Haiti: Briefing and Consultations
Tomorrow afternoon (26 September), the Security Council will hold an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on Haiti. China requested the meeting to discuss the unrest which erupted in the country after the government announced a fuel price increase on 11 September. The expected briefers are Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti and head of the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) Helen La Lime, Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) Valerie Guarnieri, and Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Ghada Fathi Waly.
In calling for the meeting, China requested a UN Secretariat and WFP briefer. Mexico and the US, the co-penholders on Haiti, apparently then requested a UNODC briefer, to address the issue of the transfer and misuse of small arms and light weapons—which is a priority issue for Mexico.
La Lime is expected to describe recent developments in Haiti, where widespread demonstrations broke out after the government announced that it would cease providing $400 million in subsidies for gasoline, diesel and kerosene—thus doubling their price to consumers. Starting on 12 September, citizens took to the streets in the capital, Port-au-Prince, and other cities across the country, such as Gonaïves on Haiti’s west coast, to protest the difficult living conditions. Many protestors voiced grievances about the ongoing political stalemate and the government’s handling of the security and economic crises, with some calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry.
Some demonstrations turned violent, and there have been reports of civilian casualties, but exact numbers had not been confirmed at the time of writing. Protestors erected barricades and roadblocks across the streets of major cities, limiting mobility and citizens’ access to food and water.
There have also been reports of looting of businesses and humanitarian warehouses, as well as attacks on banks and on the homes of pro-government politicians and the wealthy elite. On 15 September, rioters looted and torched a WFP warehouse in Gonaïves, stealing 1,400 tons of food intended for nearly 100,000 school children and emergency assistance to Haiti’s most vulnerable families, according to WFP. Other humanitarian organisations, including Caritas, have reported that their facilities were attacked and looted. Although the demonstrations erupted because of popular discontent over living conditions, criminal gangs have exacerbated the situation, including through statements encouraging looting and inciting violence against politicians and international organisations.
In a 16 September statement, Secretary-General António Guterres expressed deep concern regarding the unrest, which has “brought the country to a standstill”, and called for calm and de-escalation. He urged stakeholders to avoid violence and called for peaceful and inclusive dialogue on a constructive way forward. Guterres warned that “if the current circumstances continue, the already dire humanitarian situation faced by Haiti’s most vulnerable people will deteriorate even further”.
At the time of writing, it appeared that the intensity of the protests has subsided, including in Port-au-Prince, but some unrest was still reported in other cities and the situation in the country remained precarious. Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric reported on 19 September that “the overall situation continues to deteriorate but the weekend saw a relative lull in violence and most of the population was able to move and access markets”. He added that UN programmes are on hold due to roadblocks, demonstrations and limited access to fuel. On 23 September, the UN ordered the evacuation of its non-essential international staff from Haiti.
The briefers may note that the recent unrest is part of a trend of growing public discontent over the country’s deteriorating living conditions. A 22 September OCHA flash update noted that Haiti has been experiencing social protests since the end of July, which have gradually gained momentum through to the recent peak on 12 September. It said that “[i]nsecurity, the rising cost of living and the fuel distribution crisis remain at the heart of these protests.” At tomorrow’s meeting, the briefers and some Council members may emphasise that a holistic approach is necessary to stabilise the situation, addressing the many crises, including the political stalemate, endemic gang violence and the dire humanitarian situation.
Guarnieri is likely to describe humanitarian conditions in the country, including the challenges humanitarians face in their work. The 22 September OCHA flash update noted that the recent unrest has forced the suspension of many humanitarian activities, while “the needs of the Haitian population are worsening and the living conditions of the most vulnerable are deteriorating”, particularly those of internally displaced people. Guarnieri may note that many obstacles that humanitarians have faced prior to the recent unrest persist, including that of gang-related insecurity. She might emphasise the importance of facilitating unimpeded access to humanitarian assistance.
Food insecurity in Haiti is likely to be a focus of Guarnieri’s statement. A WFP country report covering the situation in August said that Haiti has one of the world’s highest levels of chronic food insecurity, with more than half of its population chronically food insecure and 22 percent of children chronically malnourished. The underlying drivers of food insecurity include extreme poverty and frequent natural disasters. According to WFP, 1.3 million people in Haiti are in need of urgent food assistance. Guarnieri may emphasise the importance of continued funding for humanitarian assistance in Haiti. As at 16 September, the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan for Haiti, which calls for $373 million, was only 21 percent funded.
At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members are likely to express concern about the situation in Haiti and call for de-escalation and calm. They are likely to condemn violence and actions which have adverse effects on the general population.
Although Council members are united in the view that Haiti faces grave challenges, they hold different opinions on how these should be addressed. This dynamic was evident during the negotiations on resolution 2645 of 15 July, which most recently renewed BINUH’s mandate. During the negotiations, China apparently advocated several far-reaching measures, including the establishment of an arms embargo, the imposition of targeted sanctions and the establishment of a multinational force to support Haiti’s efforts to fight gang violence. Other members felt that more time was needed to discuss such suggestions. The compromise contained in the resolution indicates the possibility of the Council considering such measures in the near future. (For background, see our 15 July What’s in Blue story.)
Resolution 2645 demands an immediate cessation of gang violence and criminal activities and expresses the Council’s readiness to take appropriate measures (such as imposing a travel ban or assets freeze), as necessary, against those engaged in such activities and in human rights abuses within 90 days of the adoption of the resolution (that is, by 15 October). It requested the Secretary-General to consult with the Haitian government, relevant countries, and regional organisations regarding “possible options for enhanced security support for the Haitian National Police’s efforts to combat high levels of gang violence”, and to submit a report to the Security Council by 15 October. In addition, resolution 2645 called on all Haitian stakeholders to urgently reach agreement through an inclusive inter-Haitian dialogue on a framework for a political process with the aim of organising elections. It requested the Haitian government to provide the Council with an update on progress in this regard by 17 October.
Since the adoption of resolution 2645, Council members do not seem to have engaged in discussions about the possible way forward regarding the three options proposed by China (the multinational force, arms embargo and sanctions regime). Members are apparently awaiting the October reports to decide on the best course of action. It seems that some members would have preferred to begin this discussion in October when the Council is expected to hold its regular quarterly meeting on Haiti.
Tomorrow’s meeting may prompt a discussion of these issues. According to media reports from 23 September, the US is preparing to circulate a draft resolution that will establish travel and financial sanctions on gang leaders and those who facilitate their activities. Tomorrow’s closed consultations can allow members to discuss candidly these—and any other—proposed measures aimed at addressing the situation in Haiti.