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United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti - Report of the Secretary-General (S/2021/133)

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I. Introduction

1. The present report is submitted pursuant to Security Council resolution 2547 (2020), by which the Council extended to 15 October 2021 the mandate of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), in accordance with Security Council resolution 2476 (2019), by which it had established BINUH and requested the Secretary-General to report on the implementation of the resolution every 120 days. The report includes significant developments that occurred since the previous report (S/2020/944) and provides an update on the implementation of the BINUH mandate.

2. The impact of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on the health of the population continued to be less than originally anticipated, with some 11,286 people infected and 243 deaths as of 4 February 2021, although a surge in cases had been observed in recent weeks. The effects of the pandemic on the global economy continued to exacerbate the already dire socioeconomic and humanitarian conditions in Haiti, further underscoring the need for meaningful governance reforms to overcome structural obstacles to development.

3. BINUH and the United Nations country team continued to work to enhance the joint implementation of complementary mandates and efforts, including through greater integration of the mission’s political and advisory role with the programmatic and technical work of United Nations agencies, funds and programmes. Efforts were ongoing to deepen integration in priority areas, such as justice, elections and community violence reduction, notably through the implementation of an integrated strategic framework – the “One United Nations plan” – to focus United Nations efforts on support to Haitian institutions to ensure they are better equipped to tackle challenges to peace, stability and development and to deliver on the commitments of the 2030 Agenda.

II. Political and good governance (benchmark 1)

4. As Haiti geared up for several major political milestones in 2021, including the holding of a proposed constitutional referendum as well as legislative, municipal, local and presidential elections, divisions within its polity had further deepened in recent months. President Moïse continued to rule by decree in the absence of a functioning legislative branch, while some political and civil society groups continued to call for him to leave office by 7 February 2021. Notwithstanding the protracted polarization within the political class, diverse political, social and economic actors interested in finding common ground continued their efforts to forge a consensus, undertakings that had yet to yield concrete results.

5. In addition to the fraught political environment, public concern over the worsening security situation, including the Government’s inability to stem rampant kidnappings and surging levels of criminality, fuelled anti-government protests.

6. Meanwhile, as the Government adopted a new $3.6 billion budget and concretized plans for a constitutional referendum and elections in 2021, several new political parties and platforms formed, sometimes with the support of civil society and the private sector. While many of the new entities appeared to be searching for ways to build consensus to facilitate the successful holding of the various electoral processes in 2021, some rejected any possibility of dialogue with the Moïse administration.

7. One area of broad agreement among Haitian political and civil society stakeholders was that the 1987 Constitution, amended in 2012, with its complex semi-presidential system and frequent elections, represented one of the root causes of Haiti’s instability. Nonetheless, the appointment on 15 October 2020 by the Executive of the five-member Independent Consultative Committee to oversee the drafting of a new constitution elicited critical reactions owing to a lack of prior consultation with relevant stakeholders and disagreements over the legitimacy of the process in the absence of a functioning Parliament to lead it.

8. In the month following its creation, the Committee, headed by the former interim President from 2004 to 2006, Jean Boniface Alexandre, had launched a series of thematic consultations with subject experts to review the provisions of the 1987 Constitution and propose alternatives to the current political regime, electoral system and local governance structures, among others. The initial draft of the proposed constitution was intended to serve as the basis for consultations with a broader group of stakeholders, such as political parties and civil society. A final draft, elaborated following a review of the results of those consultations, was expected to be submitted to the Executive on 4 March 2021. Over the course of the drafting period, the Committee had held a number of press conferences to update Haitians on its progress and to promote public awareness of the ongoing process. In a series of communications and interviews, Committee members indicated that the first draft of the constitution would propose a presidential system – with a President and a Vice-President elected by universal suffrage and a unicameral parliament, thus abolishing the Senate – as well as simplified local government structures. The proposal to eliminate the Senate was pre-emptively contested by its new president, recently elected by the 10 seated members of the Upper Chamber, which had been quorum-less since January 2020.

