UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow (20 February), the Security Council is expected to hold a briefing, followed by consultations, on the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), a special political mission (SPM) established after the UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH) closed on 15 October 2019. This will be the Council’s first meeting on BINUH. Special Representative Helen La Lime is expected to brief on the mission’s work and recent developments in Haiti. Marie Yolène Gilles, Executive Director of the Fondasyon Je Klere, an organisation that mobilises youth and others to act against corruption and for good governance and human rights, is also scheduled to brief. She may share her analysis of the situation in Haiti with respect to governance, the judicial and corrections system, corruption and human rights, while providing recommendations for Council action. Finally, a Haitian Government representative is also expected to speak.
The Secretary-General’s report also notes that this has been a challenging time to establish BINUH, given Haiti’s ongoing political impasse, an issue of concern to several Council members. Since 13 January, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse has been, in effect, governing Haiti alone. Parliament’s mandate expired that day because of the failure to hold legislative and local elections in October 2019. In 2019, the parliament failed to pass an electoral law and approve an election budget that would have been the first steps for organising these elections, that were constitutionally mandated to be held in October 2019; nor was there political agreement on the new composition of the Provisional Electoral Council. Therefore, on 13 January, the mandates expired for the lower house of parliament, at least one-third of the senate, and all elected municipal officials.
Moïse has said he sees this development as an opportunity for Haiti to undergo what he believes is much-needed constitutional reform. In this same vein, in his latest report, the Secretary-General notes that the current environment “provides an opportunity to address longstanding issues plaguing Haitian governance and economic development”. However, in the past month since parliament dissolved, little action has been taken in support of reform. While there is general agreement about the need for constitutional review and national dialogue, there is fundamental disagreement about the role of Moïse as president. In the beginning of February, several days of meetings between Moïse’s party and the opposition yielded no progress towards any sort of resolution, according to media reports.
Member states are likely to want to hear what actions, if any, have been taken by BINUH to help mitigate this political crisis. Resolution 2476, which established BINUH, called for it to advise the government on issues related to promoting and strengthening political stability and good governance, the rule of law, an inclusive inter-Haitian national dialogue, and protecting and promoting human rights. This may be hard to do without a fully functioning Haitian government, and it seems that some members understand that BINUH’s ability to assist with what is, essentially, an internal political problem may be limited. The Secretary-General’s report says that Special Representative La Lime has been engaging in good offices, but there has yet to be a significant breakthrough.
Members are also likely to point out that Haiti continues to suffer from severe economic and humanitarian challenges. Food insecurity remains a grave problem. According to the World Food Programme, one-third of the Haitian population of 10.9 million is facing hunger conditions and around one million Haitians suffer from severe hunger. The situation was exacerbated by last year’s protests, which at times cut off parts of Haiti from deliveries of food and medical supplies.
Another issue that may be raised—which is also addressed in the Secretary-General’s report—is Haiti’s increasing levels of violence, with homicides rising by 42% in 2019 compared to the previous year. The justice system remains in need of reform and protestors ransacked several courts during protests between 17 and 29 October. Haiti’s prisons suffer from a 343% occupancy rate. The Secretary-General’s report also draws attention to a number of serious human rights violations. Even when it is acknowledged that violations have occurred, a lack of judicial action and arrests foster an environment of impunity. Additionally, the report notes that during the period of unrest between September and November 2019, messages inciting violence could be found on radio programmes from both supporters of the government and the opposition.
Council members may mark the tenth anniversary of Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake, which, according to reports, killed over 200,000 people, injured 1.5 million, and left 1.5 million homeless. Many in Haiti’s civil society have reflected on the scant reconstruction progress. According to the International Organisation for Migration, around 35,000 people remain in camps a decade after the earthquake.
Council members are relatively united on this file, although there are some minor differences on how much outside influence there should be on the future of Haiti. Some approve of having detailed benchmarks while others would prefer BINUH’s mandate to be less prescriptive and led more by Haiti itself. Council members are likely to be careful not to appear to take sides between Moïse and the opposition during this uncertain period.
Two Caribbean member states now serve on the Council: Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and the Dominican Republic. Tomorrow’s meeting serves as the first chance to hear from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on Haiti as an elected Council member. In 2019, the Dominican Republic repeatedly expressed its concerns about the withdrawal of MINUJUSTH, believing the process was rushed and did not adequately respond to the situation on the ground.