IJDH’s Brian Concannon on DW News: Haitians Say “the International Community Needs to Stop Propping Up the Repressive Government”

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On DW News, IJDH’s Brian Concannon speaks about Haiti’s crisis and the need for the international community to stop supporting the repressive de facto government. Watch the interview here, and read it below.

Unofficial transcript, edited for clarity

Interviewer: Brian Concannon is a human rights lawyer and the executive director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, and he joins us now from Boston, Massachusetts. Welcome to DW. So the latest emergency in Haiti’s capital is just, we’ll call it a snapshot of a country facing multiple crises. So, give us a sense, if you could, of what it’s like living in Haiti today.

Concannon: Well, I think the footage that you just showed gives a good sense. It is, Haitians describe it as, literally living in Hell. Over 200,000 people are displaced. Over a hundred thousand children are facing wasting, hunger this year. There’s not a single elected official in office. Gangs control large parts of the country. And it’s a type of situation you see typically in a situation of civil war or massive natural disaster, but Haiti hasn’t had any. This is the result of the steady dismantling of democracy by the current government, as one of the interviewees said in that clip.

Interviewer: Now the U.N. Secretary General has called for a robust use of force to restore order. Now, is that actually what’s needed? Is armed intervention really needed as a first step to begin to solve the mountain of issues that Haiti is dealing with?

Concannon: Haitians will tell you, and they’ve been telling anybody who will listen, that the first step is the international community needs to stop propping up the repressive government, that there’s no chance that you can have a security situation as long as you have a government that, as the clip showed, is complicit in this. The government has been collaborating with gangs to take over neighborhoods that are dominated by opposition parties. One of the top gang members, Vitel’Homme Innocent, is driving around in official plates. Over half of police officers have some connections to gangs. You can’t just send in international police to support the same government that’s brought this problem and expect it to be any different. What Haitians are saying is the international community needs to stop supporting the repressive government and allowing a consensus government to take over. Once you have a legitimate government in place, then they can ask for help from the international community. They can legitimately decide how the international community can help them fight insecurity.

Interviewer: But in order to achieve that, and rebuild the country’s institutions, what is it exactly that they need then? How are they going to go about rebuilding the country’s institutions if they’re in such a dire situation?

Concannon: I mean, first you need to, Haitians keep yelling this to anybody who will listen, and not many people listen, you need to stop supporting the repressive government that created the situation. That is absolutely the first step before anything can happen. Once that happens, there are several viable Haitian solutions that have been put on the table, but that the international community and the Haitian government have blocked. There’s been some very good consensus-oriented plans that develop broad, popular support in order to move forward, and basically most of the plans involve some kind of transitional government whose job it is to establish security and run fair elections. And most Haitian civil society leaders think that that is possible, but that Haitians just need to be given a chance, which isn’t going to happen as long as you have the current government in power.

Interviewer: But why is this actually been blocked, why is it not actually happened?

Concannon: The international community has decided that, that’s led by the United States but includes Secretary-General Guterres, has decided that the current authorities in Haiti are the best vehicle for moving Haiti forward. Haitians strongly disagree, and I think if you look at the numbers, you know the displaced, the lack of any government, of elected officials in place, it’s hard to justify continuing the same path, but the U.N. and the U.S. keep doing this. And you know, one example of how adamant they are: In 2019, the head of the U.N.’s justice mission in Haiti issued a communique calling for accountability for police massacres. She was pushed out of the country, and without any defense by the U.S. or the U.N., and replaced with someone who’s again went back to being supportive of the current regime.

Interviewer: Do you see any grassroots initiatives among Haitians to help society heal?

Concannon: There’s hundreds of them. I mean, Haitians are every day, they’re meeting, they’re protesting, they’re writing articles. I mean, Haiti has a really robust civil society that can heal Haiti, they just need to be given the choice. But instead of given the chance, there’s top-down solutions imposed by the international community that are preventing Haitian solutions from working.

Interviewer: Can Haiti’s problems be traced, at least in part, to its colonial past?

Concannon: Certainly. I mean, Haitians will, if you ask them to explain the current situation, they’ll start back with slavery and Independence in 1804. In 1804, the world, which was run by slave-owning countries, they did their best to make sure that Haiti would not work. No one would recognize Haiti, they slapped an embargo on the country, and they forced Haiti to pay a huge, crippling Independence Debt. Haitians say it’s the exact same policy now, where the international community is imposing repressive governments and not allowing Haitians to create their own democracy and to succeed in the way that Haitians want to build their own country.

Interviewer: How optimistic are you for Haiti and Haitians?

Concannon: I’m optimistic when I think of the Haitians that are fighting every day to bring democracy back, and they’re fighting for justice and taking enormous risks to do so. You know, I’m pessimistic when I read Secretary-General Guterres’s letter, that he talked about a broad range of options for the U.N., but not one of them was the one that Haitians are asking for, which is to stop supporting the repressive government.

Interviewer: Very complex situation, that’s for sure. Brian Concannon, executive director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Thanks for joining us on The Day.

Concannon: Well, thank you for having me.