Originally: Let’s Get it Right this Time
Let?s Get it Right this Time!
Proposal for a Peaceful Democratic Transition
It has become increasingly evident over the past year that throughout Haiti the population sees President Jean-Bertrand Aristide as a despot leading their country down the path of total economic collapse, poverty, corruption and repression. Public opinion against the government and President Aristide in particular was galvanized by the gross and unwarranted Friday December 5, 2003, violations of the rights of Haitians to assemble peacefully and express their opinions without fear of government-sponsored intimidation, repression and persecution. Since then, the Haitian government has relied on special brigade units, hired mobs, and illegal paramilitary forces of Aristide loyalists to violently repress the now-daily protest marches and rallies which have widespread support from the population.
As a result of the rigged count in the legislative and municipal elections of May 2000, Haiti has been ruled under exceptional conditions for the past three and a half years. Parliament has existed in name only. Neither local nor municipal offices are held by duly-elected officials. Instead, they are being run by government-appointed cronies, in violation of constitutional norms. In reality, there is no functioning government. Meanwhile, Aristide loyalists have floated trial balloons about amending the constitution?s term limit provisions to extend his presidential term for another five years. It is an open secret that President Aristide is determined to hold on to power at any cost.
Haiti is in violation of the Inter-American Democratic Charter?s clauses relating to participatory democracy, and the observance of human rights. The OAS attempts to facilitate a restoration of the democratic process in accordance with Resolutions 806, 822 and 1959 have had to contend with the reality of a return to presidential absolutism. Little progress has been observed since the establishment of the OAS mission to support the international community?s commitment to Haiti.
Clearly, efforts to work out a transition to legitimate elected rule within the framework of these resolutions have run their course. Saving Haiti from complete institutional collapse, chaos and bloodshed requires a different course of action, starting with the withdrawal of support for President Aristide and the immediate establishment of a transitional government capable of holding free elections.
II. Lessons from Past Transitional Initiatives
In February 1986, following a brief period of street demonstrations, Jean-Claude Duvalier fled into exile. An interim government was established to step into the political vacuum left by the departure of the self-proclaimed president-for-life. A five-member ?Conseil National de Gouvernement? (CNG) composed of military and civilian leaders ruled by decree. Under domestic and international pressure it reluctantly restored fundamental civil liberties, but resisted full exercise of those rights. It agreed to a process that included the adoption by referendum of a new constitution and the holding of elections under the auspices of an independent electoral commission by the end of 1987. Military rulers actively obstructed the constitutionally-mandated electoral process, however, and violently aborted the November 1987 elections in an attempt to retain power and privileges.
Four years later, military rule had run its course. In March 1990, General Prosper Avril was forced out of power by domestic and international pressure. Leaders of political parties and non-governmental organizations agreed to the elevation of a member of Haiti?s Cour de Cassation (Supreme Court), to the presidency and to the creation of a State Council, a consultative body composed of a representative cross-section of civilian society. The interim government?s mandate was to hold free and fair elections by the end of a nine-month period. With a Provisional Electoral Council assisted by UN technical and military experts, impartial elections took place and led to the first democratic polls in Haitian history.
In each of the above instances, key institutional stakeholders attempted to adopt a transition formula relevant to the political reality. The main elements that ensured free and fair elections in 1990 included 1) the proactive posture of the international community in the process, 2) the commitment from the military command and highest levels of government, 3) United Nations support widely seen as impartial, and 4) the unprecedented enthusiasm of the Haitian population in support of the process.
In 2003, as in 1986 and 1990, constitutionally-mandated democratic institutions ? elected parliament, independent electoral commission, independent judiciary, impartial police force ? exist in name only. Aristide?s government has turned them into appendages of personal power. With the democratic process in complete disarray, there is no rule of law and government-sponsored violence rules the streets of Haiti.
III. Policy Options
Restoring the rule of law and the democratic process on the eve of Haiti?s third century of independence is an urgent priority and requires the following:
1. The United States should shift its support to a Transitional Leadership Council selected from representative sectors of civil society (socio-professional, academic, women, religious, human rights, business, etc.) whose most important mission will be to organize and implement national elections within one year. The Council will rule by decree and may opt to select a prime minister if the consensus between political parties and civil society point in that direction.
2. Additionally, the Transitional Leadership Council must:
a. Restore the rule of law, respect for fundamental human rights, protection of private property and governmental accountability. To that effect, it would take steps to:
i. Appoint cabinet members and officials at the municipal and local levels
ii. Enlist multilateral and bilateral support to design and implement a multi-phase plan to depoliticize the police, disarm and dismantle armed gangs, restore public safety, remove corrupt judges and initiate judicial reform.
iii. Tackle corruption at all levels of government
iv. Build public confidence in government stewardship and create a climate favorable to non-violent political action and peaceful conflict resolution.
v. Subject its deliberations to public scrutiny, facilitate citizen access to government officials and public records, and encourage citizen participation in governmental affairs.
b. Form an international election commission:
i. Mandated to hold national elections within a year of its establishment, and
ii. Composed of a majority of Haitians consistent with the mechanism contemplated under Resolution 822 and of a number of international members of stellar reputations and experienced in electoral processes.
c. Secure the support and participation of the business sector and non-governmental organizations and enlist the support of the international community and the Haitian Diaspora with respect to political, financial and technical cooperation.
d. Ensure a smooth transition to elected, representative government.
e. Initiate labor-intensive public works programs, setting the stage for large-scale poverty alleviation initiatives by an elected government.
3. Bilateral and multinational commitments to democracy, economic development and human rights must be strengthened. In addition to the implementation of steps adopted by international resolution, during the interim period, Haiti?s allies should:
a. Support the recruitment of experienced police officers of Haitian background currently affiliated with North American police units and having the requisite training and experience. These police officers would be integrated into the Haitian police and deployed in numbers sufficient to assure command and control supervision and guidance to police units. Their deployment should be held to a one-year minimum.
b. Support the deployment of a larger multinational police force in accordance with international resolutions.
c. Provide the financial and technical assistance to support rapid and efficient implementation of confidence-building measures and a credible electoral process.
4. Non-governmental actors (NGOs, trade unions, peasant organizations, grassroots groups,
socio-professional associations, etc.), must pledge to:
a. Uphold the rule of law, respect for human rights and participatory democracy
b. Cooperate with the Transitional Leadership Council and the international election commission in ensuring a political climate free of violence and abuses.
c. Promote institution-building and peaceful civic participation in local, regional and national affairs.