Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Labour) has tabled the following question for short debate (QDS) in the House of Lords:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the human rights impact of (1) the earthquake in Haiti on 14 August, and (2) the assassination of the president of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, on 7 July.

This question is currently on a reserve list of balloted QSDs.

Political Situation

On 7 July 2021, President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in an attack at his private residence in the capital, Port-au-Prince. Immediately following President Moïse’s death, a caretaker cabinet led by the interim prime minister, Claude Joseph, introduced a series of security measures, including a 15-day state of emergency. This allowed the government to mobilise the Haitian national police and armed forces to conduct home searches and arrests, and limit access in and out of the country. Security checks were conducted on roads, and international airports were temporarily closed.

According to the UN, as of September 2021, 44 suspects, including 20 Haitian police officers and several foreign nationals, had been arrested for their involvement in the assassination. However, the circumstances of President Moïse’s death “remain unclear”.

Prior to President Moïse’s death, there had been dispute and unrest in Haiti over elections and the plans to hold a referendum on a new constitution. Mr Moïse had wanted to change the 1987 constitution and hold a referendum. He argued that the constitution needed modernising, but his opponents argued it was a move to strengthen his own position. Mr Moïse had been ruling by decree since January 2020, when the mandates of the members of parliament had expired. Opposition also argued that Mr Moïse’s presidential term should have ended in February 2021.

Earlier in 2021, the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), Haiti’s electoral commission, had scheduled the parliamentary and presidential elections for 26 September 2021. However, following the killing of President Moïse, the polls were initially postponed to 7 November. Only 10 out of 30 senators still had a valid mandate.

Developments since the assassination

Days before his death, President Moïse had appointed Ariel Henry prime minister. It took until 20 July 2021 for Mr Henry and his 18-member cabinet to take office, following the caretakership of Claude Joseph. Mr Joseph retained his post as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Religion.

On 11 September 2021, over 150 political parties, civil society organisations, former opposition and coalition ruling groups reached an agreement with Prime Minister Henry on the governance arrangements for the period leading up to elections. The agreement provided for:

  • A prime minster-led executive branch.
  • A reconstituted cabinet.
  • A new provisional electoral council.
  • A constituent assembly to finalise a draft constitution to be submitted to referendum for ratification.
  • A 33-member oversight body, inclusive of the 10 remaining senators, to be given authority to block government decrees with a two-thirds majority.

Preparing for elections

According to a UN report in September 2021, the earthquake in August 2021, the lack of consensus around the referendum, the CEP’s contested legitimacy, and the Government’s intention to change the council, “continued to hamper progress for the polls”.

On 28 September 2021, it was reported that Prime Minister Henry had postponed the November elections after he had dismissed all of the members of the CEP. He did not say when he would appoint new members, but that “sufficient time” would be allowed for its members to be chosen. Some political groups welcomed the news, such as André Michel of the opposition grouping Popular and Democratic Sector. Mr Michel described it on Twitter as “an important step” that would open the door to the appointment of a new “credible and legitimate” CEP.

Reporting to the UN Security Council in October 2021, Helen La Lime, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Haiti, stated that it was expected the elections would be held no later than the second half of 2022. Ms La Lime told the council that “actors from across the political spectrum” were adhering to the September political agreement. She also reported that a draft constitution had been submitted to Prime Minister Henry on 8 September 2021. Ms La Lime said this should “provide a basis for further constructive and inclusive debate on ways to reshape the Haitian political system”.

Tackling gang-violence

Gang violence in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area has continued to escalate, despite a short respite immediately following Mr Moïse’s death. The UN reports that since early June 2021, the rise in inter-gang turf wars and shifting alliances have caused the displacement of 19,000 people in the capital.

Road restrictions and blocked access to areas, as a result of the violence, has led to shortages of essential goods and fuel. In October 2021, humanitarian agencies operating in Haiti reported to the UN that they were “extremely concerned over the deepening crisis”. They said the roadblocks were preventing “delivery of fuel supplies, posing obstacles to the provision of essential services and preventing access by humanitarian workers”. The UN reported that hospitals and medical service centres were especially hard-hit. On 2 August 2021, Doctors Without Borders was forced to close and relocate a hospital in Martissant, one which had been operating for 15 years, because of the armed gangs in the area.

Following the earthquake on 14 August 2021, authorities brokered temporary arrangements with gangs to allow safe passage for humanitarian aid to reach the affected areas. The national police also implemented safety measures to secure the distribution of relief. However, the reports in October 2021 to the UN, revealed that the “upsurge” in gang violence, and the fuel shortages because of the blockades, had affected the delivery of assistance to the earthquake zone as well as to other areas of the country.

On 5 July 2021, the then caretaker prime minister Claude Joseph endorsed the three-year national strategy for community violence reduction. In August 2021, the Haitian government discussed with the UN the support the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) would continue to provide to the taskforce to ensure full implementation. The BINUH is a special political mission established in 2019, and its role is advisory. However, in October 2021, Haiti’s foreign minister called upon the UN to strengthen the capacity of the BINUH, and to adjust its role accordingly.

