Defend Haiti’s democracy and proud legacy of overthrowing slavery

by Georgette Mulheir | @G_Mulheir | Defend Haiti’s Democracy
Tuesday, 12 January 2021 09:43 GMT

A Haitian girl walks through a camp for people displaced by the January 2010 earthquake in Port-au-Prince January 3, 2013. Almost 3 years after the devastating earthquake, some 300,000 people still live in makeshift structures. Picture taken January 3, 2013. REUTERS/Swoan Parker

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On the eleventh anniversary of Haiti’s devastating earthquake, another disaster looms. But this one is preventable

Georgette Mulheir is a global expert in children’s rights and was the chief executive of Lumos. She coordinates the Defend Haiti’s Democracy coalition of international human rights defenders

Democracy is precious, but fragile.

Last Wednesday, at the same time the United Nations Security Council met to discuss peace and security in fragile contexts, protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol building. A stark reminder that even the most established of democracies can be threatened by the erosion of checks and balances.

On the eleventh anniversary of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that killed 200,000 people in Haiti, there is little global awareness that the country is facing a deep political crisis with profound implications for human rights.

Haiti’s democracy was born from a repudiation of slavery. 

The people rose up against their enslavement by colonial powers, to create the world’s first Independent Black Republic. But centuries of illegal occupation by foreign powers and crippling debt – reparations paid to France for the ‘losses’ they suffered when slavery ended – were followed by decades of dictatorship and failed political leadership.

A nascent democracy was devastated by the earthquake on the 12th of January, 2010. The international community made grand promises to help Haiti recover. 

But, as I worked in Haiti over the past six years, it was clear that little of the promised global assistance had reached ordinary Haitians.

I worked with courageous human rights defenders and dedicated, overworked and underpaid civil servants, who tried to address the complex of endemic poverty and trafficking.  Despite death threats, they strove to protect victims and bring perpetrators to justice.

Together, they were building the systems necessary to protect and support vulnerable families and children.

Local activists aspired that their country – the first nation to rise up against slavery – would take a lead role in the fight against modern slavery.

All that hard work is now on hold, thanks to the accelerating erosion of Haiti’s already challenged rule of law during the coronavirus pandemic.

Several human rights organisations report coordination of senior government and security officials with gang leaders, who are now menacing the country. Extreme violence, kidnappings and even massacres have become a way of life for ordinary Haitians. 

And now, the President has established his own secret police, undermining democracy in a manner not seen in the region in decades.

Systematic human rights violations have silenced many Haitians. But some courageous human rights defenders still speak out. They are asking for three things: an end to the violence, a peaceful transition of power and a restoration of democracy and the rule of law. And they need our support.

The President’s term in office ends on the 7th of February 2021. As an international community, we have a small window of opportunity to prevent this crisis from escalating further.

On this anniversary of the earthquake, the International Community should remember the promises we made to help Haiti recover from the devastation.

We must act now to defend the country’s fragile democracy. If we fail, we condemn Haiti to yet another decade of human rights abuses, despair and under-development.