Haitian civil society groups accuse UN of backing unpopular president

A man carries a child past burning barricades as opponents of Haitian President Jovenel Moise demonstrate on January 15, 2021 in Port-au-Prince to demand his departure from power on February 7, the day they believe to be the last of his term
A man carries a child past burning barricades as opponents of Haitian President Jovenel Moise demonstrate on January 15, 2021 in Port-au-Prince to demand his departure from power on February 7, the day they believe to be the last of his term Valerie Baeriswyl AFP
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Port-au-Prince (AFP)

Civil society groups accused the UN mission in Haiti on Friday of backing unpopular President Jovenel Moise by supporting his bid to hold elections later this year even though, they say, his term ends Sunday.

Voting to elect deputies, senators, mayors and local officials should have been held in 2018 but the polls have been delayed.

Since then, the highly unpopular Moise has been without any checks on his power, and in the vacuum has governed by decree since January 2020.

In a letter to the UN mission in Haiti, a dozen or so human rights and women's advocacy groups faulted it for providing technical and logistical support for the president's plans to hold a constitutional reform referendum in April, then presidential and legislative elections later in the year.

"The United Nations must under no circumstances support President Jovenel Moise in his anti-democratic plans," the letter states.

These groups say that according to their reading of the poor Caribbean country's constitution, the president's term ends Sunday. Moise and his supporters say he has another year in power.

The electoral council setting dates for all this voting was appointed unilaterally by the president. Its members have not been sworn in by a court as the law here dictates.

Crime -- and whether it will prevent proper voting -- is another big problem on people's minds.

In recent months Haiti has seen a resurgence of kidnappings for ransom that indiscriminately target both the wealthy and the majority living below the poverty line.

The abductions, and the stranglehold of armed gangs on a number of areas throughout the capital Port-au-Prince and the provinces, are all threats to secure elections.

The UN's political mission in the country, called the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti, or BINUH from the French acronym, has been operating since October 2019.

The UN says its mission is to advise the government on promoting and strengthening political stability, good governance and the rule of law.

The letter released Friday was scathing in its criticism of the UN mission.

"Human rights violations are intensifying. The country has become overrun by gangsters under the watch of the United Nations, whose mission is to promote human rights and the rule of law and consolidate institutions," the letter says.