Haiti News from Congress to Harvard Law School to the Border

Congress and Haiti this week

This week, 69 members of congress sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking for a review of U.S. policy toward Haiti. From the Miami Herald,

More than 60 U.S. House Democrats are calling for “a significant review of U.S. policy in Haiti” by the Biden administration and warning that “the U.S.’s insistence on elections at all costs in Haiti” later this year risks exacerbating the country’s cycle of political instability and violence.

“While elections will clearly be needed in the near future to restore democratic order, we remain deeply concerned that any electoral process held under the current administration will fail to be free, fair, or credible,” members of Congress said Monday in the letter addressed to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. “Parliamentary, local, and presidential elections set for Fall 2021 could increase the risk of violence throughout the country significantly.”

The U.S. lawmakers said the administration of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, who has been ruling without a parliament for over 15 months, not only “lacks the credibility and legitimacy” to administer elections that are free and fair but also a constitutional referendum scheduled for June 27.

The full text of the letter is available here.

The Biden administration’s ongoing support for elections in Haiti this year continues to be the focal point of critique. The security situation continues to deteriorate and with it, Moise’s limited credibility to oversee much of anything, much less elections. 

It should be noted, however, that the U.S. government does not support the scheduled referendum on the constitution, and even the Organization of American States has been critical of this (after waffling a bit). The question for many in Haiti regarding the referendum is thus whether to participate. A boycott makes it more likely that the reforms will pass, however, many doubt the integrity of the process to begin with – and so do not want to legitimate through their participation. It is still possible, of course, that the referendum will not occur. Even likely. It continues to be highly controversial within Haiti, even among some within Moise’s party.

There will be public panel discussion on the constitutional referendum on May 18 at 4:00 p.m (EST) including scholars and constitutional experts from Haiti. More information here.

Legislation was also introduced this week calling for a series of reports on the use of aid by the Haitian government and U.S. oversight of said aid. The full text of The Haiti Development, Accountability, and Institutional Transparency Initiative Act (H.R. 2471) is not yet available, but is almost identical to H.R. 5586, which was introduced during the last Congress.  It passed the House, though it was never taken up in the Senate.  

New Report from Harvard Law School and Haitian Observatory calls out Haiti’s government for Crimes Against Humanity (from press release announcing report)

Three deadly massacres targeting impoverished neighborhoods in Haiti were carried out with Haitian government support and amount to crimes against humanity, according to a report released today by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic and the Observatoire Haïtien des Crimes contre l’humanité (OHCCH). The report points to evidence that the gang-led attacks were resourced and supported by state actors, ranging from high-ranking officials in the Moïse administration to the Haitian National Police. 

The report, “Killing with Impunity: State-Sanctioned Massacres in Haiti,” analyzes three attacks that took place between 2018-2020, which have together killed at least 240 civilians. The massacres targeted the Port-au-Prince neighborhoods of La Saline, Bel-Air, and Cité Soleil, which have played a leading role in organizing protests demanding government accountability for corruption and other human rights violations. 

“Moïse’s government has been pushing the story that the attacks are merely gang infighting, but the evidence demonstrates high-level government involvement in the planning, execution and cover-up of the attacks,” said Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney of Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, a member organization of OHCCH. 

The report relies on investigations by Haitian and international human rights experts that show that senior Moïse administration officials planned the attacks or otherwise assisted by providing the gangs with money, weapons, or vehicles. Off-duty police officers and resources were utilized to carry out the attacks. The Haitian National Police repeatedly failed to intervene to protect civilians despite the sites of the attacks being in close proximity to multiple police stations. In each attack, gangs arrived in the targeted neighborhood, shot at residents indiscriminately, raped women, and burnt and looted houses. The massacres repeatedly involved gangs affiliated with the G9 alliance led by Jimmy Chérizier, which reportedly enjoys government connections.

“We found that Moïse’s failure to stop or respond to attacks initiated by his subordinates may make the President himself liable for crimes against humanity,” said Beatrice Lindstrom, a Clinical Instructor at the Harvard Clinic who supervised the research and drafting of the report. “This should serve as a wake-up call to the international community to stand up for human rights, fully investigate allegations of serious abuses, and do its part to hold perpetrators accountable,” she added. 

Read the full report here. Send it to everyone you know who cares about Haiti.

New Title 42 report includes the testimony of hundreds of people expelled, including Haitians

Human Rights First, Haitian Bridge Alliance and Otro Lado published a powerful report that unpacks the toll that Title 42 expulsions are having on migrants. The report includes hundreds of testimonies from people expelled at the border, including testimony from Haitian migrants assembled by the Haitian Bridge Alliance.

The report is titled “Failure to Protect: Biden Administration Continues Illegal Trump Policy to Block and Expel Asylum Seekers to Danger” and can be read here. Excerpt from findings:

The Biden administration is blocking asylum-seeking families and individuals at ports of entry and expelling those who cross the border seeking protection to danger in Mexico. They include refugees from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cuba, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Russia, Somalia, Venezuela, and Yemen. Restarting its tracking of reports of attacks on asylum seekers in Mexico, Human Rights First has identified at least 492 public and media reports of violent attacks since January 21, 2021 –including rape, kidnapping, and assault – against people stranded at the U.S.-Mexico border and/or expelled to Mexico. In a survey conducted by Al Otro Lado from mid-February through early April 2021 in Baja California, 81 percent of LGBTQ asylum seekers reported that they were subjected to attack or an attempted attack in Mexico in the past month, including sexual assault by Mexican law enforcement and human trafficking. Those delivered to severe violence in Mexico after requesting protection in the United States include: a woman reportedly kidnapped and raped in Reynosa after being expelled in February 2021; a 10-year-old Nicaraguan boy and his mother kidnapped immediately after U.S. border officers expelled them in March 2021; and a Cuban asylum seeker expelled to Tijuana where she fears the smugglers who previously kidnapped her and killed her friend.

We published our own report on Title 42 with the Haitian Bridge Alliance and UndocuBlack last month. Our report was principally focused on a review of the policy, with an expanded section featuring testimony from Haitians. The new report from Human Rights First (with Haitian Bridge Alliance and Otro Lado) goes much further as an investigation – based on hundreds of interviews done at the border during February and March, plus contributions from co-authors. Read it. Share it.

Biden must Re-designate Haiti for Temporary Protected Status

It is hard to imagine anyone in this administration lobbying to continue deportations and expulsions to Haiti under the current conditions, but somebody must be. Among the points raised in the Congressional letter referenced at the top of this column, is the need to halt removals and grant TPS to Haitians already here. Halting removals to Haiti is a consistent demand across the spectrum – from Congress, to every human rights organization I know working in Haiti, to the editorial boards of dominant media outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post. The Harvard study makes clear the severity of the security situation, and government complicity in the violence.

I cannot imagine what Biden gains by continuing these removals. Is he that scared of the Fox News world? Given everything he is pressing for, this is small-scale stuff (compared, for example to $1.8 trillion for universal pre-school and free community college). It would, however, make a huge difference to hundreds of families. Just do it!

If you agree, you can call the White House comment line (202-456-1111) and let them know. You can also forward a copy of the letter from Congress to Blinken (if they have not already signed on) along with a copy of the Harvard study to your member of Congress. Ask them to speak out for TPS, and an end to removals to Haiti. Congress does not have the power to make these policy changes – but they can certainly press the Administration for action.

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