Stabroek News publishes a column by IJDH. Read the column here and below.
By The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (https://ijdh.org/)
The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) is a U.S.-based human rights non-profit organization. Established in 2004, it is a partnership of human rights advocates in Haiti and the United States dedicated to tackling the root causes of injustice that impacts basic human rights in Haiti. In partnership with its Haiti-based sister organization, the law firm Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), IJDH advocates, litigates, builds constituencies, and nurtures networks to create systemic pathways to justice for marginalized communities in Haiti.
(Photo from July 1 demonstration in Little Haiti, Miami, FL)
As international actors debate what to do about Haiti’s spiraling crisis, Haitians keep making the same plea to the world that they have made for years: stop propping up the repressive, corrupt regime that caused the crisis. Some smaller countries appear to be listening, while the more powerful countries insist on propping up the corrupt, repressive government of de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry.
The United States and the UN continue pushing for the armed international intervention that Henry requested last October, which Haitians fear will prolong his unconstitutional rule indefinitely. But others are finally appearing to recognize the need for a more inclusive attempt at a Haitian-led path forward. CARICOM, for example, on September 10 wrapped up a diplomatic mission to Haiti, intended to urge Henry to engage in meaningful dialogue with opponents. Henry has resisted doing so since the U.S.-led Core Group installed him as Prime Minister following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse two years ago (in which Henry has been implicated) and in spite of corresponding commitments made at the June dialogues in Jamaica that he was pressured into attending. Two weeks before, a Kenyan delegation assessing the prospect of leading an international military intervention returned from Haiti. Kenya’s initial proposed approach was to drastically scale down its commitment, from the “robust use of force” against gangs that UN Secretary General António Guterres called for in August, to a “static protection force” limited to guarding the airport and other key government infrastructure. In response to strong criticism, Kenya is reportedly revising its plans upwards – albeit without details. No final decision has been announced, with a UN Security Council vote scheduled for Monday, October 2.
Meanwhile, debates about a potential foreign intervention distract from the real issue at hand: the existing international intervention that allows Haiti’s unelected leaders to keep supporting gangs, looting the treasury, and dismantling Haiti’s democracy with impunity.
Haiti is in the midst of acute intersecting governance, insecurity, and humanitarian crises. Already catastrophic insecurity continues to grow in incidence, geographic reach, and brutality, and is now at levels associated with armed conflicts. Gangs – many with ties to political and business elites – are deploying increasingly inhumane measures to terrorize and control the population. These include massacres; deliberately gruesome violence, including rape and other forms of sexual violence; kidnapping; and destruction of property. The ubiquitous violence has brought most normal activities to a halt, exacerbating a protracted economic decline marked by the lack of economic opportunities, which is in turn a driver of gang recruitment in the first place. This is compounded by a prolonged drought and soaring food prices, which have brought Haitians to the brink of famine, with growing numbers at “catastrophic” levels of hunger and children “wasting.” Drinkable water, healthcare, and many other critical services remain scarce, poor, or unreachable for much of the population.
Although international analysts often date Haiti’s crisis to the July 2021 assassination of President Moïse, it has been brewing for far longer. For over a decade, individuals associated with the Pati Ayisyen Tèt Kale (PHTK) political party have deliberately dismantled Haiti’s democratic institutions, corrupted its accountability mechanisms, and built up gangs as instruments of political violence, all while continuing to receive international support. Foreign sanctions against some of these same individuals illustrate the pervasive corruption and collusion with gangs among Haiti’s elite. Haiti’s de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who lacks constitutional authority or a popular mandate to govern, is a longtime official in PHTK governments and direct heir to these policies. He, too, is kept in power by consistent support from the international community, which effectively installed him in the first place.
The international community largely dismissed these clear first stages of Haiti’s crisis, even as Haitians mobilized in overwhelming numbers to protest grotesque PHTK corruption and abuses – including political violence and institutionalized impunity that directly precipitated the present gang violence – and were repressed through unlawful state use of force. When this mobilization threatened to force the PHTK to leave or to meaningfully negotiate with the opposition, powerful members of the international community convened discussions and appointed experts with the stated goal of identifying solutions to Haiti’s challenges. The U.S. and UN’s statements persistently include the words “Haitian-led” and “Haitian-owned,” but their actions just as persistently insulate the de facto regime from pressure to move towards the democratic, inclusive, and transparent transitional government Haitians have been seeking for two years.
