Though civic and business groups in Haiti are divided over the idea of military intervention amid humanitarian and political crises, experts warned Canadian lawmakers on Friday that the country is in dire need.
When a senior Canadian envoy is dispatched to Haiti to discuss possible solutions, human rights researcher Gedeon Jean painted MPs a stark picture, saying in French: “Haiti is on the brink of collapse.”
Jean was among the witnesses who told the House of Commons Subcommittee on International Human Rights that amid a debate over foreign aid, there needed to be a widely accepted plan for an interim government in Haiti.
Haiti has not held an election since the COVID-19 pandemic. Prime Minister Ariel Henry stepped in as President following the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021.
Instability in the country has allowed violent gangs to take control of critical infrastructure, leading to power and water cuts, massacres and a cholera outbreak.
In response, Ottawa has sanctioned a dozen senior Haitian politicians and business leaders, accusing them of funding the gangs. And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dispatched Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae, to the country to seek a path to consensus.
“By putting this pressure on the political and business elite, we can eventually allow for political dialogue, and that’s why Bob Rae is in Haiti right now as we speak,” Secretary of State Melanie Joly told reporters in French on Thursday.
“Our goal is to find solutions by and for Haitians.”
Henry’s unpopular government has asked for foreign military intervention to create a humanitarian corridor, a move backed by the United Nations Secretary-General. US officials earlier this year name-checked Canada as a possible leader for such a mission.
However, some Haitians have dismissed the idea, arguing that it would only lead to more chaos.
Monique Clesca, an activist with an opposition group that wants to form a two-year provisional government, argued that the president’s call for foreign intervention should not be taken seriously.
“It is a crime of high treason and this motion demonstrates the failure of Henri’s government and international diplomacy, which has deployed and continued to support it despite its illegality and disastrous governance,” she said in French.
She argued that consensus was gradually forming among politicians, religious groups and civil society for a security solution to be implemented by the Haitian National Police. But the country also needs humanitarian aid and solutions to keep youth from joining gangs.
“The problem goes beyond creating a semblance of security, and it’s not a purge that’s going to solve gang problems or humanitarian needs,” Clesca said.
Other witnesses told MPs that gangs are recruiting orphaned children, leading Liberal MP Anita Vandenbeld to question whether military intervention “could bring Canadian soldiers face-to-face with armed gangs, possibly in a shootout with essentially child soldiers.”
But the International Crisis Group says its conflict prevention experts believe military intervention is the only way to establish humanitarian corridors to fight cholera and stop sexual violence.
Next would be an interim government to restore basic services and hold fair elections, perhaps with an outside country to mediate if Haitians so wish.
“The situation there is becoming increasingly dramatic and inaction is not necessarily the best course of action,” said the group’s regional director, Renata Segura.
“It’s critical that Haitians come together in some sort of national dialogue to determine if they wanted these troops to arrive, and if so, what exactly their mandate would be.”
Segura said locals are afraid to voice their support for an intervention as they don’t want it to be confused with support for the current government.
Jean, head of the Center d’analyse et de recherche en droits de l’homme, argued that the international community must intervene in accordance with the United Nations’ “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine.
He argued his country was moving toward a “proto-state,” akin to the takeover of parts of Syria and Iraq by the so-called Islamic State group. He said in French that Haiti’s judicial system was mired in chaos and one of its main prisons “resembles Nazi concentration camps and those of other similar regimes.”
Another representative of the International Crisis Group, Diego Da Rin, said that in a series of clashes in Port-au-Prince over the past year, rival gangs filmed the sexual assaults on women in newly won areas in a bid to gain control and shut up. down stir up fears.
A national director of Partners In Health Canada, a charity that operates hospitals and clinics in Haiti, told the committee that Canada can help in the short term regardless of whether military intervention occurs.
“Canada can help now,” said Mark Brender.
Haiti needs fuel and storage capacity, he said, and Canada can build supply camps for essential and medical supplies outside of areas cut off by gang wars.
Canada could also invest in solar panels in the medium term so that blockades around its main fuel terminal would not bring Haiti to its knees. These have left hospitals that work with generators, and staff at the group’s hospitals have to hike six hours through the mountains to the Dominican Republic to get fuel, he said.
This week, some of Haiti’s key business groups signed an open letter pledging to root out corruption and help the country rebuild if political actors don the mantle of “patriotic realism” and allow foreign aid.
The French-language letter calls on political leaders to “sign a political agreement establishing a national unity government that strives to involve as many stakeholders as possible, with a clear roadmap aimed at holding honest, transparent and fair elections within a reasonable timeframe.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on December 9, 2022.