UN Human Rights Office Alarmed by ‘Attacks’ on Judicial Independence in Haiti

haiti protesting
A police officer runs away from tear gas during a protest to demand the resignation of Haiti's president Jovenel Moise in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2021. Haiti has lurched into fresh political crisis amid allegations of a coup attempt and an escalating dispute over when the presidential term of Moise should end. ( AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

The United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) says it is “very concerned” over recent attacks against judicial independence in Haiti, as the country is gripped by political and institutional instability.

According to OCHCHR spokesperson Liz Throssell, a judge of the Haitian Cour de Cassation (Supreme Court) was arrested on February 7 “in circumstances that may amount to unlawful or arbitrary arrest and detention.”

Throssell said 22 other individuals were also arrested, 17 of whom still remain in pre-trial detention.

While the judge was subsequently released, the person along with two others were “forced to retire and later replaced, apparently through an irregular procedure”, she said.

“These developments cause concerns about judicial independence and have further eroded the separation of powers in Haiti,” said Throssell at a regular media briefing at the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG).

Throssell stressed that respecting the rule of law and the system of checks and balances at all times is paramount.

“It is even more crucial now given the growing political tensions and the increasing expression of dissent in demonstrations”, she said.

OHCHR called on the Haitian authorities to ensure respect for the established legal and institutional framework, and to comply with their obligations under the country’s Constitution and international human rights treaties, she added.

“We urge the Government and opposition to engage in a meaningful and inclusive dialogue to avoid further escalation of tensions, and to resolve the current political and institutional deadlock in a manner that is both lasting and sustainable”, Throssell said.

She said OHCHR “stands ready to continue supporting Haitian authorities in their fulfilment of international human rights obligations” and expresses its continuing willingness to strengthen its human rights engagement with all sectors in the society.

Earlier this month, the Organization of American States (OAS) said its General Secretariat was “closely monitoring the current situation in Haiti,” and that it was “concerned with the respect for human rights and the independence of powers.”

“The OAS General Secretariat has an essential interest in the protection of democratic institutions and the political rights of its citizens,” said the OAS in a statement. “It is fundamental that state institutions work together to resolve the problems afflicting Haiti.

“We call for democratic structural changes in Haiti through the discussion of a new Constitution and an effective participation in general elections this year,” it added.

The OAS said that its General Secretariat “renews its support for the electoral process as the only option consistent with the Democratic Charter to replace the current constitutional President with another President on February 7, 2022.”

Opposition parties in Haiti had declared 72-year-old judge Joseph Mecene Jean-Louis the country’s interim leader, a day after an alleged coup plot was foiled, as they insisted that President Jovenel Moise must step down.

In a video message, Jean-Louis, the longest-serving judge in the Supreme Court, said he “accepted the choice of the opposition and civil society, to serve (his) country as interim president for the transition”.

Moise, who has ruled by decree since mid-January, has stated he would hand over power to the winner of the elections but would not step down until his term expires in 2022.

But the opposition has rejected his interpretation of the constitution and has insisted his term had come to an end.

“We are waiting for Jovenel Moise to leave the National Palace, so that we can get on with installing Mr. Mecene Jean-Louis,” opposition figure Andre Michel told international news agency AFP.

Former senator Youri Latortue said that the transition period was expected to last around 24 months.

“There’s a two-year roadmap laid out, with the establishing of a national conference, the setting out of a new constitution and the holding of elections,” he said.

Haiti Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe said Supreme Court judge Hiviquel Dabrezil and inspector general for the national police force, Marie Louise Gauthier, were among 23 people who were detained for their role in an alleged plot to oust President Moise.

Meanwhile, the US lawmakers said Haiti remains gripped in “a cascade of economic, public health and political crises.”

The new Joe Biden administration in the United States has called on the Haitian administration to hold talks to resolve the crisis, saying that a newly-elected president should succeed President Moise when his term ends on February 2, 2022.

CMC

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