SRSG Statement in Security Council Session on BINUH
Security Council Session on the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH)
19 June 2020
Statement of Special Representative Helen La Lime
Madame la Présidente, distingués membres du Conseil,
- Je vous remercie de m’avoir de nouveau accordé le privilège de vous informer sur l’évolution de la situation en Haïti. Just as most of the world, Haiti is currently contending with the COVID-19 pandemic. While the confirmed numbers of infected people and deaths pale in comparison with some of the other countries in the Americas, the pandemic is nonetheless stretching this country’s already fragile health system and testing its meager social safety net.
- Three months to the day after President Jovenel Moïse declared a health emergency due to the confirmation of the first cases of coronavirus, authorities continue to struggle to open medical centers dedicated to the treatment of COVID-19 patients. A country of more than 11 million inhabitants, Haiti currently only has the capacity to treat a few hundred patients at a time, with more beds becoming available every day. This situation is in part due to suboptimal coordination within the State apparatus, at both the national and local levels, as well as to inadequate funding of the national response plan. It is also the result of the initially staunch opposition by local communities to seeing such centers open in their midst – a manifestation of the lingering climate of denial, stigma, and discrimination that exists in the country.
- The pandemic, whose spread has accelerated in the last month, has to date officially affected over 4,900 people and led to 84 deaths. Even though its true toll is likely much higher, its effects are only starting to be felt by Haitian citizens, a majority of whom were already living in bleak socio-economic conditions. As a result of the multiple, inter-connected crises that have affected the country in recent years, Haiti’s economy contracted by 1.2 per cent in 2019 and is projected to shrink by a further 4 per cent this year. Factories are operating at reduced capacity because of the need to implement measures to slow the spread of the virus. The specter of a further increase in unemployment looms large; the Gourde continues to lose value against the US dollar; and inflation consistently exceeds 20 per cent. In the absence of adequate resources to support Haiti’s emergence from the recession in which it is plunged, the hard-won security and development gains achieved over the course of the past decade and a half risk coming undone, and a primarily domestic problem could transform into a regional issue, should an already alarming humanitarian situation continue to worsen, and increasing numbers of Haitians be tempted to seek better fortunes abroad.
Distinguished members of the Council,
- Since I last addressed you, Haiti has enjoyed a relatively appeased political climate. The exhaustion of 18 months of popular mobilization against President Moïse, and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, led parts of the opposition to call on Haitians to come together to face the virus, an initiative which allowed newly appointed Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe to govern. Yet, early signs of the Executive’s intention to begin preparations for long overdue legislative and local elections have reignited passions and reintroduced acrimony in the public discourse and political debate.
- The past weeks have seen a marked increase in the frequency and intensity of clashes between rival armed gangs that are vying to control greater swathes of territory in the most populous neighborhoods of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, likely in an effort to exert influence on the outcome of elections in those constituencies. A growing number of opposition figures are contesting the length of President Moïse’s term in office and calling for a transitional administration to take over, one which would ostensibly launch reforms and organize subsequent polls. The vicious circle of mistrust, recrimination, and ultimately violence, is once again starting to define the dynamics of Haitian politics, at a time when the entire society should be unified in its response to the pandemic, and striving to lay more virtuous and lasting foundations on which to build its future.
- Haiti has for too long resorted to expedient agreements to address political problems, to the detriment of the principles that undergird its Constitution. Yet, the ambiguities of the latter, which cannot be authoritatively interpreted in the absence of the Constitutional Council for which it provides, have regularly forced political actors to work around it. It is becoming increasingly evident that a reform of the Constitution is required to break the circle and to create the conditions for institutional stability, good governance and the rule of law, three essential characteristics for the country to thrive. Such reform can only be successful as a result of a nationally-owned process that combines strong leadership with genuine efforts by all stakeholders to put aside short-term political interests.
- Over the course of the past four months, despite the pandemic, BINUH, working in ever closer collaboration with the United Nations Country Team, has not lost sight of the six benchmarks, the priorities it has set through the Integrated Strategic Framework. It has spared no effort to assist Haitian authorities and institutions in considering key issues that impede the forging of a national consensus as well as the country’s progress towards stability and sustainable development. Through the use of good offices, the mission has continued to encourage actors from across the political spectrum to constructively engage with one another. Along with its partners, it has advised the Haitian National Police in the successful resolution of long-standing labour disputes within its ranks, and it has assisted judicial actors in devising a virtual hearings system that will allow courts to continue functioning despite the current impossibility for them to physically convene.
- Though seemingly small in scope, these accomplishments will contribute to ensuring that the country’s police force remains cohesive as it maintains order and seeks to interdict the actions of armed gangs, and that the judicial system remains habilitated to meet the State’s obligation to guarantee a victim’s right to access justice. Unfortunately, we continue to operate in a context where the upholding of the principle of accountability remains a key challenge, as evidenced by the lack of progress in the investigation and prosecution of the recent emblematic cases of Lilavois, Grand Ravine, La Saline and Bel-Air which involve human rights violations and abuses by gang members, law enforcement agents, and political officials.
- Working with civil society, BINUH will pursue its efforts to encourage authorities to amplify the fight against impunity and the promotion of human rights. Through a sound use of the panoply of tools at its disposal, the UN system in Haiti will continue to support the expansion of multiple aspects of the response to COVID-19, accompany the country on the path of crucial institutional and economic reform, and provide assistance to ensure the timely holding of free, fair, and transparent elections, in an appeased climate.
- To ensure the success of these endeavours, and to address the root causes of its instability in a meaningful and sustainable manner, Haiti relies on the full support of this Council, as well as on the continued engagement of international partners. Both are greatly appreciated.
Je vous remercie.