The United Nations Special Representative to Haiti, Helen La Lime, has warned that violent protests sparked by the murder of a high-profile legal scholar are threatening to push Haiti into a spiral of instability.
La Lime, who also heads the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), issued the warning to the UN Security Council on Monday as she outlined UN efforts to help overcome the impasse engulfing the French-speaking Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country.
She said apprehension about the future in Haiti has been palpable since the August 28 assassination of Monferrier Dorval, President of the Port-au-Prince Bar Association.
La Lime described the assassination as “a tragedy that, for many, epitomises the weak state of the rule of law across the Caribbean nation.
“The slaying of Maître Dorval constitutes a tragic loss for Haitian society, as he represented an example of civic engagement and commitment to the promotion of the rule of law,” La Lime said.
She stressed that even the perceptions of insecurity, especially in populous neighbourhoods of Port-au-Prince, have grown more acute, with gangs challenging State authority and a “Fantom 509” fringe group of disaffected police officers bringing disorder to the capital city.
La Lime said as police and judicial authorities struggle to meet Haitians’ legitimate demands for accountability, violence persists.
“The widespread perception of impunity which these dynamics elicit can only be countervailed by ensuring that the rights of victims of human rights violations and abuses are upheld and that perpetrators are held to account”, she said.
The UN Special Representative said to be sure, the Haitian National Police service has consistently proven its operational proficiency since assuming sole responsibility for providing security.
But, she said, it would still require at least 10,000 well-trained and equipped police officers to meet internationally-accepted policing standards.
La Lime said officers need to be adequately funded and equipped by the Haitian Government to overcome recurrent shortcomings.
Stressing that acute political polarization and weak State institutions are well-known catalysts for violence, she said President Jovenel Moïse’s appointment of a new Provisional Electoral Council has similarly elicited “strong reactions” from the Court of Cassation, purportedly because of its lack of representativeness and scope of mission.
“The continued lack of trust between political forces is impeding all but the slightest progress on priorities that had previously garnered a wide consensus across the political spectrum”, she said, notably on the need to reform the constitution prior to fresh elections.
As Haiti prepares to enter a new electoral cycle, the BINUH head said it is paramount that the electoral framework and calendar be addressed, so that the risk of contested polls and further violence is reduced.
La Lime said BINUH will continue to engage national stakeholders, pressing the governments to amplify its support for a process that – if properly managed – will “reinvigorate the social contract between Haitian citizens and the State.
“It is the ability of Haiti’s political and economic classes to compromise and resolve their differences without resorting to violence” – and the capacity of Haiti’s fledgling institutions to take the necessary steps – “that will determine whether free, fair and inclusive elections will be held.”
“It remains to be seen whether attempts to restart the economy will succeed and whether the perennial issue of impunity will finally be addressed,” La Lime said, adding that her office stands ready to support Haitian authorities.
She said it will continue to transform, “making more efficient use of United Nations political and programmatic resources to address intractable structural obstacles, and allow sustainable development for all Haitians”.