Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch

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Did Trump Take a Page Out of Haiti’s Presidential Playbook?

May 17, 2017 - 08:07

Last week US President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. The president immediately came under heavy criticism, accused of obstructing justice, as the FBI is currently investigating the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Two weeks earlier, in Haiti, President Jovenel Moïse fired the director of the country’s financial crimes unit (UCREF). During last year’s elections in Haiti, UCREF produced an investigative report on Moïse, raising questions of possible money laundering. No charges have been brought, but the investigation appeared to be ongoing. 

While Trump’s moves have spurred increasing calls for impeachment ― or at the very least an independent investigation ― in Haiti, the move occurred with scant international attention. Local human rights groups, however, have sounded the alarm. Unlike in the US, where the president actually has the power to fire the head of the FBI, it appears as though the Haitian president had no such legal authority to fire the head of the UCREF.

The UCREF has been the recipient of millions of dollars in international support for years, much of which was from the United States. UCREF, however, has failed to produce many measurable successes. In 2016, the State Department reported:

The country’s financial intelligence unit (FIU), the UCREF, has continued to build its internal capabilities and to do effective casework. The UCREF has fifteen open cases but has not forwarded any cases to the judiciary in 2015. Continued issues in the judicial sector mean the UCREF’s progress is not yet reflected in conviction rates.

In recent years, Haiti has come under pressure from the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) to make improvements to its safeguards against money laundering. If improvements are not made, CFATF has threatened to recommend member states impose restrictions on banking transactions with Haiti. Moïse took office in February 2017 already under a cloud of suspicion for his own alleged involvement in money laundering, and the hollowing out of UCREF’s independence will likely only exacerbate this, with potentially serious economic consequences.

In early May, the Haitian Parliament approved a new law on UCREF. Previously, UCREF’s director general was selected in a process directed by five representatives from independent bodies. The new law reportedly gives the president the ability to approve three of the five representatives, granting the executive de facto control over the entity. 

But Moïse didn’t even wait for the new law’s approval to act. On April 19, he replaced UCREF Director Sonel Jean-François, just one year into a three-year term. A replacement, reportedly picked by Moïse, was supposed to be installed last week, but that process has been postponed indefinitely.

Maxime Rony of the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations told the media that Moïse’s barely four-month presidency was based on a “governance of revenge,” noting that, in addition to the new law on UCREF, one of the first acts of the new Parliament ― controlled by Moïse’s allies ― was to pass a harsh defamation law. Haiti’s largest newspaper, Le Nouvelliste, wrote that since the UCREF report was released last year, its director had been “in the sights” of Moïse and his political allies.

Pierre Esperance of the National Human Rights Defense Network pointed out that the law governing the UCREF outlines a clear process for selecting a new director general, and that Moïse’s decision was “contrary to the law,” and “an extremely serious matter.” 

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UNSC Votes to Gradually End Haiti Mission – and Start a New One

April 13, 2017 - 08:59

After 13 years and more than $7 billion spent, the United Nations Security Council voted today to extend the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) mandate for a final six months. By October 2017 the last of the 2,000 plus foreign troops are scheduled to depart Haiti – already down from a high of nearly 9,000 in 2010. But far from representing a complete withdrawal of the controversial mission, the Security Council also approved a successor mission – MINUJUSTH – composed of some 1,000 UN police officers that will stay on with a focus on strengthening the Haitian national police and the country’s justice system.

In an op-ed published in the Miami Herald yesterday, Lauren Carasik, a law professor and human rights expert, outlines the inherent contradictions with this new UN mission, and its focus on increasing access to justice in Haiti:

Nowhere is the United Nations’ lack of accountability more glaring than in Haiti. The U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is responsible for causing a cholera epidemic that has killed thousands and for crimes, including sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA), that have largely gone unpunished.

Against the backdrop of its transgressions in Haiti, the U.N. is voting this week on withdrawing MINUSTAH, a move long demanded by many who deeply resent the harm inflicted by those sent to protect them. The U.N.’s new secretary-general, António Guterres, favors winding down the force in six months and replacing it with a leaner successor mission that will focus on rule of law and police development. Yet Guterres failed to reflect on how the U.N. can purport to strengthen Haiti’s institutions when its own conduct fails to satisfy bedrock principles of democracy, or whether the $346 million annual budget would be better spent repairing the organization’s tarnished cholera legacy instead.

