Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise told the UN Security Council that “democracy was doing well in Haiti” despite its ongoing political crisis, an assertion challenged by the United States, which called on him to quickly put an end to his era of “rule by decree.”
Moise has been ruling by decree for a year because there currently is no parliament, and only a third of its senators are in office. Legislative elections due in 2018 were delayed.
He also maintains that his term lasts until February 2022 — but the opposition argues it should have ended two weeks ago, in a standoff over disputed elections.
During a rare address by a head of state — countries are usually represented by the foreign minister — Moise said that in four years, his country “had had to face down bids to interrupt the constitutional order through violence.
“At the base of all this, there is a rejection of the democratic regime and of elections as the only means of access to the management of the affairs of the state,” he said, lauding his own administration’s “tireless efforts… to appease the sociopolitical climate.”
“We are facing a powerful lobby which has great resources,” he said during a speech that lasted 27 minutes, instead of the 15 normally granted, and that was marred by the sound and image cutting out because of a poor internet connection.
He said this lobby was associated with “sore losers” and has violently blocked the senate’s regular functioning, preventing the government from being formalised and voting on a budget and an electoral law.
The president promised “limited use” of presidential decrees until the next general election scheduled for September, but Washington asked him to stop using them at all, while France said that several of the more recent ones were “a source of concern.”
Jeffrey DeLaurentis, the acting US ambassador to the UN, reiterated “the need to bring the current period of rule by decree to a swift conclusion.”
He said such measures should only be taken when absolutely necessary and in issues such as security and election preparations.
“We urge the government of Haiti to hold overdue legislative elections as soon as possible in order to restore the parliament’s constitutional role,” he said.
“Recent actions unilaterally removing and appointing three supreme court judges, creating a national intelligence agency, and actions constraining the role of Haiti’s independent audit agency risk damaging Haiti’s core democratic institutions,” he added.
The dispute in Haiti stems from Moise’s original election. He was voted into office in a poll subsequently canceled after allegations of fraud, and then elected again a year later, in 2016.
The issue has led to weeks of violent protests on the streets of the poor Caribbean country.
But, the UN Human Rights Office Concerned Over Attacks on Courts
The United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) says it is “very concerned” over recent attacks against judicial independence in Haiti, as the country is gripped by political and institutional instability.
According to OCHCHR spokesperson Liz Throssell, a judge of the Haitian Cour de Cassation (Supreme Court) was arrested on February 7 “in circumstances that may amount to unlawful or arbitrary arrest and detention.”
Throssell said 22 other individuals were also arrested, 17 of whom still remain in pre-trial detention.
While the judge was subsequently released, the person along with two others were “forced to retire and later replaced, apparently through an irregular procedure”, she said
“These developments cause concerns about judicial independence and have further eroded the separation of powers in Haiti,” said Throssell at a regular media briefing at the UN Office at Geneva.
Throssell stressed that respecting the rule of law and the system of checks and balances at all times is paramount.
“It is even more crucial now given the growing political tensions and the increasing expression of dissent in demonstrations”, she said.
OHCHR called on the Haitian authorities to ensure respect for the established legal and institutional framework, and to comply with their obligations under the country’s Constitution and international human rights treaties, she added.
“We urge the Government and opposition to engage in a meaningful and inclusive dialogue to avoid further escalation of tensions, and to resolve the current political and institutional deadlock in a manner that is both lasting and sustainable”, Throssell said.
She said OHCHR “stands ready to continue supporting Haitian authorities in their fulfilment of international human rights obligations” and expresses its continuing willingness to strengthen its human rights engagement with all sectors in the society.
Earlier this month, the Organization of American States (OAS) said its General Secretariat was “closely monitoring the current situation in Haiti,” and that it was “concerned with the respect for human rights and the independence of powers.”
“The OAS General Secretariat has an essential interest in the protection of democratic institutions and the political rights of its citizens,” said the OAS in a statement. “It is fundamental that state institutions work together to resolve the problems afflicting Haiti.
“We call for democratic structural changes in Haiti through the discussion of a new Constitution and an effective participation in general elections this year,” it added.
The OAS said that its General Secretariat “renews its support for the electoral process as the only option consistent with the Democratic Charter to replace the current constitutional President with another President on February 7, 2022.”
Opposition parties in Haiti had declared 72-year-old judge Joseph Mecene Jean-Louis the country’s interim leader, a day after an alleged coup plot was foiled, as they insisted that President Jovenel Moise must step down.
In a video message, Jean-Louis, the longest-serving judge in the Supreme Court, said he “accepted the choice of the opposition and civil society, to serve (his) country as interim president for the transition”.
Moise, who has ruled by decree since mid-January, has stated he would hand over power to the winner of the elections but would not step down until his term expires in 2022.
But the opposition has rejected his interpretation of the constitution and has insisted his term had come to an end.
“We are waiting for Jovenel Moise to leave the National Palace, so that we can get on with installing Mr. Mecene Jean-Louis,” opposition figure Andre Michel told international news agency AFP.
Former senator Youri Latortue said that the transition period was expected to last around 24 months.
“There’s a two-year roadmap laid out, with the establishing of a national conference, the setting out of a new constitution and the holding of elections,” he said.
Haiti Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe said Supreme Court judge Hiviquel Dabrezil and inspector general for the national police force, Marie Louise Gauthier, were among 23 people who were detained for their role in an alleged plot to oust President Moise.
Meanwhile, the US lawmakers said Haiti remains gripped in “a cascade of economic, public health and political crises.”
The new Joe Biden administration in the United States has called on the Haitian administration to hold talks to resolve the crisis, saying that a newly-elected president should succeed President Moise when his term ends on February 2, 2022.