Statement of Special Representative Helen La Lime

22 Feb 2021

Statement of Special Representative Helen La Lime

Security Council Session on the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH)
22February 2021

Statement of Special Representative Helen La Lime 

Mr. President, distinguished members of the Council, 

1.    It is indeed an honour to once more have the opportunity to address you and to provide an update on the situation in Haiti. Despite the precarious calm which currently pervades the country, the efforts on the part of the opposition to unseat President Moïse by 7 February, as well as the actions taken by the Executive in reacting to an alleged coup attempt and to the announcement by a senior judge of his appointment as Haiti’s interim Head of State, have further hardened the positions of the principal actors in this political crisis that has for too long affected the lives of the Haitian population. As the country prepares to enter a tense electoral period, the polarization that has defined most of President Moïse’s term in office has become even more acute, as signs of a shrinking civic space abound and an already alarming humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate. 

2.    The institutional crisis in which the country is plunged since Parliament ceased to function in January 2020, following the expiration of the terms of all Lower Chamber parliamentarians and a majority of Senators, without legislative elections having been held, risks growing deeper as relations between the Executive and the Judiciary branches of power appear increasingly fraught, and President Moïse continues to govern by decree. 

3.    Whereas, in recent months, the opposition had been unsuccessful in mobilizing much popular support for its campaign to oust the President, the latter’s recent issuing of decrees effectively retiring three Court of Cassation judges and appointing their replacements prompted several magistrates’ associations to launch an open-ended strike which further threatens to paralyze an already dysfunctional judiciary system. In addition, on 14 February, some 3,000 demonstrators marched peacefully in the streets of Port-au-Prince to denounce what they deem to be a looming risk of a return to authoritarian rule.

4.    I mentioned that therearemounting concerns over the shrinking of civic space in the country. The overly broad definition of terrorism articulated in a 26 November decree on public security – to include lesser offenses such as vandalism and obstructing roads, along with an increase in both the threats directed at, and attacks on, journalists, lawyers, judges and human rights defenders, all risk chilling the public debate and curtailing such inalienable rights as those of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and peaceful assembly. 

5.    Similarly, the humanitarian situation in the country is increasingly dire. The latest estimates indicate that some 4.4 million people will need humanitarian assistance in 2021, overwhelmingly as a result of an increase in acute food insecurity. While factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic, its economic impact, gang violence, and the passage of tropical storm Laura contributed to exacerbate humanitarian needs in 2020, underlying drivers are closely correlated with persistent socio-political tensions and chronic development deficits.

Distinguished members of the Council,
6.    It is against this complex and potentially volatile backdrop that progress continues to be made in preparing for the various electoral events scheduled to take place this year. The Provisional Electoral Council has now set up its offices in Haiti’s ten regions, thus enabling logistics and operational planning to start in earnest. Furthermore, the Haitian Government has contributed $20 million to the UN-managed electoral basket fund to finance both the purchase of voting materials and the training of electoral personnel, as well as to cover the operational and logistics costs for the  holding of a referendum on a new constitution, the draft text of which was made public on 1 February. 

7.    Yet, much remains to be done. The pace and scope of consultations on the constitutional project need to be greatly enhanced. Indeed, while there exists a general consensus among Haitian stakeholders and the general population on the need to change the country’s current charter –  viewed by many as one of the root causes of Haiti’s chronic instability,amidst the polarized climate,  the process chosen by the Government to enact such change is stillperceived by some as lacking legitimacy. All sectors of Haitian society, including political parties, the private sector, civil society, churches, women groups and the diaspora, should be provided with ample opportunity to debate and to contribute to the draft text. Moreover, if Haitian voices are to be heard well, additional efforts need to be expended to ensure that more of Haiti’s citizens are registered and issued with the new national identification card that will allow them to vote.The Government must provide the Office of National Identification with the support it needsto furtherscale up its registration drive. Finally, despite theGovernment’s initial contribution, the entire electoral process remains starkly underfunded. This situation requires the urgent attention of Haiti’s international partners, lest the legislative, presidential and local polls should be delayed. 

8.    Above all else, a minimal consensus among relevant political stakeholders would greatly contribute to creating an environment conducive to the holding of the constitutional referendum and subsequent elections. BINUH stands ready, in accordance with its mandate, to support all genuine endeavors to foster such an outcome. The Haitian people deserve the opportunity to express themselves through the ballot box in an appeased climate and to actively decide on the direction their country will take, free from the fear of intimidation and political violence. 

9.    In this respect, it can count on an increasingly professional police force, whose close to 15,000 men and women deployed across the country strive to improve public safety. To be sure, meeting the security challenges associated with the holding of the referendum and the elections will represent a crucial test for the Haitian National Police, just as the threats posed by some of its disgruntled officers’ association with criminal groups such as the “Fantom 509” continue to detract from its performance. However, with the strategic advice from the United Nations, and appropriate support from both national authorities and international partners, I am confident that this institution, which lies at the heart of the rule of law and stability in Haiti, will continue to develop its capacity in accordance with international human rights and policing standards. Conversely, I am deeply concerned with the recent resurgence in kidnappings as well as the persistent impunity and lack of accountability for serious crimes in Haiti. To address these scourges which greatly contribute to the country’s instability, authorities must demonstrate their commitment and capacity to arrest and prosecute both criminals and perpetrators of human rights violations, as well as to take concrete actions to protect citizens. 

Mr. President,
10.    Despite the large sums and indefatigable efforts invested in Haiti’s development over the past 25 years, the country’s progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals appears to have stalled, and in some cases has even backslid. It is evident that development effectiveness and impact in Haiti remain very low. Moving forward, improved collaborationand trust between the Government and international partners on Haiti’s structural problems will be essential to better prioritize areas of intervention and to develop effective integrated solutionsto Haiti’s challenges. 

11.    Nevertheless, even as the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean forecasts that Haiti’s economy will contract by 3 per cent in 2021 and that the worst economic crisis to affect the region in 100 years will adversely impact the country’s post-COVID-19 recovery, only a democratic renewal, resulting from the prompt holding of credible, transparent, and participatory elections, can provide Haiti with the opportunity to overcome its protracted political crisis and allow its society and leaders to focus their attention on undertaking the governance and economic reforms necessary to set the country back on the path towards sustainable development. 

Thank you.