But in its resolution approving the gradual withdrawal of MINUSTAH, cholera is barely mentioned. The resolution simply welcomes the UN’s “New Approach to Cholera in Haiti,” which is currently just 2% funded. As Carasik writes, “despite the anemic reception to his fundraising efforts, the Secretary-General is tabling a move to assess mandatory contributions in the face of stiff resistance from certain member states.” And reports indicate that certain member states also pushed to weaken the cholera-related language in the UNSC resolution. From a report in What's In Blue:

[T]here were some differences over how much to focus on the humanitarian situation, human rights and peacebuilding and on the Secretary-General’s new approach regarding cholera. It seems that France and the US pushed for a shorter and more streamlined text, and had reservations about including proposed language on cholera, while Brazil and other Latin American countries felt it was important to reflect some of the observations on human rights and humanitarian challenges and the importance of peacebuilding contained in the Secretary-General’s report.

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New Report: Sexual Exploitation and Abuse at the Hands of the UN in Haiti

March 22, 2017 - 02:06
The following is the introduction to an investigative report conducted by independent researcher Mark Snyder entitled "Sexual Exploitation and Abuse at the Hands of the United Nation's Stabilization Mission in Haiti." The full report is available here

Investigative Overview


A preliminary independent investigation conducted in areas close to existing or abandoned bases for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) brings to light the alarming magnitude of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA) at the hands of United Nations personnel in Haiti. The purpose of this investigation is to determine if the initial unreported cases brought to the attention of the author were isolated incidents or are instead a result of a systemic problem present in the UN's mission in Haiti. In consultation with Haitian civil society partners, the following report considers that a further, in-depth investigation into these abuses is vital and urgent.

The results of our investigation strongly suggest that the issue of SEA by United Nations personnel in Haiti is substantial and has been grossly underreported. Using the same methodology in all areas where MINUSTAH bases are or have been located[i], a thorough and in-depth investigation would be expected to identify close to 600 victims who would agree to in-person interviews. This number in itself indicates a victim count that requires immediate attention and significant modifications to current MINUSTAH peacekeeping operations, including with regard to the manner in which UN SEA cases are investigated and reported. These preliminary findings are based on the work of one investigator during 27 days of investigation. Through a network of community contacts in eight areas where there currently is, or where there has been a MINUSTAH base, the investigation identified 42 UN SEA victims who agreed to be interviewed. With a professional investigative team, comprised of individuals with specialized expertise and the resources to cover the entire country, the likely number of documented UN SEA allegations from victims would be expected to be significantly higher.

The UN Conduct and Discipline Unit (CDU), under the Department of Field Services (DFS) documented 75 total allegations of UN SEA countrywide in Haiti[ii] from 2008-2015. In comparison, 40 of the 42 victims interviewed within the limited scope of this independent investigation allegedly suffered sexual exploitation perpetrated by UN personnel during this same time period. Of the remaining two individuals: one stated she was first a victim in 2005, and the exploitation occurred repeatedly until 2015. The other was a victim of a single incident prior to 2008. Only four of the 42 said they had previously reported the SEA in some manner to the UN, suggesting that the magnitude of the problem may be dramatically underestimated by the CDU. The victims we spoke to were not made aware of whether their cases were included in the 75 total allegations documented by the CDU. All four victims stated they were not satisfied with the subsequent investigatory process or its results.

In comparison to the CDU's 75 total allegations, the estimated total possible victims of SEA - during the years 2008-2015 – based on an extrapolation of the results of our investigation – is 564. Again, this is an estimate derived from the findings of a single investigator and based only on allegations from those who agreed to meet and be interviewed.

The preliminary results of our investigation show that actions taken, such as the creation of the CDU and the extensive efforts with the three pillars of prevention of misconduct, enforcement of UN standards of conduct, and remedial action, do not appear to have been adequate in preventing further SEA perpetrated by MINUSTAH personnel. These efforts have failed to interrupt a persistent cycle of exploitation and abuse followed by UN statements of regret and reform, and then additional incidents of SEA.

The UN has stated in numerous publications that while there has been an approximately 50 percent increase in UN peacekeeping personnel in the world, the number of SEA accusations has been steadily decreasing.[iii] However, within the seemingly disconnected array of the UN's SEA reporting and response mechanisms[iv], wide concern is expressed by UN personnel about the validity of the official numbers of UN SEA allegations. Many suspect that the numbers and their decline do not accurately reflect the occurrences of exploitation and abuse.[v] The results of this investigation thus far have shown that in Haiti, as UN personnel suspected, this downward trend of accusations is not due to decreased levels of UN SEA, but instead is caused by a reduction in victims' reporting of these acts.

