The United Nations Human Rights Office has warned that increasing political tension within Haiti, coupled with ‘insecurity and structural inequalities’ could spark widespread and potentially deadly protests.
The growing likelihood of mass public demonstrations has raised ‘concerns of renewed human rights violations by security forces during the policing of protests as seen during the months-long protests in 2018 and 2019,’ Marta Hurtado, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated last Tuesday.
Leaders of opposition parties have called protesters onto the streets in protest against the disputed timing and scope of elections and undemocratic constitutional referendum proposed by the Government. Additionally, there has been fresh accusation against the current President Jovenel Moïse of corruption, embezzlement and illegally outstaying his time in office. Moïse has refused to step down after 5 years in office, claiming that his term should end in February 2022 due to previous political disruptions.
Fresh protests broke out on the streets of Taberre last Tuesday which saw hundreds of protesters demanding the resignation of the President whilst clashing with security forces. One woman was shot in the arm while several other protesters were injured by rubber bullets. A handful of protesters reached the U.S. embassy and called on the administration of the newly elected Joe Biden to improve the conditions with Haiti and demanded that the elections scheduled for next year be brought forward to 2021.
Government, OHCHR spokesperson Marta Hurtado warned of the resurgence of violence that this political tension could cause. “Calls for mass protests have been growing. This in turn raises concerns of renewed human rights violations by security forces during the policing of protests as seen during the months-long protests in 2018 and 2019, as well as during demonstrations in October and November of last year.” In February 2019, 34 people were killed and 102 injured – including 23 police officers – during demonstrations that month. Between October and November, 65 protesters were also injured while nine were killed. Alongside this period of violence the UN report noted by the Human Rights Office identified that criminal activities, such as kidnappings, gang fights and widespread insecurity have increased, with “almost total” impunity.
While there has been recent public anger over Moïse’s new plans for a referendum which many believe would unfairly benefit his current administration, for most Haitians these protests have been driven by a fundamental dissatisfaction for the current standard of living during the last decade. Haiti’s recovery from the devastating earthquake in 2010 followed by deadly Hurricane Matthews in 2016 has been slow and has negatively impacted the country extensively. Over half of Haitians suffer from malnutrition while violence and kidnappings by criminal gangs is commonplace. Underlying these current protests are fundamental demands for cheaper fuel, effective and just national policing, a stable economy and an end to hunger. As more Haitians flood the streets, it is becoming clear the public has lost faith in the leader they thought could prop the country back onto its feet.
As the majority of Haitians cry out for change, public protest must not be met with violence by either state security forces or other violent groups. It is of paramount importance that immediate action by the State must be taken to prevent the violent demonstrations of 2019 and human rights abuses by security forces. It is likely that protests will continue in the next few months as the social and economic situation worsens. The OWP will continue to monitor the situation.