If the international community wants to be part of the solution to Haiti’s polarizing political crisis, it must establish that it is a neutral broker, willing to encourage all sides to respect the rules of the democratic game.
Opinion in Haiti — widely reflected in the press, in Parliament and on the streets — indicates that this is an uphill battle, as most Haitians believe that the United States, the United Nations and others are taking the side of Haiti’s President Michel Martelly, rather than their democracy. As the United Nations Security Council heads to Haiti Friday, it has an excellent opportunity to reverse this perception.
Stalled elections have put Haiti’s democracy in jeopardy. As a result of elections delays, some for more than three years, Parliament is no longer operational. All of Parliament except for 10 Senate seats are vacant, and all elected municipal officials have been replaced with executive branch appointees, allowing President Martelly to run the country without any checks or balances.
The causes of this impasse are complex. Although blame has been cast widely, in Haiti, more often than not the fingers are pointed at the president. Over the past four years, President Martelly has proposed a series of electoral councils to run the voting, each of which fell short of constitutional requirements and gave the president significant leverage over the supposedly independent council. His government has also arrested many political opponents and protestors on flimsy evidence.
The international community, by contrast, has publicly supported President Martelly’s electoral councils and blamed members of Parliament for using legislative procedures to block the unconstitutional councils.
The U.S. State Department affirmed its continued support in a December 2014 letter in which it “commended” Martelly’s efforts to resolve the crisis. U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Pamela White went to Parliament and pressed legislators to vote on a series of last minute deals — many of them unconstitutional — on Monday of last week, the day the majority of parliamentary terms were set to expire. The Organization of American States (OAS) chastised opposition senators for “choosing the strategy of chaos” in a follow-up declaration two days later.
The international community’s failure to acknowledge President Martelly’s responsibility for the electoral crisis threatens its credibility as a mediator. Members of Parliament objected to Ambassador White’s interference. The protestors who throng Haiti’s streets at least once every week direct part of their ire at the United States and United Nations. Haitian media from across the political spectrum bemoan the loss of sovereignty demonstrated by this interference.
If the U.N. Security Council and the rest of the international community want to contribute to a sustainable solution to Haiti’s political crisis, they will encourage all sides to respect the rules of the democratic game, not act as cheerleaders for one player.
Respecting the rules means installing an electoral council that complies as much as is now possible with the Constitution and runs fair elections that allow the free participation of all political parties.
It means allowing politicians to organize and demonstrators to protest legally without risking arrest.
Security Council members will likely meet with a range of actors Friday, and encourage them to come together to support elections. The diplomats can make the elections worth coming together for by warning President Martelly that it will only support fair, inclusive, constitutional elections, and assuring all Haitians that the international community is on the side of their democracy.
Morenike Fajana is a human rights fellow at the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in Port-au-Prince Haiti. Nicole Phillips is a staff attorney at the Institute for Justice & Democracy, BAI’s American partner organization, and adjunct law professor at University of California Hastings School of Law.