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U.S. Foreign Policy On Haiti: The Way Forward

U.S. FOREIGN POLICY ON HAITI: THE WAY FORWARD

As the United States and international community continue to discuss ways to support the Haitian people, American Jewish World Service and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee have issued the following joint statement and recommendations: 

Over the past decade, the regime governing Haiti has stolen billions of dollars in public funds, dismantled democratic institutions, and funded and armed gangs. As a result, the country is mired in overlapping crises: Haiti lacks a legitimate government or a functioning state; gang violence holds much of the country hostage; and the economy has plummeted as people struggle to access gas, food, water and regular employment. Before the nation can move forward one crucial question must be answered: who will govern and chart a path to strengthened democratic institutions and elections? The political crisis must be effectively addressed for any other crisis in Haiti – including spiraling insecurity – to be resolved. 

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) welcome the U.S. Government’s (USG) 10-year Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability for Haiti as part of the Global Fragility Act. We recognize and appreciate these efforts, in addition to the Integrated Country Strategy and Strategic Framework for Haiti, to address conflict prevention and create stability in Haiti. 

AJWS and UUSC applaud the coordination and collaboration efforts of the USG, including through the U.S. interagency working group, and their efforts to engage Haitian civil society in drafting these strategies. To promote accountability and transparency, however, we urge the USG to share publicly the names of all agencies in the working group along with a clear understanding of their contributions to ongoing deliberations. In the same vein that the USG is taking a long-term approach in Haiti, we request that the USG interagency have a long-view (well beyond ten years) approach in its efforts to sustain this work which will take sustained commitment, with Haitian actors in the lead, over many decades.   

We appreciate the sequenced approach that the USG is taking and the values of integrating lessons from the past into its path forward. As part of this process, we would urge the USG to actively engage Haitian civil society organizations more fully, and regularly, in this process to ensure that ongoing lessons are incorporated. This would be in addition to the robust monitoring and evaluation process that the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development implements as part of its policies in Haiti. 

As the international community works to help Haiti, AJWS and UUSC have prepared the following recommendations. 

1. Creating A Credible, Representative Transitional Government 

We are cognizant of current international diplomacy efforts to support the advancement of a transitional government. Acknowledging that the development of a transitional government is an opportunity for the USG to catalyze sustainable security responses for Haiti, we believe the USG should seize this opportunity to prevent conflict and promote stability. 

As a top priority, all current diplomatic efforts should focus on the establishment of an inclusive, credible and representative transitional government. In the absence of the state, civil society leaders have been serving and representing Haitians’ needs. Over the past two years, they have shown their commitment to democratic principles, establishing a transitional government, and reaching all of Haitian society. Their participation will be crucial for any transitional government to restore security and public trust, bolster institutions, and effectively prepare to mount truly free, fair, and participatory elections. 

We are disappointed that recent mediation efforts have been put on hold indefinitely due to the reluctance of acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s coalition.  We strongly encourage the USG and international community to continue to find ways to support genuinely committed actors in Haiti – specifically including Haitian civil society actors – to create a credible transitional government with a strengthened system of checks and balances.  A credible transitional government that can work to stabilize the country, start to rebuild core democratic institutions and put the country back on the road towards fair and free elections in due course is the only possible pathway out of Haiti’s many crises. 

This means:  

  • Any future internationally brokered efforts which seek a transitional government must ensure that respected civil society organizations are a powerful component of any transitional government structure. 
  • The U.S. and other countries must make clear that no individual politician or party has their full and unconditional backing. Acting Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry has benefitted from the unequivocal support by the U.S. government. This support, however, has blocked political progress as Haiti’s governance and security crisis has grown, giving Ariel Henry the upper hand and the power to walk away from any negotiation process that requires him to compromise or cede any level of power. 
  • The U.S. must also make it clear to Ariel Henry that he cannot act unilaterally to make appoints to Haiti’s Electoral Council in the absence of a credible transitional government and without a broad-based consensus on how to move forward with such appointments. 

As this negotiation process moves forward, the U.S. should emphasize its commitment to these very clear principles: 

  • The core goal must be to see a rights-based, transparent and functional democracy restored in Haiti, and security improved for all Haitians. Structural changes in governance are needed if this goal is to be achieved. These changes should include constitutional reform, accountability, justice for corrupt actors, violence, involvement with gangs and drug and arms trafficking along with improved efforts for both police vetting and reinforcement. 
  • Any transitional government must respect the rule of law and human rights, seek democratic inclusion and representation, and respond to the needs of the Haitian people. 
  • The U.S. and the international community must only support efforts that align with these principles. 
  • The U.S. and the international community must not tolerate actors who come to the negotiating table saying they are committed to compromise while maintaining connections to gangs, traffickers and violent criminals working against these aims. 

