Expected Council Action
In February, the Security Council is expected to receive a briefing from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), Helen La Lime, on recent developments and the Secretary-General’s latest report on the special political mission, due on 12 February. A civil society representative may also brief.
BINUH’s mandate expires on 15 October 2021.
Key Recent Developments
Haiti continues to contend with the interlocking crises of political instability and a deteriorating socioeconomic situation, as electoral milestones in 2021 present opportunities and challenges for progress in the country. On 7 January, Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council (PEC) announced that a constitutional referendum will take place in April, while the presidential election is set for September. In addition, the parliamentary and municipal elections—which were initially scheduled for October 2019 but have been delayed by political stalemate—are expected to take place in September and November, respectively. The UN is expected to provide electoral support to events related to the electoral calendar, responding to an official request of the Haitian government contained in a letter dated 11 November 2020.
Electoral uncertainty remains a challenge because of a lack of consensus between the parties in Haiti around issues such as the composition of the PEC, the holding of the constitutional referendum and the end-date of President Jovenel Moïse’s term in office. On 23 July 2020, Moïse requested that the sectors represented in the PEC either confirm their existing representative or appoint a new one within 48 hours. The Haitian constitution stipulates that several key sectors (including religious sectors and academia) must nominate councillors for the PEC. The members of the PEC refused Moïse’s request and collectively resigned the following day, citing in their resignation letter concerns about the intention of the presidency to move forward with changes to the constitution and start the electoral process without having achieved consensus between all relevant stakeholders, including the opposition and civil society.
The process for the selection of the new PEC appears to have been controversial. Several civil society sectors refused to nominate a counsellor for the PEC, as mandated by the constitution, in protest of the presidency’s actions. On 18 September 2020, Moïse appointed a new PEC by presidential decree, without having secured the approval of the Supreme Court for the nominations. Haitian opposition parties, legal scholars and human rights organisations criticised this move as illegitimate and unconstitutional.
While there is consensus among the different political parties on the need for constitutional reform, the process leading to the reform remains the main point of disagreement between the president and the opposition. The announcement of the expected constitutional referendum garnered criticism from the opposition, which maintains that the referendum is illegal because the current Haitian constitution prohibits any modification of it by referendum. In a 23 October 2020 address, Moïse claimed that he does not intend to run in the next presidential election, in an apparent attempt to dispel claims that he is seeking constitutional reform so he can run again.
On 30 October 2020, President Moïse installed an Independent Advisory Committee for the development of a new constitution. Details of the draft constitution—which is set to be finalised by 26 February—have not been released to date, although a member of the Independent Advisory Committee said in an early January interview that proposals include creating a single legislative chamber to replace the current Senate and Chamber of Deputies, extending parliamentary terms, and giving Haitians who live abroad increased representation. Moïse has declared that if the draft constitution is approved by referendum, the next elections will be organised along the timeline of the new constitution. As such, the result of the referendum could alter the electoral calendar announced in early January.
Opposition groups have also claimed that the electoral calendar constitutes an attempt by Moïse to extend his term in office. The end-date of Moïse’s term is disputed because his inauguration on 7 February 2017 was preceded by a one-year term of a provisional president. (As there was no elected successor when President Michel Martelly’s term ended in February 2016, the Senate chose Jocelerme Privert as provisional president on 14 February 2016). Opposition groups claim that Moïse’s five-year term will legally end on 7 February 2021 while Moïse’s position—which is supported by most UN members states—is that the legal end-date is in February 2022.
The opposition has called for demonstrations to demand that Moïse step down in February. According to media reports, hundreds of people participated in demonstrations that took place on 15 January in Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haitien, Jacmel, Saint-Marc, and Gonaïves. Although several clashes were reported between police and protesters in the capital, the demonstrations were characterised as largely peaceful. It appears that the opposition’s calls have not garnered much traction so far as participation has been lower compared to other protests held in Haiti in recent years.
In the meantime, civilians continue to bear the brunt of a deteriorating security and humanitarian situation. In her latest briefing to the Security Council, on 5 October 2020, La Lime underlined the increased unrest in the country, threats posed to state authority by gang violence and the widespread perception of impunity. Between 1 June and 31 August 2020, BINUH attributed 172 alleged human rights abuses by gang members and unidentified armed men, including 27 killings, 28 injuries and eight rapes. According to OCHA, the humanitarian situation in Haiti continues to be affected by political and security instability, which affect access to essential services and have impacts on the most vulnerable people. OCHA estimates that approximately 4.4 million Haitians will need humanitarian assistance in 2021. The 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan in Haiti will require $235.6 million to assist 1.5 million people in need.