Response to the Haiti earthquake

On 14 August 2021, an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 struck south-western Haiti. It affected at least 800,000 people, including 340,000 children, and resulted in the death of more than 2,240 people.

As of 20 September 2021, an estimated 38,777 displaced people have been identified in 89 displacement locations, according to the Haitian General Directorate of Civil Protection (DGPC) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). The three most affected areas were: Grand’Anse, Nippes and Sud. There are around 650,000 people needing humanitarian assistance; over 754,000 people are “acutely food insecure”; and over 137,500 homes have been damaged or destroyed.

On 25 August 2021, UN agencies and humanitarian partners launched a US$187.5 million Flash Appeal, targeting 500,000 of the most vulnerable quake-affected people. The appeal had received $21.6 million, as of 7 October 2021, according to the Financial Tracking Service.

As of 2 November 2021, the UK had provided £1 million of assistance to supply over 3,800 shelter and hygiene kits; boost the Caribbean Management Agency and the UN’s Disaster Assessment Coordination mission; and provide food vouchers for up to 15,000 families by the end of November 2021.

Access to healthcare

The UN has said access to adequate healthcare is a “challenge” for the more than 12,700 injured people. The earthquake destroyed or damaged approximately 90 healthcare centres. UNICEF’s U-Report found that 60 percent of affected people had their health services close to them interrupted.

The response to tackle healthcare needs include:

  • UNAIDS in coordination with partners have assisted in the mobilisation of funds to address the needs of people living with HIV (PLHIV) and people affected by tuberculosis (TB).
  • Mobile support clinics conducted by the Health Directorate of the Sud Department, together with the Pan American Health Organisation and the World Health Organisation.
  • Evaluations of the health facilities in the affected areas.

However, the UN has identified where aid is still needed:

  • Repairing and rebuilding healthcare facilities.
  • Supplying hygiene kits and temporary shelters in semi-permanent structures to address the immediate needs of PLHIV and people affected by TB, key populations, and healthcare providers.

Access to Food and Shelter

Over 201,000 pregnant and lactating women and children under five, are at risk and needed urgent nutrition aid. This was according to estimates published by the UN on 7 October 2021. UNICEF is working with Haiti’s Ministry of Public Health and Populations to implement a distribution plan to replenish the nutrition supply within affected areas. However, the UN reports that there is limited funding to implement the response plan. In addition, damaged or destroyed health structures have affected the delivery of nutrition aid.

The UN found that over 245,000 people had received cash and food assistance by the start of October 2021. However, based on the estimated number of people needing assistance, there was a gap of 54 percent in the Grand Sud region, of which 63 percent was in the Grand’Anse region, 53 percent in Nippes and 46 percent in Sud.

Over 59,000 people have benefited from emergency shelter and non-food items (NFI) kits. However, the UN stated that as the “response enters a new phase”, a reassessment of the shelter materials used was needed for a “more resilient response”. It also said that with the reopening of schools in October 2021, it was necessary to speed up the relocation of displaced people currently living in schools.

Access to education

More than 900 schools—around 70 percent of all schools in south-western Haiti—were damaged or destroyed by the earthquake. On 4 October, the 2021–22 school year officially started in the affected areas. However, the UN stated that the majority of schools had been unable to reopen because of the “slow start of temporary learning space construction”. It found that several schools were still being used as temporary shelters. Debris clearing operations at damaged schools had come to a halt at some sites because of fuel shortages. UNICEF estimated that more than 230,000 children were at risk of dropping out of school in the Grand Sud region if schools remained closed.

Migration Crisis

The earthquake has “triggered a spike” in international migration from Haiti, “compounding the existing migration crisis” of Haitians in the Americas. However, at the same time a number of the neighbouring countries have initiated repatriation programmes of Haitian migrants.

On 22 May 2021, the United States granted temporary protected status to Haitian nationals for an additional 18 months because of the political, security and economic situation in Haiti. The border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic was also closed from 7 to 15 July 2021, following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. However, despite these developments, there was an increase of individuals deported to Haiti between 1 May and 31 August 2021, according to the IOM. On 18 September 2021, the United States launched an operation to repatriate around 14,000 Haitian migrants gathered in Del Rio in Texas. An average of 400 people are expected to be returned to Haiti every day over the following months. The governments of Mexico, Bahamas and Cuba have indicated that they are soon to restart deportation processes.

In response, four UN agencies have released a joint statement. The UN Refugee Agency, the International Organisation for Migration, the United Nations Children’s Fund, and the UN Human Rights Office called on states to “refrain from expelling Haitians without proper assessment” of their specific protection needs, especially since the “situation is bound to worsen” because of the earthquake.

Cover image by jorono from Pixabay.