United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti - Report of the Secretary-General (S/2020/537)

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I. Introduction

1. The present report is submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 2476 (2019), by which the Council established the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) beginning on 16 October 2019 for an initial period of 12 months and requested me to report to the Council on the implementation of the resolution, including any instances of mandate implementation failures and measures taken in response to them, every 120 days starting from 16 October 2019. The document covers significant developments that have occurred since the issuance of my previous report (S/2020/123) and provides an update on the implementation of the BINUH mandate and the operationalization of United Nations support for the Government of Haiti in the context of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

2. BINUH and the 19 United Nations agencies, funds and programmes in Haiti have further strengthened their partnership and are working as one United Nations, as advised by the Security Council. BINUH has delivered on its mandate through the provision of strategic good offices, advisory and advocacy efforts in support of political stability, inclusive governance processes and violence reduction initiatives, thereby complementing the provision by the United Nations country team of programmatic and technical support.

II. Political and good governance (benchmark 1)

3. On 19 March 2020, the first cases of COVID-19 in Haiti were confirmed. The preceding 18 months had been characterized by turmoil and unsuccessful attempts to forge a negotiated agreement, stemming from a protracted crisis that had paralysed the country’s institutions. The Government faced the challenge of developing and implementing an ambitious reform agenda while attempting to restart a failing economy in the midst of an evolving pandemic that the country’s health system was not equipped to handle. Notwithstanding the decrease in sustained violent civil unrest that had characterized the demonstrations held in 2019 against peyi lòk (a forced countrywide lockdown), as well as a temporary political truce called for by the moderate opposition, acute levels of political uncertainty and polarization persist owing to the absence of a legislature, a lack of clarity regarding the electoral calendar and uncertainty over the timeline for constitutional and structural reforms. The dynamic continues to unfold against a backdrop of increasing gang activity and a prevailing sense of insecurity.

4. In February 2020, efforts to reach consensus on a political agreement that would have paved the way for structural reforms, spearheaded by the President of Haiti,
Jovenel Moïse, before the end of his mandate, fell short of success. From 11 to 14 February, following a number of exploratory meetings, BINUH and the Haitian Patriotic Initiative Committee facilitated, with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a new round of negotiations among representatives of the presidency, signatories of the “Kinam Accord” and the “Marriott Accord”, the non-aligned opposition parties and civil society, which resumed where the negotiations held at the Apostolic Nunciature in December 2019 and January 2020 had ended. Discussions came to an impasse on 14 February, when representatives of the opposition tabled a proposal that contained questions on issues already addressed in previous rounds of talks. Notwithstanding that setback, informal consultations among Haitian actors continued, leading to a session in a smaller group setting among representatives of the presidency, non-aligned opposition parties and civil society, held on 28 February. However, key political forces associated with both the ruling coalition and the opposition chose not to attend, and as a result, an agreement could not be reached.

5. Following those efforts, and in the absence of a functioning legislature,

Mr. Moïse issued a decree on 2 March appointing a former Minister of the Environment, Joseph Jouthe, Prime Minister. On 4 March, Mr. Jouthe presented his Government, composed of 19 ministers, 4 of whom were women, and nine secretaries of State, two of whom were women, and citing insecurity, social inequalities and a relaunch of the economy as his priorities. Although the new cabinet was introduced as representing some degree of political inclusion, a number of opposition representatives claimed that its composition did not take into account progress in recent efforts towards dialogue and undermined prospects for its resumption. While the opposition had announced plans to resume street demonstrations at the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, several opposition parties, including factions that had previously conditioned their participation in political talks on the President’s immediate departure, declared that they would refrain from any action that could undermine national cohesion and an effective response to the pandemic.

6. After a slow start, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 began to climb rapidly in mid-May, reaching 3,072 cases and 50 deaths by 7 June. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) projected that the number could reach 127,000 cases and 5,000 deaths, with 25,000 hospitalizations. The Government has undertaken an outreach campaign, informing citizens and key sectors of Haitian society of its efforts to mitigate the effects of a pandemic, to which Haiti could be particularly vulnerable.
In seven speeches to the nation, the President called for national unity and urged the population to follow directives issued by the Ministry of Public Health and Population. He cautioned against the stigmatization of infected persons and promised to address the crisis efficiently and transparently while also responding to socioeconomic urgencies. On 6 April, the President announced the formation of a multisectoral commission to coordinate a national response to the pandemic, headed by a renowned medical doctor and founder of the leading HIV research and treatment centre in Haiti, les Centres Gheskio, Jean William Pape – and the Director General of the Ministry of Public Health and Population, Lauré Adrien. While the formation of the commission was viewed positively by most Haitians, a number of accusations against the Government regarding a lack of transparency in the purchase of equipment and material to respond to the pandemic gained resonance in the national media.
Within the region, Haitian authorities and their counterparts in the Dominican Republic have strengthened their cooperation in response to the pandemic. The Ministers for Foreign Affairs have held regular videoconferences, and the two Heads of State met virtually on 19 May to discuss synergies in their response to COVID-19, as well as other matters of common interest.

7. Notwithstanding the additional challenges posed by the pandemic, BINUH, together with the United Nations country team, continued to assist with national efforts towards governance reform. Such efforts included planning for a constitutional review process and for the holding of overdue legislative and local elections, as well as presidential elections. The Mission relies on virtual platforms to communicate with Haitian partners, including the presidency, which remains actively engaged in advancing work that can be accomplished in the current context. Hence, the Provisional Electoral Council, with United Nations support, is currently exploring measures that would preserve the integrity of the electoral process and, in the light of the traditionally low number of female parliamentarians in Haiti (4 of 149 in the fiftieth legislature), is seeking to achieve a quota of 30 per cent for women in elected posts, as provided in article 17.1 of the Constitution – a commitment that the President made during an International Women’s Day address. Moreover, with support from UNDP and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, the Council organized the fourth session of an eight-module training on electoral administration and continues to upgrade its electoral information technology infrastructure. In addition, staff received seven months of salary arrears resulting from delays in contract approvals by the Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes as part of government measures to ease the economic impact of the outbreak on civil servants. However, the Council’s activities have slowed owing to the uncertainty generated by the absence of an electoral calendar and the ongoing health emergency.

8. Progress towards a revised voter registry, which will be drawn from citizen registrations for new biometric identity cards, initially slowed following the announcement of the state of emergency. Widespread criticism on social media of the size of crowds gathered in front of the National Identification Office in Port-au-Prince prompted the adoption of additional crowd control measures, which also improved social distancing guidelines. As of 22 May, the Office had registered some 2.1 million citizens out of an estimated 6.8 million Haitians of voting age and distributed 1.1 million new biometric identity cards, which were essential for voter identification used for elections. However, the Government also extended the validity of old identity cards indefinitely, reversing an earlier decision to phase them out by 31 March.

9. Using the good offices and convening power of my Special Representative for Haiti, BINUH engaged relevant national stakeholders to encourage constructive relations between the executive branch and the opposition and promote multistakeholder efforts to address the health emergency. The Mission also disseminated messages of prevention and tolerance and sought to foster widespread support from international partners for the Government’s response. Its efforts are closely coordinated with those of the United Nations system in support of national action in three distinct but complementary areas, namely, the health response, led by PAHO and the World Health Organization (WHO); the humanitarian response, coordinated by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs; and the socioeconomic response, led by UNDP. My Deputy Special Representative, also serving as the Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, is ensuring an integrated response that maximizes the comparative advantages of each component of the United Nations system in Haiti.