On 15 October 2020, the Security Council adopted resolution 2547, renewing BINUH’s mandate for another year. No changes were made to the core mandate of the special political mission as set out in resolution 2476 of 25 June 2019, which established BINUH.
Human Rights-Related Developments
On 19 January, the Human Rights Service of BINUH and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a joint report on human rights violations related to the protests that took place between 6 July 2018 and 10 December 2019. The report shows a pattern of human rights violations and abuses followed by a near lack of accountability and documents a 333 percent increase in the number of human rights violations and abuses against the rights to life and security of the person during the reporting period. In introducing the report, the spokesperson of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern that “persistent insecurity, poverty and structural inequalities in Haiti coupled with increasing political tensions may lead to a pattern of public discontent followed by violent police repression and other human rights violations”. The spokesperson added that recent presidential decrees creating a national intelligence agency and strengthening public security are worrying, as it appears that they are not consistent with international human rights norms and standards and risk leading to a further crackdown on the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly, association and freedom of expression.
Key Issues and Options
The envisioned electoral process in Haiti is a key issue that Council members are likely to follow closely. The potential for increased insecurity due to public unrest and the rise in gang-related activities are also matters of concern for the Council. Council members appear to be united in agreement on the need for the Haitian National Police (HNP) to be adequately supported and resourced by the Haitian government. The Secretary-General warned in his latest report that the limited resources afforded the HNP is beginning to erode operational capacity and public trust in the country’s sole functioning nationwide public safety institution.
Council members may want to hear more from La Lime about the envisioned UN support for the electoral calendar and about the ongoing constitutional reform process in Haiti and what it could mean for future elections. A civil society briefer could provide the Council with a personal perspective and fine-grained analysis of the challenges and opportunities related to the election planning. The Council may also choose to adopt a presidential or press statement calling on Haitian stakeholders to ensure the holding of free, fair and transparent elections.
Council members generally supported the establishment of BINUH instead of a peacekeeping mission. Former Council member, the Dominican Republic (Haiti’s neighbour on the island of Hispaniola), was the sole voice advocating a return to a peacekeeping operation. Several other Council members believe that the problems Haiti is facing are political in nature and could be better handled by a political mission and Haitians themselves. Such positions came into view during the negotiations on resolution 2547, as China seemingly advocated for a strategic assessment of BINUH with the aim of elaborating recommendations for an exit strategy leading to the eventual drawdown of the Integrated Office and the transfer of its tasks to the Haitian government. While Russia supported China’s suggestion, other members felt that such steps were premature.
China and Russia abstained on resolution 2547, noting in their explanations of vote that the US draft resolution failed to consider their suggested language about the increase in gang-related violence and the difficult human rights situation in Haiti. While several members agreed that it is important to address those issues, they disagreed about their inclusion in a draft resolution on the renewal of BINUH’s mandate. Some suggested that these issues could be better addressed in a presidential statement so that the Council could share its concern in unison.
Incoming Council member Mexico, which replaced the Dominican Republic in the Latin American and Caribbean Group seat, is likely to follow developments in Haiti closely. As combating the spread of illicit small arms and light weapons is a foreign policy priority for Mexico, it may join St. Vincent and the Grenadines in voicing concern about the influx of illicit small arms and light weapons into Haiti and their role in fuelling gang-related violence.
The US is the penholder on Haiti.
UN DOCUMENTS ON HAITI
|Security Council Resolutions
|15 October 2020S/RES/2547
|This resolution renewed BINUH for one year.
|25 June 2019S/RES/2476
|This resolution established BINUH, an SPM that will continue the UN presence in Haiti following the conclusion of MINUJUSTH.
|25 September 2020S/2020/944
|After one year of existence, this report examines BINUH’s activities.
|Security Council Meeting Records
|15 October 2020S/PV.8768
|At this meeting the Council adopted resolution 2547 (2020), renewing BINUH for one year. Two members, China and Russia, abstained.