The reforms and initiatives that have been taken over the years since MINUSTAH's 2004 inception appear to be inadequate to prevent UN SEA and fail to encourage victims to come forward. For these reasons, we strongly suggests that a professional independent investigation, comprised of individuals with specialized expertise in sexual exploitation and abuse, be undertaken in Haiti at all locations that currently have or have had MINUSTAH bases so to determine the level of sexual exploitiation and abuse by United Nations' personnel. In order for MINUSTAH to fulfill its mandate of assisting Haiti with the restoration and maintenance of the rule of law and support efforts to "promote and protect human rights, particularly of women and children, in order to ensure individual accountability for human rights abuses and redress for victims"[vi], UN SEA victims must not remain hidden in the shadows. Instead, their existence must be officially recognized, and their voices must be a part of the discussion on the necessary reforms to the UN peacekeeping system.

Introduction

Sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel in Haiti has been extensively documented since MINUSTAH's founding in 2004.[vii] Notably, two years after the UN openly recognized SEA by UN peacekeepers as a problem[viii] and sanctioned the 2005 UN Zeid report focusing on UN SEA and describing specific actions to be taken to eliminate future abuse[ix], investigations in Haiti uncovered that the mission's peacekeepers from Sri Lanka were committing extensive sexual exploitation and abuse including rape and transactional sex. This led to a reported 114 soldier repatriations, a move presented as a model for other UN peacekeeping missions. Of those repatriated to Sri Lanka, none of the perpetrators were criminally prosecuted in their home country[x]. In response to the scandal, the UN assured that they remained committed to both to the zero-tolerance policy on SEA and to best practices in peacekeeping.[xi] Other highly visible cases, such as the repeated rape and subsequent kidnapping of a young special-needs boy by peacekeepers in Goniave, Haiti[xii], caused the mission to express outrage and the official response was that the mission would take their responsibility in dealing with abuses by UN personnel extremely seriously.[xiii]

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Haiti Inaugurates a New President Dogged by Money Laundering Probe, Low Voter Turnout

February 7, 2017 - 03:21

Jovenel Moïse will be inaugurated as Haiti’s new president today as the country returns to constitutional order after a one-year extra-constitutional period of interim rule due to electoral delays.  Moïse had previously come in first in an October 2015 election, only to have the results thrown out due to fraud. Rerun in November 2016 under the interim government that replaced former president Michel Martelly, the elections had Moïse securing more than 50 percent of the vote, winning in the first round.

But serious questions continue to dog Moïse as he takes office. Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald reports:

Since his win, Moïse has been on a countrywide tour, celebrating his victory, endorsing candidates for the recently held local elections — and battling money-laundering suspicions.

Moïse has dismissed the suspicions as the work of political opponents. The probe began in 2013 under Martelly’s administration when the anti-financial crimes unit was tipped off about a suspicious bank transaction, the current head of the unit, Sonel Jean-François, has said.

Over the weekend, an investigative judge assigned to the case sent his findings to the government prosecutor, but the judge’s order has not been made public. Government prosecutor Danton Léger has yet to say whether he will dismiss the case, send it back to the judge for further review, or prosecute Moïse.

Should he seek to prosecute Moïse, Haiti could find itself in an even deeper crisis than the one triggered by the annulled October 2015 presidential elections.

In a 7-page letter dated February 6, Leger, the government prosecutor, requested further information on the allegations against Moïse, ensuring it will continue to hang over the new president.

The money laundering allegations, however, are far from the only topic overshadowing Moïse’s inauguration today. A new report on Haiti’s November elections, from international legal observers, has raised questions as to how effective the new administration may be given the historically low turnout. The report’s authors also note that Haiti’s national identity office was hindered by significant problems, affecting the ability of Haitians to vote:

The report notes that despite many improvements in security and electoral administration over the 2015 elections, the 21 percent voter turnout represents the lowest participation rate for a national election in the Western Hemisphere since 1945. “Many Haitians did not vote, not because they did not want to, but because they were unable due to difficulties in obtaining electoral cards, registering to vote and finding their names on outdated electoral lists,” said attorney Nicole Phillips, delegation leader and co-author of the report.

The report documents how many would-be voters were disenfranchised on November 20, due to pervasive errors on electoral lists, difficulties accessing identity cards, and lack of voter education. Haitian electoral authorities also failed to take adequate measures against fraudulent voting. Prior to the election, the head of the National Identification Office (ONI) admitted that 2.4 million activated but undistributed cards had gone missing, which opened the door to fraud via trafficked identity cards.

The report’s authors also note with concern that Moïse could follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, former president Michel Martelly, who surrounded himself with figures from the Duvalier dictatorship and was criticized by human rights groups for his intimidation of journalists and imprisonment of opposition activists. “With a majority in parliament, the temptation for President Moïse to run roughshod over any opposition will be great,” said Brian Concannon, the executive director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, which published the report with the National Lawyers Guild and the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. “But with the backing of only 9.6 percent of registered voters, the incoming president will face serious limits to his popular mandate.”

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