“Haiti Is at a Crossroads”

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - January 18, 2013

Above: a community rehabilitation project in Haiti (UN Photo/Logan Abassi)

By the Caribbean Journal staff

Three years after the earthquake, Haiti is “at a crossroads,” according Michael Posner, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour.

Posner recently concluded a trip to Haiti that included meetings with senior government officials, security administrators and other members of Haitian civil society.

The diplomat said in a statement that Haiti had taken “a number of important steps to advance human rights in the last year,” including the ratification of several human rights treaties and the submission of its first report on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to the United Nations.

Haiti has also taken steps to reform laws relating to the rights of workers, inclusion of persons with disabilities, and the rights of women, he said.

According to Posner, greater judicial independence is the “key to breaking the cycle of impunity and building a culture of accountability in Haiti.”

He pointed to the government’s establishment of the Superior Council of the Judiciary, and “appointing most of the judges to the Court of Cassation,” Haiti’s highest court.

He also said the removal of a judge in the Mercidieu Valentin Calixte case was “an important early action.”

“The extent to which these institutions are able to exercise judicial oversight, monitor the performance of prosecutors and judges, and remove those who are unqualified or unfit to serve will be the measure of their success,” he said. “Much work remains to be done in this critical area.”

Posner said that criminal justice and detention policy and practice also posed “serious challenges” that Haiti’s government must address, including extremely overcrowded prisons and prolonged and sometimes arbitrary pretrial detention.

“These problems are linked to continued weaknesses in the criminal justice system and its lack of capacity to investigate, charge, and try people in a timely manner,” he said. “Collaboration between the Martelly administration and Parliament to pass the updated criminal codes is an important part of the solution to these problems.”

Posner’s visit came two weeks after the US issued a new travel warning on Haiti, citing security concerns.

The State Department official also addressed that issue, particularly Haiti’s police force, calling for improved performance in the “prevention, investigation and prosecution of gender violence cases.”

“When officials violate the law – for example, by using excessive force or subjecting people to arbitrary arrest – the state has a duty to pursue criminal accountabilty against them,” he said. “No one is above the law, and demonstrating accountability for official misconduct is critical to restoring public trust.”

But Posner said that, while the US government stands “ready to assist” Haiti, the country’s future belongs to the Haitian people.

“Three years after the earthquake, Haiti is at a crossroads,” he said. “As the country begins to move beyond disaster relief, this is an opportune time for Haiti – both its government and citizens – to commit to a new era of democratic governance and accountability.”

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