Haiti: VTC Briefing and Consultations
On Monday afternoon (22 February), the Security Council is expected to hold an open videoconference (VTC) meeting, followed by a closed VTC session, on the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH). Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) Helen La Lime is scheduled to brief on recent developments and the Secretary-General’s latest 120-day report on the mission, which covers the period from 1 September 2020 to 31 January 2021. The Council will also be briefed by Vivianne Roc, president of “PLURIELLES”, an eco-feminist youth-led organisation which addresses peace and security issues in Haiti. Haitian President Jovenel Moïse is expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s rules of procedure.
A Council product on Haiti that may reference the electoral process in the country is a possible option that could be considered following tomorrow’s meeting.
The Secretary-General’s latest report, issued on 11 February 2021, paints a complex picture of the ongoing political and economic crisis in Haiti, as the country prepares for several milestones in 2021, including a proposed constitutional referendum, as well as legislative, municipal, local, and presidential elections. The report covers progress and challenges for BINUH’s six benchmark areas: political and good governance; violence reduction; security and rule of law; human rights; unemployment, youth and other vulnerable groups; and basic social service delivery and resilience. The report also notes that insecurity caused by gang activities has undermined progress towards development and exacerbated an already worrying humanitarian situation in the country throughout the reporting period.
A key focus of Monday’s meeting is likely to be the political instability in Haiti. Council members may express concern over the continued polarisation between President Moïse and the opposition. While political parties and civil society in Haiti generally agree on the need for constitutional reform, the opposition is contesting the process led by Moïse to promote such reforms. In her latest briefing to the Security Council, on 5 October 2020, La Lime expressed regret over the continued lack of trust between political forces, which is “impeding all but the slightest progress on priorities that had previously garnered a wide consensus across the political spectrum”.
Members may also be interested in learning more about the dispute over Moïse’s term, and the unrest that it continues to trigger. (The opposition argues that Moïse’s term should have ended on 7 February 2021, while Moïse’s position is that his mandate lasts until February 2022). On 7 February, Moïse announced in a live national address that security forces had foiled an attempted coup d’état, which included plans to murder the president. According to media reports, 23 people, including a Supreme Court judge and a top police official, were arrested in connection with charges related to the attempted coup. A spokesperson of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said that the circumstances of these arrests were “very concerning” as they “may amount to an unlawful or arbitrary arrest and detention”. While the judge and four others have been released, 17 people are still in pre-trial detention at the time of writing. On 8 February, Haitian opposition parties named Joseph Mécène Jean-Louis, the oldest member of Haiti’s Supreme Court, as provisional president, further exacerbating political tensions. On the same day, Moïse issued an executive decree in which he dismissed the arrested judge and two other Supreme Court judges from their duties. All three had been approached by the opposition to replace Moïse as president.
Council members may also be interested in learning more about the efforts of national authorities, political actors, and all citizens to work together to meet forthcoming electoral milestones. The constitutional referendum is scheduled for 25 April; however, the Haitian Office of National Identification faces challenges to generate the necessary momentum for the citizen registration process. If the process is not expedited, 2.5 million citizens may risk being left off voting lists before the registry closes on 24 February. Additionally, there is concern that the persistent lack of security could undermine confidence in the electoral process and discourage voter turnout. The Secretary-General noted in his report that the Haitian government’s disbursement of $20 million to launch procurement and logistical steps is an encouraging sign of its commitment to funding the upcoming electoral processes.
Council members are expected to voice grave concern over the increased insecurity due to the rise in gang-related activities. Kidnappings in Haiti have followed an alarming trajectory, with a 200 percent increase in 2020 over the previous year. The Secretary-General welcomed in his report the leadership changes at the Haitian National Police (HNP), which “represent an opportunity to strengthen the institution’s cohesion and enhance the performance of its force”. As part of a shift to a more assertive public safety agenda, the HNP received a significant budget increase in September for the first time in 13 years, affording it more capability to fight crime. Throughout December 2020 and January 2021, the HNP showed a more robust response to public disorder and intensified interdiction measures to curb violent crime in gang-ridden areas, starting in the Port-au-Prince neighbourhood of Village-de-Dieu. BINUH has continued to assist the Haitian government with its efforts to reinforce the capacity of the HNP and to reduce community violence, in accordance with resolution 2476 of 25 June 2019.
Roc might describe the work conducted by her organisation, which helps young people involved in violence to lay down their arms. She may focus her remarks on the consequences of gang activity and civil unrest for Haiti’s education system. The Secretary-General’s report states that approximately 30 percent of the country’s students, more than 750,000 children, have not returned to school since the new school year in August 2020, in part due to the rise in insecurity. Roc may also refer to the kidnapping, rape and murder of a 21-year-old high school student from Port-au Prince in November 2020, which prompted thousands of Haitian students to protest in the capital and demand justice.
Council members are likely to express concern regarding the serious human rights violations which continue to be committed in Haiti, as law enforcement face difficulties in protecting citizens. Civil society and human rights organisations remain the target of threats and acts of intimidation. During the 1 September 2020 to 31 January 2021 reporting period, the Secretary-General states that “BINUH registered 337 alleged human rights abuses attributed to gang members and unidentified armed men” — a 95.9 percent increase compared to the last reporting period (16 June 2020 to 31 August 2020).
Several Council members might raise Haiti’s worsening economic situation and the humanitarian challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean estimates that Haiti’s gross domestic product (GDP) decreased by three percent in 2020 and projects a limited recovery in 2021, provided that several economic initiatives are implemented. The report states that to contribute to the country’s economic stabilisation, the UN has been seeking to create employment opportunities, especially for women and youth, and to enhance rural livelihoods. Food insecurity and malnutrition also remain a grave problem in Haiti, with 2.1 percent of children in the country facing severe acute malnutrition. The 2021 Haiti Humanitarian Needs Overview indicates that 4.4 million people will require humanitarian assistance in 2021.
Monday’s meeting will be the first opportunity for elected members India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, and Norway to voice their position on the situation in Haiti. Mexico, which replaced the Dominican Republic in the Latin American Caribbean Group seat, may join Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in highlighting the need to combat the spread of illicit small arms and light weapons in Haiti. In this regard, they may welcome the UN’s support to the establishment of a comprehensive national weapons and ammunition management framework in Haiti.