UN human rights office alarmed by 'attacks' on judicial independence in HaitiSaturday, February 20, 2021
GENEVA (CMC) — The United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) says it is “very concerned” over recent attacks against judicial independence in Haiti, as the French-speaking Caribbean country is gripped by political and institutional instability.
According to OCHCHR spokesperson Liz Throssell, a judge of the Haitian Cour de Cassation (Supreme Court) was arrested on February 7 “in circumstances that may amount to unlawful or arbitrary arrest and detention”.
Throssell said 22 other individuals were also arrested, 17 of whom still remain in pre-trial detention.
While the judge was subsequently released, the person along with two others were “forced to retire and later replaced, apparently through an irregular procedure”, she said.
“These developments cause concerns about judicial independence and have further eroded the separation of powers in Haiti,” said Throssell at a regular media briefing at the UN Office at Geneva (UNOG).
Throssell stressed that respecting the rule of law and the system of checks and balances at all times is paramount.
“It is even more crucial now given the growing political tensions and the increasing expression of dissent in demonstrations”, she said.
OHCHR called on the Haitian authorities to ensure respect for the established legal and institutional framework, and to comply with their obligations under the country's Constitution and international human rights treaties, she added.
“We urge the Government and opposition to engage in a meaningful and inclusive dialogue to avoid further escalation of tensions, and to resolve the current political and institutional deadlock in a manner that is both lasting and sustainable”, Throssell said.
She said OHCHR “stands ready to continue supporting Haitian authorities in their fulfilment of international human rights obligations” and expresses its continuing willingness to strengthen its human rights engagement with all sectors in the society.
Earlier this month, the Organization of American States (OAS) said its General Secretariat was “closely monitoring the current situation in Haiti,” and that it was “concerned with the respect for human rights and the independence of powers”.
“The OAS General Secretariat has an essential interest in the protection of democratic institutions and the political rights of its citizens,” said the OAS in a statement. “It is fundamental that state institutions work together to resolve the problems afflicting Haiti.
“We call for democratic structural changes in Haiti through the discussion of a new Constitution and an effective participation in general elections this year,” it added.
The OAS said that its General Secretariat “renews its support for the electoral process as the only option consistent with the Democratic Charter to replace the current constitutional President with another President on February 7, 2022”.
Opposition parties in Haiti had declared 72-year-old judge Joseph Mecene Jean-Louis the country's interim leader, a day after an alleged coup plot was foiled, as they insisted that President Jovenel Moise must step down.
In a video message, Jean-Louis, the longest-serving judge in the Supreme Court, said he “accepted the choice of the opposition and civil society, to serve (his) country as interim president for the transition”.
Moise, who has ruled by decree since mid-January, has stated he would hand over power to the winner of the elections but would not step down until his term expires in 2022.
But the opposition has rejected his interpretation of the constitution and has insisted his term had come to an end.
“We are waiting for Jovenel Moise to leave the National Palace, so that we can get on with installing Mr. Mecene Jean-Louis,” opposition figure Andre Michel told international news agency AFP.
Former senator Youri Latortue said that the transition period was expected to last around 24 months.
“There's a two-year roadmap laid out, with the establishing of a national conference, the setting out of a new constitution and the holding of elections,” he said.
Haiti Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe said Supreme Court judge Hiviquel Dabrezil and inspector general for the national police force, Marie Louise Gauthier, were among 23 people who were detained for their role in an alleged plot to oust President Moise.
Caribbean American Congresswoman Yvette D Clarke has co-led a letter with US House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Congressman Gregory Meeks to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken urging the Biden administration to “unambiguously reject the undemocratic actions of President (Jovenel) Moïse to retain power in Haiti”.
Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, who represents the 9th Congressional District in Brooklyn, New York, said the letter was supported by a number of their congressional colleagues, including Albio Sires (NJ-08), chairman, Western Hemisphere Subcommittee; Andy Levin (MI-09); Alcee L. Hastings (FL-20); Ilhan Omar (MN-05); and Darren Soto (FL-09).
In their letter, Clarke and Meeks, who represents the 5th Congressional District in Queens, New York, congratulated Blinken's confirmation as the new US Secretary of State, stating that they “look forward to reclaiming America's moral leadership on the world stage”.
“In that spirit, we write to express great concern about ongoing developments in Haiti,” they said. “As Members of Congress, who believe deeply in democracy and the rule of law. We feel it is essential that the United States unambiguously reject any attempt by President Moïse to retain power in contravention of those principles.
“The time for a Haitian-led democratic transition is now,” Clarke and Meeks stressed. “We cannot parse words: President Moïse has lost credibility. He has been ruling by decree since January 2020, and although he pays homage to forthcoming elections, he insists they can only occur after the completion of dubious constitutional reforms.
“His attempt to unilaterally name the members of the body that would certify the results of a future election also demands scrutiny,” the legislators added. “His extra-constitutional decrees — including the establishment of a domestic intelligence force, the unilateral appointment of key officials, and the harsh criminalisation of acts of protest – must be called out for exactly what they are: attempts to hold onto the presidency at the expense of the democratic process.”
Clarke and Meeks said the human rights situation in Haiti is “equally perilous,” making it clear that “civil rights are under siege,” and adding that “those who advocate for them are often facing literal attacks”.
“Seemingly, state-sanctioned violence targets those who challenge the state,” they said. “Victims of such violence have no path towards accountability and justice.”
Meanwhile, the US lawmakers said Haiti remains gripped in “a cascade of economic, public health and political crises”.
Clarke and Meeks said there have also been “clear calls for a legitimate transitional government to be promptly established, so that democratic elections can resume”.
The new Joe Biden administration in the United States has called on the Haitian administration to hold talks to resolve the crisis, saying that a newly-elected president should succeed President Moise when his term ends on February 2, 2022.
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