posted on Thu 18 Jun 2020 5:01 PM
Haiti: Open and Closed VTC

Tomorrow (19 June) Security Council members are expected to hold an open videoconference (VTC) meeting, followed by a closed VTC session, on the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH). Special Representative and head of BINUH Helen La Lime and Jacques Letang, current president of the Haitian Bar Federation (FBH) and a founding member of the Human Rights Office in Haiti (BDHH), are expected to brief.

Tomorrow’s meeting comes after the publication of the Secretary-General’s 12 June periodic report. The report covers progress and challenges for BINUH’s six benchmark areas: political and good governance; community violence reduction; justice and rule of law; human rights; unemployment, youth and other vulnerable groups; and basic social service delivery and resilience. Briefers and member states are likely to focus on three pressing challenges to Haiti: the impact of COVID-19, the stalled political process, and the difficult humanitarian situation.

Conscious of Haiti’s already weak and overburdened health care system, government officials responded quickly to the threat of COVID-19. The first cases were recorded in Haiti exactly three months ago, on 19 March. Since late March, all gatherings of more than ten people have been banned, there has been a curfew, and schools, airports and some factories have been closed. President Jovenel Moïse has made seven speeches to the nation urging citizens to follow protocols from the Ministry of Health and has supported outreach efforts to educate the population. Moïse has also created a presidential commission to coordinate the fight against COVID-19. The commission is led by Dr. Jean William Pape, a widely respected doctor who runs a large AIDS and tuberculosis clinic in Port-au-Prince, and Dr. Lauré Adrien, the Director-General of the Ministry of Public Health.

Nevertheless, numbers of cases have been steadily rising in the past few weeks. As of 18 June, there have been 4,547 cases and 80 deaths confirmed in Haiti, though the numbers could be much higher in reality. Estimates of how widely the epidemic could spread range from 35 to 85 percent of the population, illustrating how much remains unknown. Amongst the population, there is widespread fear and distrust of health officials, especially those from outside Haiti, which makes reporting and testing difficult. The recent BINUH report said that as of 31 May there were 27 confirmed incidents—including attempted lynching, hate speech, attacks against care centres, and denial of treatment—directed against people that had tested positive or were suspected for testing positive for COVID-19. Additionally, systemic factors in Haiti such as congested neighbourhoods, poor sanitation, overcrowded prisons and the weak healthcare system could also exacerbate disease spread.

In the recent report, the Secretary-General commended the cooperation between the Dominican Republic and Haiti to address COVID-19. The Dominican Republic has around 24,000 cases, and there is considerable cross-border movement. While some safeguards have been instituted and checkpoints have been established between the two countries, experts worry about informal crossings. Representatives from the Dominican Republic and Haiti can be expected to go into further detail on these issues at tomorrow’s meeting.

Haiti’s political situation remains polarised and uncertain. President Moïse has been governing Haiti through executive decree since 13 January. The existing parliament’s mandate expired on that day with no new parliament in place because legislative and local elections had not been held in October 2019, as constitutionally mandated. In 2019, parliament failed to pass an electoral law and approve an election budget that would have been the first steps for organising these elections, and there was no political agreement on the new composition of the Provisional Electoral Council.

Opposition groups continue to call for Moïse’s resignation, and there have been protests against him for several months. Disagreements persist over how to proceed with constitutional and structural reforms and the formation of an electoral calendar.  While there have been a number of exploratory meetings on how to proceed, supported by BINUH’s good offices, there is no concrete progress. In the closed VTC meeting, members may want to hear La Lime’s views on what can be done to generate an improved environment for negotiations, given the difficult interactions between the president and opposition groups.

Council members remain divided over how best to support Haiti’s electoral path.  Some members think that Haiti should not rush into elections, while others believe that ongoing delays in constitutional reform need not also delay Haiti’s elections.

The difficult humanitarian and human rights situation in Haiti will most likely be an important focus of the meeting. According to the ECOSOC Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Haiti, six million of Haiti’s 11 million people live below the poverty line, and—in a country where at least one million people suffered from severe hunger before the pandemic—300,000 children are not receiving school meals because schools are closed due to COVID-19. Haiti’s National Human Rights Plan has not been endorsed by the Council of Ministers, a step needed for further policy implementation and improvement. Meanwhile, the UN’s humanitarian response plan for Haiti remains significantly underfunded.

During its term on the Council, the Dominican Republic has repeatedly and strenuously expressed its view that MINUJUSTH, the peacekeeping mission that BINUH replaced, was withdrawn from Haiti too soon. While some other members seem sympathetic to that view, especially given the current political impasse, most Council members believe that the problems Haiti is experiencing now are not of the type to be addressed by peacekeeping; instead, they are political and better handled by a political mission and Haitians themselves. Nevertheless, most Council members believe that Haiti needs significant international support and are likely to press for political action and humanitarian assistance tomorrow.