The United Nations, which last month launched a fresh mission to promote long-term development in Haiti, has had it with nice words: when it comes to corruption and human rights, “the proof is in the pudding.”
“They have said they want to fight corruption, so they have to take responsibility,” insisted Susan Page, who is heading the UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH).
“I’m going to take them at their word, but I’m also going to help them if that is really what they want,” the American career diplomat said.
Elected president after an electoral crisis that paralyzed the country for two years, Jovenel Moise insists he is going to use his time in office to clean up Haitian politics.
– ‘Crime against development’ –
“Corruption, in all its forms, eats away and atrophies the economy, it profoundly weakens the political foundations and destabilizes society’s social tissue: corruption is a crime against development,” the president, who took office earlier this year, told the UN general assembly in New York in September.
The concern is that his words are taking their time in being translated into action. In late August, a minister was sacked over corruption allegations, but no legal action has yet been taken.
The new UN mission starts just as one of the symbols of financial waste in Haiti resurfaces: on Thursday, the Senate will debate a parliamentary report accusing a dozen former ministers, who held office between 2010 and 2016, of “fraud on a grand scale.”
“We’ll see how they react, not just in regard to the report but in general,” said Page, pointing to Haitian institutions in charge of fighting corruption and money laundering.
“Will they strengthen the capabilities of agents in these organizations? Really put investigations in place which they will then pursue to the very end? Will they bring people to justice? We will see.”
Gnawed away by corruption, the country’s justice system is notoriously slow-moving. Its prison population, 400 percent above capacity, is one of the highest in the world.
– ‘There to support, not to do’ –
Maintaining the rule of law also demands a real commitment to improving conditions in detention centers, but there, too, MINUJUSTH will not take the lead.
“It’s an age-old problem that the Haitians will have to sort out themselves,” said Page. “We are here to support, not to do it for them. They need to have the political will to do it.”
Restoring the UN’s image in Haiti during this new mission will prove almost as big a task as overhauling its justice system.
The 13 years of the preceding UN mission, known as MINUSTAH, were blighted by sex crimes perpetrated against Haitian woman and children by UN police and peacekeeping troops, as well as a cholera epidemic sparked by Nepalese peacekeepers that has already claimed 10,000 lives.
MINUJUSTH is the UN’s sixth peacekeeping mission in Haiti over the past 25 years, a country where there is very little risk of civil war, regional conflict or terrorist attacks. The label “peacekeeping” exasperates many Haitian politicians, who may support the drive against corruption but also want a debate to redefine the UN mandate.
Aware of that debate, Page prefers not to take sides: “The UN Security Council considers it necessary to keep a certain level of stability here and to tackle the great challenges which threaten long-term development… that is not a mandate for development — that is to enable a transition between a peacekeeping mission and a lasting development.”