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) and requested me to report on the implementation of the resolution every 120 days. The document covers significant developments that have occurred since the issuance of my previous report (S/2020/537) and provides an update on the implementation of the BINUH mandate as the mission completes its first year of existence.
2. The direct health impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Haiti has, so far, been moderate, with 8,600 confirmed cases and 221 deaths reported as at 22 September 2020. While official statistics are likely to be underreported, the Government’s response to the crisis, under the leadership of its COVID-19 multisectoral commission, has contributed to containing the transmission rate. The pandemic has nonetheless compounded the dire socioeconomic and humanitarian situation resulting from years of crisis and illustrated the need for continued stability and an ambitious development and reform agenda.
3. BINUH and the United Nations country team have further built on the complementary nature of the mission’s political and advisory mandate and the programmatic as well as technical support capacities of the United Nations agencies, funds and programmes present in the country. The United Nations system has provided advocacy and programmatic support to the Government response to COVID-19. In parallel, it has advanced implementation of its “One United Nations” plan through a joint integrated strategic framework and developed programmes with a view to preparing for an eventual transition of mission responsibilities to national authorities supported by the United Nations country team.
II. Political and good governance (benchmark 1)
4. The United Nations system continued to strengthen its partnership with national authorities to implement a reform agenda aimed at addressing institutional weaknesses and the root causes of instability. Progress, however, was constrained by the institutional vacuum resulting from the non-holding of elections to replace the fiftieth legislature, which ended its term on 13 January 2020, and the persistent lack of consensus on a common political agenda. Polarization remains acute, as formal talks to overcome the political impasse have not resumed since the last round of dialogue facilitated by the United Nations, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the representation of the Holy See, on 24 February 2020. The spirit of national cohesion briefly displayed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly dissolved, while increased levels of gangrelated insecurity and several high-profile murders in late August portend of inauspicious dynamics as Haiti prepares to enter a new electoral cycle.
5. Political tensions were further aggravated in late June as the opposition renewed calls for President Jovenel Moïse to leave office in February 2021 and for the installation of a transitional government. On 21 August, 228 members of opposition parties and grass-roots civil society movements issued a statement objecting to the holding of elections under the current administration and committing to reach agreement on the modalities for a transitional government. Amid that tense climate, the Executive sought to pursue parts of its governance agenda. On 5 June, the Council of Ministers adopted an overdue $1.8 billion national budget (approximately 198.7 billion Haitian gourdes) for the 2019/20 fiscal year, which ends on 30 September. The President also promulgated several pieces of legislation by decree, including one pertaining to the new biometric national identity card – which also serves as a voter identification card – on 16 June, and a new Penal Code on 24 June. The latter was the result of a decade-long national effort to update the country’s obsolete 1835 legal framework and better align it with international legal and human rights norms.
6. The use of presidential decrees to enact reform, in the absence of a functioning legislative branch, elicited strong criticism from opposition parties and civil society groups over the lack of checks and balances in the process. Those concerns were further heightened by the Executive’s appointment, through a decree published on 9 July, of municipal commissions for the 140 municipalities where the term of office of elected municipal councils ended between 23 May and 30 July without the holding of elections. Following two extraordinary meetings, on 17 and 24 July, the Haitian National Bar Association published an opinion arguing that the Haitian Constitution does not grant the President the right to issue such decrees and called for the withdrawal of those issued since 13 January.
7. Despite those dynamics, some progress was made in the preparations for the launch of a new electoral cycle in 2021. The Provisional Electoral Council submitted a draft electoral decree, dated 23 July, to President Moïse. The text strengthens electoral dispute resolution mechanisms and mandates that, in all electoral races, except for the presidential one, one-third of political party candidates must be women. The drafters of the document, however, eschewed other stronger measures advocated by the President and women’s rights activists to increase elected representation of women. Progress also continued towards the completion of an updated voter registry. As of 26 August, the National Identification Office, which was recently allocated $4.3 million to increase its delivery capacity, had registered some 2.7 million citizens out of an estimated 6.8 million Haitians of voting age, and distributed 1.6 million biometric identity cards.
