Haiti told to hurry up with long-overdue elections

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Mariano Fernandez’s said a Christmas Eve agreement reached by President Michel Martelly and members of parliament to form a semi-permanent electoral council to stage elections for one-third of the 30-seat senate and local mayors “represents an important first step.” The next step is to finalize the appointment and installation of the council’s nine members so that it can do its job, said Fernandez, the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative in Haiti.

Fernandez’s call comes at the end of a week where Haiti’s fragile democracy has been at the forefront of discussions in the international community.

On Thursday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced the appointment of Carl Alexandre, who has extensive experience in developing rule of law initiatives with the U.S. Department of Justice, as his deputy representative in Haiti.

Also earlier in the week, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, Michael Posner, visited Haiti for three days.

Following the visit, Posner called on Haitians to work together to help strengthen democracy and to start to think about how to take on more fundamental issues that affect everything from workers and women’s rights to rule of law.

“This is really a moment where Haitians themselves have to own their future, and find ways to engage with each other,” Posner said in a telephone interview.

“The burden is heavily on the government because they are in control but it’s also the obligation of the people on the outside who are critical to come in the spirit of saying, ‘We’ve got some shared problems, we’ve got to figure out how to solve them,’’’ he added.

Posner’s visit included meeting with government and civil society leaders.

He said he found many Haitians who are committed to improving conditions, but he also found frustrations.

“There is a lack of faith in the system, the sense that the rule of law is not respected, that institutions like the judiciary and the police and the prisons and the prosecutors are not doing the job adequately, and that the government isn’t living up to expectations” he said. “These are long standing problems. There is a sense that government needs to be more accountable, more open, there needs to be strong institutions. The country needs to operate in a more regular way. Those are huge challenges.”

Posner commended the government for taking several important steps in the past year to reform laws protecting people with disabilities and workers’ rights. He also applauded the establishment of an independent council of judges, known as the CSPJ.

“It’s the beginning of accountability, by the judiciary, for the judiciary, in creating an independent judiciary, which hasn’t existed for a very long time,” Posner said about the council, which has been at the center of controversy.

Posner’s optimism was a far cry from the reaction of the U.N.’s independent expert on human rights, Michel Forst when he visited in November. Forst heavily criticized Haitian authorities, questioning their commitment to strengthening Haiti’s broken justice system, saying in practice, many efforts to do so were being blocked.

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