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As Haiti’s Last 10 Lawmakers’ Terms Expire, Political Transition Must Take Priority Over Military Intervention

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The regime of the Haitian political party that has been in power since 2011 has never respected electoral deadlines. Late President Jovenel Moïse should have held elections for the National Assembly in 2019 for two-thirds of the seats in the Senate and the full Chamber of Deputies, as well as mayors and other local authorities, but he never called the election. As a result, in January 2020, Moïse became the only elected official at the national level other than the remaining one-third of the Senate – just 10 lawmakers. With no fully functioning National Assembly, and not consulting even those 10, Moïse essentially governed the country by decree until he was assassinated in July 2021. His successor has taken the same unilateral path.

Now, the mandate of those 10 remaining members of the Haitian Senate, who serve six-year terms, will come to an end on the second Monday of the new year, Jan. 9, 2023. With no elections scheduled to replace them, current de facto Prime Minister and acting President Ariel Henry, of the same Haitian Tèt Kale (PHTK) political party as Moïse, will stand alone, though with no legitimacy, no mandate, no checks and balances, and no roadmap for a way forward.

All that, even as my country collapses around me. Gang violence, fueled by support from what’s left of the government has become so bad that a United Nations official estimates they control 60 percent of the capital Port-au-Prince, forcing residents to flee their homes. Tens of thousands of Haitians face starvation, a cholera epidemic is sweeping eight of the country’s 10 regions, and fuel is in perilously short supply.

It’s understandable, then, that some of my fellow Haitians want another international military intervention to stem the violence, as Haitian Police are either complicit with the gangs or unable to control them. The Biden administration, too, has been pushing for such a force, though without U.S. troops involved.

But without an effective political agreement and roadmap for the transition,  an international military presence could bolster an illegitimate regime, lock in the current dysfunction, and put off a real solution that has the potential to restore democracy and long-term security and stability.

When Moïse chose Henry as his prime minister just a day before the assassination, there was no National Assembly to ratify the choice, and Moïse never swore in Henry before his death. At the time, many groups in civil society were working to find a Haitian solution for a transition. Instead the international “Core Group” (made up of representatives of the United Nations Secretary-General and of Germany, Brazil, Canada, France, the United States, Spain, the Organization of American States and the European Union) asked Henry to form a “consensual and inclusive government,” without really specifying what that means. Nothing of the kind has occurred since then. Essentially, with the support of the Core Group, Henry abuses both the executive power of the presidency and the power of the prime minister, in violation of Haiti’s Constitution.

With the de facto government operating outside the framework of the Constitution that defines the exercise of power in Haiti, the country’s current situation is ever more complex. The Haitian Constitution outlines three branches of government: legislative, executive, and judicial, to ensure separation of powers. The document specifies that “None of them may, for any reason, delegate their powers in all or in part, nor go beyond the bounds set for them by the Constitution and by law.”

The executive branch has two heads: the president and the prime minister. The president is head of state and appoints a prime minister from the party holding the majority in the National Assembly. Article 149 of the Constitution states:

In case of vacancy of the Presidency of the Republic either by resignation, dismissal, death or in case of physical or mental permanent incapacity duly declared, the Council of Ministers, under the presidency of the Prime Minister, exercises the Executive Power until the election of another President.

In this case, the ballot for the election of the new President of the Republic for the time that remains to complete the mandate takes place sixty (60) days at least and one hundred twenty (120) days at most after the beginning of the vacancy, in accordance with the Constitution and the electoral law.

Henry was installed in July 2021, so even if one could argue that he was de facto acting president despite not having been sworn in as prime minister, he has not had constitutional legitimacy as of November 2021, when that maximum of 120 days expired. Furthermore, Henry has now been in charge for 19 months, and conditions in Haiti have only deteriorated even more rapidly than before. Henry has demonstrated his inability to lead the country through crisis.

That’s why more than 1,000 representatives of civil society, political parties, and other organized groups in January 2021 formed the Commission for Haitian Solution to the Crisis and developed the Montana Accord, named for a hotel in Haiti where it was initially signed. The plan calls for a two-year transition under an inclusive interim government that will rebuild institutions until they can again support the carrying out of free, honest, and democratic elections.

My colleagues and I have said it before, and we will continue to say it: the Biden administration and the international community must listen to the Haitian people, as represented by this sweeping range of organizations that support the Montana Accord. The United States must press Henry to sit down with these groups and reach a political agreement to proceed with a genuine transition. The current government and PHTK party are paying lobbyists in Washington D.C. to campaign against the Montana agreement. They are spreading rumors that the group is divided, but this is not true — the Montana group members are strong, and they remain united.

Even with a political plan in place, foreign military intervention would be an unsustainable cosmetic fix. Perhaps some limited military support could be helpful; even now, the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort is anchored off Haiti, helping provide desperately needed medical aid for the cholera epidemic and other scourges afflicting my country. U.N. Police Services (UNPOL) could help reform the Haitian Police during the transition with vetting, training, and other technical support. The judicial system will require vetting, too.

A transitional government would reduce the power of the gangs, which has been amplified by the PHTK’s strategy of supporting them, in part to suppress popular movements against corruption such as the “PetroCaribe Challenge” protests of young professionals and students that began in 2019. My civil society organization, the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), has counted at least 17 gang-involved massacres in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince alone from 2018 to October 2022. Their attacks often include sexual violence.

The situation of impunity, insecurity, violation of human rights, control by armed gangs and the complicity of the authorities with them has only worsened under Henry’s administration. Gangs have occupied more space, more territory, and more power. In each of these massacres, the gangs use heavy equipment from the state, and police equipment protects the notorious G-9 gang that recently seized a critical gas terminal. There have been no prosecutions or sanctions against the gangs.

Haiti’s current situation of unconstitutional, corrupt, and inept governance has resulted in a cascade of human rights violations. Henry has shown that he does not have the capacity to govern. He must enter serious talks with the far more-organized Montana Accord group and reach agreement for a reasonable, responsible transition back to democracy and sustainable security for Haiti. The United States and others in the international community must press harder to begin this process urgently, before more lives – and an entire country – are lost.

IMAGE: Police search the area during an attack by armed gangs in the Carrefour Feuille neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, November 10, 2022. (Photo by RICHARD PIERRIN/AFP via Getty Images)

The post As Haiti’s Last 10 Lawmakers’ Terms Expire, Political Transition Must Take Priority Over Military Intervention appeared first on Just Security.

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