8. Notwithstanding, electoral uncertainty remains high in the absence of consensus on key aspects of election preparations, including an electoral calendar and the composition of a new Provisional Electoral Council, after the collective resignation of the previous Council on 24 July, an act that followed a request from the presidency on 23 July for the sectors represented in the Council to either confirm their existing representative or appoint a new one within 48 hours. In the light of the prevailing political dynamics, negotiations that led to the 18 September designation by President Moïse of nine new counsellors were convoluted.
9. Amid increased electrical power outages, allegedly caused by poor quality fuel supplied by a contractor new to the country’s oil market and widely viewed as affiliated with influential individuals, the Government’s pursuit of its anti-corruption agenda in the energy sector was contested by the opposition for being politically motivated and partisan. Critics pointed in particular to the proceedings initiated against the private electricity provider SOGENER, which had its premises sealed and saw arrest warrants issued against several of its board members in the last week of July. Critics were also incensed by President Moïse’s 22 June request to three government anti-corruption bodies to open an inquiry into State oil contracts from 2010 onwards, and again by the 14 August release of the findings of those inquiries, which concluded that the Haitian State had lost $1.7 billion over 10 years and that oil companies had accrued $94 million in profit at the expense of the State following the liberalization of the oil sector in March 2019. The Haitian Association of Petrol Professionals rejected those findings in a 20 August statement, noting that prices had been fixed by the Haitian State.
10. Moreover, following the 13 August hearing of a former Senate President and leading opposition figure by the Anti-Corruption Unit for a loan extended to his family by the State Pension Fund, the opposition announced that it would submit three complaints for corruption against perceived allies of the ruling coalition, including the firm currently contracted by the State to import petroleum products. Against that backdrop, calls for accountability on the use of the PetroCaribe funds regained momentum with the 17 August submission of a third PetroCaribe audit report by the High Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes to the 10 remaining members of the Senate. On 19 August, the Court was also requested by a human rights non-governmental organization to audit 30 contracts signed by the Government during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
11. Discontent with the Government’s policies and initiatives spilled over beyond parts of the political and business elite and resulted in an increase in civil unrest episodes, from a total of 55 in May and June to 174 for the months of July and August. Notably, a countrywide protest organized by religious actors opposing provisions in the new Penal Code advancing sexual, reproductive and women’s rights mobilized over 6,000 people. In addition, several local demonstrations against electricity blackouts, insecurity and recent changes in municipal administrations also took place. Those episodes attest to worrisome levels of popular frustration.
12. In that fraught context, the mission continues to extend its good offices to address the trust deficit that permeates the Haitian political landscape and promote a more conducive political environment. Outreach to political actors, academics, the private sector, civil society, women leaders and other stakeholders is ongoing to identify points of convergence and potential confidence-building measures, and to maintain momentum on debates over key reforms. Moving forward, that engagement will continue to seek to spark action on concrete, legitimate Haitian-led initiatives that will place the country on a path to greater political stability.
13. The mission and OAS also reached out to a wide range of national stakeholders and contributed to the growing public debate on constitutional reform, an issue that received broad support during the dialogue hosted at the nunciature last year. A BINUH editorial published on 15 June advocating for a Haitian-owned constitutional reform process initially sparked mixed reactions but nonetheless paved the way for a number of Haitian-led public initiatives on the issue, including a two-day workshop organized on 12 and 13 August by the Office of the Ombudsperson (Office de la Protection du Citoyen), the national human rights institution of Haiti. Prime Minister Jouthe, in a statement on 17 August, expressed support for such civil society efforts, which continue to gain traction. However, this much-needed public debate has yet to lead to a formal constitutional revision process, and the window of opportunity to address the shortcomings of the 1987 Constitution prior to future elections is fast closing.
14. The shocking assassination, on 28 August, of the president of the Port-au-Prince Bar Association and lead SOGENER counsel, Montferrier Dorval, a respected scholar and vocal advocate for constitutional reform, could have a chilling effect on the active participation of civil society organizations in the shaping and implementation of the reform agenda the country needs. Many political and social actors, including the Office of the Ombudsperson, magistrates’ associations, the Haitian and International Federations of Bar Associations, private sector, human rights and faith-based associations publicly expressed their dismay at such an act and have demanded concrete improvement of the security situation as well as an end to impunity. Addressing the nation on 29 August, the President expressed his commitment to taking strong measures against insecurity and to hold perpetrators accountable.