Problems rampant as Haiti cannot elect a new president

Politicians must now focus all their efforts on finding real solutions to the economic and human rights issues.

    Problems rampant as Haiti cannot elect a new president
    A protester holding a branch reacts in front of a police cordon during a protest against the electoral process in Port-au-Prince [Reuters]

    Less than a week from now, on February 7, a new president should take office in Haiti. But there is a problem: Haiti does not have a new president.

    Relations between the incumbent President Michel Martelly's party, Tet Kale, and the opposition were tense during most of the Martelly's tenure. They reached unprecedented levels after the first round of presidential elections on October 25. As a consequence, the runoff, initially set for December 27, was postponed twice and now there isn't even a new date on the books.

    Haiti delays democracy

    The endless scenes of street protests, with its heavy toll of people injured and property damaged, as well as reports of excessive use of force by the police against demonstrators, are a reflection of just how disturbing the situation is as Haitians ride out this leadership limbo. Some influential people have gone as far as threatening to bring the country to a civil war.

    Post-earthquake devastation

    But, beyond Haiti's shores, this fresh political crisis is hardly making front page news. The world is either so used to seeing Haiti descend into political chaos they can hardly call it news, or has tragically lost any hope for the country's future.

    When Haiti was shaken to its core by a devastating earthquake in 2010, leaving more than 200,000 people dead and displacing another million, the country's deeply entrenched structural and institutional problems were left in plain sight for all to see.

    What Haiti needs is for political actors to start dealing with the human rights challenges that the country faces. Solutions are not simple, but they are possible. Some require financial resources, some only political will.


    Six years on, those problems haven't gone away. The Haitian state remains unable to provide homes for the 60,000 people stuck in displacement camps in appalling conditions.

    Due to poor infrastructure and a lack of access to quality medical care, thousands continue to be affected by a cholera epidemic that began in 2010. And hundreds of Haitian nationals and their Dominican-born descendants - who have been deported from neighboring Dominican Republic or returned after threats - are now living in makeshift camps at the border without essential services such as clean water or sanitation.

    Much of this is down to Haiti's political class - which chooses to focus its energy on internal power struggles rather than meeting the needs of the Haitian people. That, alongside a dysfunctional judicial system, means that those responsible for the country's many problems, including scores of human rights abuses, are allowed to walk free.

    None of this is new. But the current political crisis risks being the straw that breaks the camel's back - one that could set the country back many decades.

    OPINION: Some hope for Haiti

    By choosing to hold a country hostage in this electoral crisis, Haiti's political class is playing risky games with the lives and human rights of millions of Haitians.

    It is imperative to avoid letting the country fall into an even deeper crisis, and both Haitian political actors and the international community must act in accordance. The respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights in Haiti should be the main compass in any move they make.

    Urgent political will needed

    As a natural disaster, Haiti's earthquake was unavoidable. But this current crisis could have been averted and must now be solved by placing at the centre the human rights of all people under its jurisdiction.

    What Haiti needs is for political actors to start dealing with the human rights challenges that the country faces. Solutions are not simple, but they are possible. Some require financial resources, some only political will.

    OPINION: Haitians in the Dominican Republic in legal limbo

    Among the many concrete steps Haiti must take to move the country forward is the urgent need to invest more resources in facilitating access to adequate housing to those left homeless by the earthquake - including transforming camps of internally displaced people into proper neighborhoods with clean water and electricity.

    Structural reforms, such as building water and sanitation infrastructure and improving access to quality medical treatment, should reach those most affected by the cholera crisis, including those being sent back from the Dominican Republic.

    Finance for these initiatives should come both from within Haiti's existing funds through the reallocation of its budgets, but also from the international community, which has already committed - but failed to deliver - resources to fund a 2012 plan by Haiti and the United Nations to eliminate cholera, for example.

    The solutions to some of the other deep problems Haiti faces are solely in the hands of politicians. They have the power to ensure, for example, that the country's failing judiciary is put back into shape.

    A full overhaul of the judicial system should include: the introduction of a new, fair and efficient process to select and evaluate judges; the provision of competent defence lawyers to those unable to pay for them; and reduced prison time before being being tried. These would be good first steps to ensure justice is a reality for all.

    Politicians can no longer rely on the resilience of the Haitian people. They must now focus on finding real solutions to the infinite numbers of human rights problems affecting the country.

    Anything less will just set the country back decades.

    Chiara Liguori is a researcher on Haiti and other Caribbean countries for Amnesty International.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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