9. In parallel, the Provisional Electoral Council published its proposed electoral calendar in early January 2021. The document specified that a constitutional referendum was to be held on 25 April, to be followed by the overdue legislative polls and the presidential election on 19 September, and delayed municipal and local elections along with the legislative and presidential runoff elections on 21 November. The holding of elections on the latter two dates was likely to depend on the outcome of the referendum, as a new constitution might rationalize the number of local polls and eliminate the requirement for runoffs.

10. Some observers questioned the logic of publishing an electoral calendar prior to the conclusion of the ongoing process to draft a new constitution. Those reservations further called into question the legitimacy of the electoral body itself, already weakened by the Court of Cassation’s failure to administer the oath of office to its members and the ensuing controversy surrounding their appointment. Indeed following the collective resignation in July 2020 of all nine members of the previous Provisional Electoral Council, several sectors traditionally represented in that body declined to nominate new representatives owing to tenuous relations with the President. Eschewing further consultations, President Moïse proceeded to fill the vacancies through a decree and mandated the councillors with organizing a constitutional referendum in addition to the expected polls.

11. Nonetheless, the Electoral Council continued to make headway in preparing for the referendum and the elections by developing a budget of $125 million for the entire 2021 polling cycle. Drawing on the 2015 electoral decree, the Council also prepared a draft referendum decree that was promulgated by the Executive on 5 January. The decree enabled all Haitians, including those living abroad, registered with the Office of National Identification, which provides the data to the electoral council to generate a new voter registry, to cast a vote using the new identification card, a Haitian passport or a driving license issued by a Haitian authority. The outcome of the referendum would be determined by a majority of valid votes, with no minimum turnout threshold.

12. As electoral preparations accelerated, the ability to create a sufficiently conducive political and security environment while addressing logistics and funding constraints would continue to represent a major challenge. The Office of National Identification would need to expedite its citizen registration process in order to enfranchise as many of the estimated 6.7 million eligible voters as possible before the registry closed on 24 February. Currently, unless there was a further acceleration in the registration process, some 2.5 million citizens would be at risk of not featuring on voting lists. In addition, the pressure exerted by armed gangs in control of populous neighbourhoods with large electoral constituencies, that are known to be open to political influence, together with a persistent lack of security could undermine confidence in the electoral process and have a negative impact on voter turnout.

13. Several voices, both domestic and foreign, reiterated strong calls to the President to limit his use of executive decrees to govern, perceived as further stoking political tensions and mistrust. Two decrees issued on 26 November purporting to create a national intelligence agency and enact an “anti-terrorism” law drew the most criticism, including from the Core Group. Certain provisions in the latter overstated what constitutes a terrorist act, to include seemingly minor offenses, and related sanctions. Other criticisms related to the lack of oversight mechanisms for officials of the newly created intelligence agency, including possible immunity from some judicial processes, and the importance of aligning its mandate with that of the Haitian National Police. Following a request by the Executive to review the decrees, the Office of the Ombudsperson recommended that the Government establish accountability and parliamentary oversight mechanisms and decriminalize minor offenses. Decrees seeking to enforce the exchange rate between the United States of America dollar to the Haitian gourde and modify the mandate of the Superior Court of Audit – supposedly to push through priority electricity and other projects – were also the source of criticism.

14. Despite ongoing efforts, the country’s path to institutional normalcy and democratic renewal appeared fraught and riddled with uncertainty. A minimum consensus among political stakeholders could contribute to a successful constitutional reform process. Such a development would also improve the conditions in which the planned, and in some cases long overdue, elections would be held. Addressing the challenges faced by the Office of National Identity to generate the necessary momentum for the citizen registration process, was key to ensuring the maximum possible number of participating voters. In that respect, the Government’s disbursement of $20 million to launch procurement and logistics processes represented an encouraging signal of its commitment to funding the upcoming electoral processes.

15. The United Nations, in response to the formal request made by the Government on 11 November 2020 for electoral assistance, would continue to work with Haitian authorities and other stakeholders to create conditions favourable for the transparent, participatory and inclusive holding of the various determined by national authorities.

16. As the situation on the ground was evolving rapidly, the Security Council would receive further updates on recent political developments at the consultations on the question regarding Haiti.