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  • Human Rights Research Center

Haiti: Interim Government and the Protection of Human Rights and Rule of Law

May 7, 2024



March 12, 2024 signaled a new hope for the French-speaking Caribbean island of Haiti, as a decree was signed to establish a Transitional Presidential Council. The mandate of the nine-member council, which comprises ambassadors, diplomats, lawyers and businessmen, will extend until February 2026 and will critically guide the nation through elections, the reestablishment of a democratic and constitutional government, and, most importantly, restore peace and stability to Haiti. Until those ends are achieved, however, the Council will fill the leadership vacuum that now occupies where a once-effective government existed. The installation of the Transitional Council also signaled the resignation of the acting Prime Minister of Haiti, Ariel Henry, tendered his resignation on April 25, 2024. This paved the way for the constituted Transitional Council to select Edgard Leblanc Fils as interim president, and Fritz Belizaire interim prime minister of Haiti, on April 30, 2024. The Transitional Council and the newly-elected leadership are collectively expected to prioritize the long-awaited restoration of peace, order and stability in the French-speaking island nation. However, following the announcement of Belizaire as the interim Prime Minister of Haiti, organized gangs have launched a fresh wave of attack in Port-au-Prince, to show dissatisfaction with the Council’s selection. This resulted in many Haitians fleeing for their safety, as their homes were being torched and destroyed by enraged gangs.


A Needed Turning Point?


In the weeks preceding the shift in the political atmosphere, the situation in Haiti was dire. Gang leaders had released approximately four thousand inmates from two of the country’s biggest prisons. This prompted the government to initially declare a 72-hour state of emergency, which was then further extended until April 3, 2024. An immediate reaction to this almost total breakdown of peace and order in Haiti was the closure of all of Haiti’s ports- via both air and sea. There was also a breakdown of the country’s healthcare system following the closure of hospitals, which resulted in the denial of critical healthcare for many Haitians. Of much concern, children’s lives were also being threatened. This prompted a statement from UNICEF condemning the acts of arson by gang members at a school in downtown Port-au-Prince.


The intensity of gang violence has not subsided in Haiti, and the UN has indicated that the situation is growing worse. Nevertheless, the announcement of the formation of the Council marks the turning point of a country being ravaged by continuous, widespread, and intensifying gang violence, which threatened the life, property, and human rights of the Haitian people, including women and children. Thousands of Haitians were also forced to abandon their life in Haiti and flee to neighboring countries, only to be subjected to more undignified treatment. Days have elapsed since the announcement of the establishment of a Transitional Council, which the UN has attributed to the continuing instability in the nation.


Gang Violence with an Altruistic Goal?


The action of the gang syndicate in Haiti, while not justified, exposed a critical underlying reason for the drastic action- to immobilize the Haitian National Police Force and to extinguish Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s authority as Prime Minister of Haiti. These objectives were disclosed by an internal police summary. When Prime Minister Henry attended a diplomatic trip to Kenya to facilitate the finalization of a multilateral agreement ahead of the arrival of the UN-sanctioned, Kenya-led Multinational Security Support (MSS) team to Haiti, gang leaders threatened the Prime Minister with assassination and genocide of the Haitian people should he re-enter Haiti.


It should be unequivocally stated that under no circumstances is genocide permitted under international law, and it remains an international crime in times of peace as it is in times of war. Therefore, there exists no ‘end’ which justifies the ‘means’ of genocide. However, the threats of the Haitian gang leader point out a dire need for a constitutional and democratic head of state and government of Haiti, exposing just another of the multidimensional layers of the Haitian humanitarian crisis. Haiti has been without a President following the assassination of President Martine Moise in 2021. The Prime Minister had repeatedly postponed the holding of elections to the frustration of the Haitian people, especially gang leaders. It is for this reason that the ultimate and most immediate goal of the Transitional Council is the election of a new Prime Minister and cabinet. 


The right to free and fair elections is indisputably one of the most explicit expressions of democracy within a country. Article 21(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights explicitly states that “Everyone has a right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.” Additionally, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Article 25(1)(a) and (b) dually enunciate the right and opportunity of every citizen to “take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives,” as well as the right and opportunity “to vote and be elected at genuine periodic elections.” Haiti has also ratified the American Convention on Human Rights, which, by way of its Article 23, enunciates rights regarding free and fair elections to a similar extent as enunciated in the ICCPR. In the interim process of establishing a more enduring, permanent government of the people, Haiti’s interim government bears the responsibility of ensuring that the necessary functions of a state are carried out, including but not limited to the promotion and protection of human rights within the country, which have been trampled for far too long. In the human rights context, states are no longer the sole but the primary duty bearers to ensure that human rights obligations are domestically respected, protected, and fulfilled.


The UN in Haiti: Still A Reality?


The United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 2699 in October 2023, which authorized the deployment of the Kenya-led MSS. However, the purpose which this Resolution set out to achieve is yet to materialize. The United Nations Secretary-General commented that the Transitional Presidential Council has the effect of accelerating the deployment of the MSS mission to Haiti to contribute toward nation-rebuilding and the restoration of peace and order. This shows optimism regarding the life of the Mission after Kenya had previously disclosed approximately one month ago that it was pausing the deployment of 1,000 Kenyan troops to Haiti following the resignation of Prime Minister Henry. Kenya’s Principal Secretary of Foreign Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign and Diaspora Affairs, Abraham Korir Sing'Oei, enunciated that the reason for the position to pause deployment of the troops is that “There has to be an authority that can be the basis for a police deployment - that enjoys constitutional authority in Haiti.” This similarly raises concerns about the willingness of other UN Member States who had previously promised to send troops to Haiti.


The setting up of the Transitional Presidential Council and the appointment of the interim Prime Minister will be the green light that the Kenyan government is waiting on to fulfill the international obligation of protecting human rights, protecting the rule of law, and restoring peace, law, and order in Haiti. Despite the numerous obstacles which have presented themselves since the October 2023 UN Security Council preparations are underway for the arrival of international troops.

 

A Call to Prioritize Human Rights Protection


The interim government of Haiti is encouraged to prioritize the protection and promotion of the human rights of the Haitian people, which have been severely and continually eroded by gang violence in the country. The Transitional Council, which is tasked with restoring the rule of law and peace and stability in Haiti, must recognize that the rule of law will continue to be undermined if the rights of the Haitian people are not respected.

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