No progress can be made – on security, arms or drug trafficking, migration, or any other issue – without first addressing the lack of credibility and legitimacy in current governance. 

2. Security 

There can be no lasting resolution to the current security crisis without legitimate and credible governance, yet people are dying and being maimed and kidnapped every day at the hands of gangs using increasingly violent tactics. While the U.S. is pursuing the establishment of a credible, representative transitional government, it also needs to continue its support for the Haitian police along with port and airport officials to help diminish the power and violence of gangs. Larger structural changes in governance are needed to sustainably address security.  

We welcome last week’s joint statement by U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which committed to increasing security and humanitarian assistance, enhanced support for the Haitian National Police and accountability measures for those who undermine Haiti’s stability. We encourage the USG to support:     

  • Increased enforcement of the U.S. arms embargo and attempts to stop the flow of weapons and ammunition through Florida.
  • The creation of an independent Haitian council of civilian technical experts to oversee the police force instead of the council currently overseeing the force, comprising the head of state and two government ministers, whose decisions are inherently political.
  • The Haitian National Police in vetting the force at every level. Compromised police officers are tipping off gangs and traffickers about operations and tactics and give them arms, ammunition and vehicles intended for the police. And gang-affiliated officers are using their specialized training to help gangs against the Haitian people. Officers with ties to gangs must be removed from the force and there must be ongoing vetting for any new recruits. 
  • Ongoing training, reinforcement and mentoring for remaining police and new recruits. 
  • The reinforcement of Haitian port and airport authorities. Arms and ammunition should be stopped from illegally entering Haiti and customs tariffs should be levied for legal imports.
  • The establishment of tracking systems for all arms, ammunition and vehicles to ensure they do not end up in the hands of gangs. 
  • Additional sanctions and the launching of criminal litigation cases against the people behind the illicit arms and ammunition trade, as well as those who are otherwise supplying the gangs with money, weapons and political protection. This must include U.S. citizens and residents.

3. Institutional Reform 

We appreciate the USG’s efforts to engage reform-minded leaders at the national and local levels and recognize that this will be critical in supporting institutional reforms in Haiti that will advance justice, security, and democratic processes. After a credible representative transitional government has been put in place through a legitimate process, the USG should support its efforts to develop and implement: 

  • A plan for constitutional reform that is coordinated and run by Haitian legal experts and backed by international legal support to the extent helpful and supportive. 
  • A process for judicial reform. 
  • A process for deciding on the electoral council. 
  • A security plan that results in a clear improvement in Haitians’ daily lives. 

4. Support for Haitians Fleeing the Country’s Violence 

U.S. officials must take proactive measures to support Haitians who are migrating due to violence, terror and democratic breakdown. The U.S. should abide by commitments under international refugee law—including the 1951 refugee convention and its 1967 protocol, of which the U.S. is a signatory—and allow Haitians seeking asylum at the U.S. border to enter and make their asylum claims as required by U.S. law. 

5. Support for watchdogs 

We appreciate the USG’s efforts to promote innovation and evidence-based approaches in their strategy. We further acknowledge the work that human rights defenders, journalists and other watchdogs are doing in this moment of crisis to report on facts, document human rights abuses and corruption. In the absence of any judicial or law enforcement, the USG must recognize the role of watchdogs in providing the on-the-ground reporting that an evidence-based approach requires. The USG should also support their work through USAID’s resources and utilize its diplomatic power with Haiti to protect the integrity of their work. 

U.S. officials should take proactive measures to support Haitians who stay in Haiti, especially journalists, human rights defenders and activists who are among the only watchdogs for the abuses, violence and murders occurring daily. 

Haiti has suffered too long from international engagement that imposes quick solutions to complex problems and that fails to correct past mistakes. Over the past decade, this approach has effectively led the international community to abet Haitian political leaders as they destroyed the state. There is now only one route to extract Haiti from its morass and that is to support Haitians working to reverse the erosion of governance at the core of the problem and restore democratic institutions. Only a credible, representative transitional government can lead Haiti to democracy and long-term stability. 

For More Information

If you are a member of the press and wish to obtain information about our work or speak to a member of our global team on deadline, please contact Tanyanika Davis, Director of Media Relations, at tdavis@ajws.org.