all else, a minimal consensus among relevant political stakeholders would greatly contribute to creating an environment conducive to the holding of the constitutional referendum and subsequent elections,” said the top UN official in Haiti, adding that the United Nations stands ready to help.

Also briefing the Security Council on Monday was Vivianne Roc, 23, from Plurielles, an eco-feminist youth group, who described Haiti as a country “gripped by lawlessness, banditry and gang violence”.

However, she was hopeful that things can still take a turn for the better.

“The young woman before you today is outraged by the wind of insecurity that is sweeping her country,” she said, presenting the 15-member body with several recommendations, including a crackdown on arms and drug trafficking and the establishment of call centres for victims of domestic violence.

On Friday, the United Nations human rights office (OHCHR) said that it was “very concerned” over recent attacks against judicial independence in Haiti.

According to OCHCHR spokesperson Liz Throssell, a judge of the Haitian Cour de Cassation (Supreme Court) was arrested on February 7 “in circumstances that may amount to unlawful or arbitrary arrest and detention”.

Throssell said 22 other individuals were also arrested, 17 of whom still remain in pre-trial detention.

While the judge was subsequently released, the person, along with two others, was “forced to retire and later replaced, apparently through an irregular procedure”, she said.

“These developments cause concerns about judicial independence, and have further eroded the separation of powers in Haiti,” said Throssell at a regular media briefing at the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG).

Throssell stressed that respecting the rule of law and the system of checks and balances at all times is paramount.

“It is even more crucial now given the growing political tensions and the increasing expression of dissent in demonstrations,” she said.

OHCHR called on the Haitian authorities to ensure respect for the established legal and institutional framework, and comply with their obligations under the country’s constitution and international human rights treaties, she added.

“We urge the Government and Opposition to engage in a meaningful and inclusive dialogue to avoid further escalation of tensions, and to resolve the current political and institutional deadlock in a manner that is both lasting and sustainable,” Throssell said.

She said OHCHR “stands ready to continue supporting Haitian authorities in their fulfilment of international human rights obligations” and expresses its continuing willingness to strengthen its human rights engagement with all sectors in the society.

Earlier this month, the Organization of American States (OAS) said its general secretariat was “closely monitoring the current situation in Haiti”, and that it was “concerned with the respect for human rights and the independence of powers”.

“The OAS General Secretariat has an essential interest in the protection of democratic institutions and the political rights of its citizens,” said the OAS in a statement. “It is fundamental that state institutions work together to resolve the problems afflicting Haiti.

“We call for democratic structural changes in Haiti through the discussion of a new constitution and an effective participation in general elections this year,” it added.

The OAS said that its general secretariat “renews its support for the electoral process as the only option consistent with the democratic charter to replace the current constitutional president with another president on February 7, 2022”.

Opposition parties in Haiti had declared 72-year-old Judge Joseph Mecene Jean-Louis the country’s interim leader, a day after an alleged coup plot was foiled, as they insisted that President Jovenel Moise must step down.

In a video message, Jean-Louis, the longest-serving judge in the Supreme Court, said he “accepted the choice of the opposition and civil society, to serve (his) country as interim president for the transition”.

Moise, who has ruled by decree since mid-January, has stated he would hand over power to the winner of the elections but would not step down until his term expires in 2022.

But the opposition has rejected his interpretation of the constitution and has insisted his term had come to an end.

“We are waiting for Jovenel Mose to leave the National Palace, so that we can get on with installing Mecene Jean-Louis,” Opposition figure Andre Michel told international news agency AFP.

Former senator Youri Latortue said that the transition period was expected to last around 24 months.

“There’s a two-year road map laid out, with the establishing of a national conference, the setting out of a new constitution and the holding of elections,” he said.

Haitian Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe said Supreme Court Judge Hiviquel Dabrezil and inspector general for the national police force, Marie Louise Gauthier, were among 23 people who were detained for their role in an alleged plot to oust President Mose.

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