At the same time, Haitians continue to speak out against an international intervention requested by an illegitimate government with no authority to do so. In an August 21 open letter, numerous prominent Haitian civil society organizations and human rights defenders warned Kenya against leading an international intervention solicited by the United States. The organizations maintain that intervention “will be another costly and foreign act of interference that fails to bring about sustained stability for Haitians and instead further cements the rule of a group of anti-democratic, exploitative actors.” In another letter, over fifty Haitian organizations and individuals similarly criticized Kenya for supporting “imperialist powers . . . actively engaged in the criminal project to destabilize Haiti by systematically sabotaging her sovereignty, and in which the U.S.-UN occupation is a dangerous stage.” Prominent international non-governmental organization Amnesty International in an August 18 open letter further raised concerns about Kenyan security forces’ dismal human rights record and well-documented use of excessive, even lethal, force against civilians, including children, in addition to the specific legacy of harms associated with previous foreign interventions in Haiti.
Haitians’ concerns that a foreign military intervention at Henry’s request will only entrench state capture by the very individuals responsible for Haiti’s present crises reflect, among other things, specific policies and practices by the de facto regime. For example, in December, Henry put forward the “National Consensus Document for an Inclusive Transition and Fair Elections.” Haitians broadly reject the Accord as an attempt to consolidate PHTK power through unconstitutional changes to Haiti’s Constitution, unfair elections, and illegal court-packing, while the international community lauds it. The December Accord is a revised version of a failed proposal Henry put forward in September 2021; Henry has been criticized even by its signatories for failing to live up to promises of inclusive dialogue.
Nevertheless, the United States and the UN have touted the accord as the “most promising” consensus effort toward a democratic transition and have sought to pressure Haitians into accepting it. This persistent international support for Henry enables him to avoid constructive engagement with political and civil society actors that is necessary for resolving Haiti’s crises, and thus further entrenches his illegitimate government. A July 10 joint letter from NYU and Harvard Law Schools calling on U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Assistant Secretary Brian Nichols to withdraw support for the de facto Henry administration insists that propping up unconstitutional state capture “cannot be a path to democracy.” An August 14 report by Human Rights Watch likewise calls on international actors to “[s]top supporting political actors…credibly implicated as responsible for supporting criminal groups.” It goes on to document that Henry’s accord is not a true consensus document, amidst concerns that its envisioned transitional council will simply function under Henry’s authority rather than act as a meaningful check on his power.
The deadly insecurity and humanitarian crises have continued to shrink space for civil society to mobilize and protest, even as the situation grows more dire and calls for Henry’s resignation continue. Even some international actors – having first enabled his intransigence – now acknowledge that Henry must adopt a more inclusive approach than his present accord envisions. This appears to be an explicit motivation for CARICOM’s mission. Growing desperation and a justified sense of abandonment by the government have driven local community protection groups to take up arms against suspected gang members, resulting in extrajudicial killings, sometimes in collaboration with police. The consequences for rule of law and community reconciliation are potentially devastating.
If the international community wants to help Haitians, it must stop contenting itself with debating a military intervention that offers no viable path to resolving Haiti’s crisis and start listening and responding to Haitian demands to stop intervening on behalf of corrupt and repressive regimes. A June 12 joint statement by some of Haiti’s most respected human rights and civil society organizations, which our organization joined, called on international actors “to stop propping up the set of actors who created the crises facing the country, including those currently in power,” as “an essential first step” in finding a solution to the current challenges. These calls were echoed by Haitian-Americans, who took to the streets of Miami’s Little Haiti on July 1 to demand that the Biden administration stop propping up the “criminals” responsible for Haitians’ daily death and suffering. On September 22, The National Haitian American Elected Officials Network (NHAEON) and Family Action Network Movement (FANM) made the same plea in a letter to Secretary Blinken opposing a foreign military intervention in Haiti. “If the U.S. is genuinely interested in stabilizing the political situation to avoid a catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Haiti,” they write, “it will start by ceasing to prop up the corrupt government and allow the emergence of a consensus transitional government with the legitimacy to decide how the international community can contribute.” Until that happens, any military intervention – or other well-meaning engagement – is doomed to exacerbate, not solve, Haiti’s crisis.
Read more about the human rights situation in Haiti and the international community’s problematic role in the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti’s latest Update on Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Haiti at: https://ijdh.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/HRU-June-2023-FINAL_updated-8.14.pdf
[NOTE: This version of the article was slightly amended from the print version.]