Editor’s Note: Concerned by Diaspora reactions to recent post-election unrest in Haiti, Johnny Celestin calls for order not chaos in his second post for DH.
I have been alarmed at the nonchalant ways in which observers from the Diaspora, especially friends whom I deeply respect have been bandying about the need for a revolution in Haiti. They argue that because of claims of election irregularities, Haitians must take up arms against the current government – one more time.
They write that it would be a tribute to our revolutionary ancestors who 203 years ago, on 29 November 1803 issued a preliminary declaration of independence through military force. Yes, Haiti is in the midst of yet another crisis. But rule of law, not more chaos and violence, is the answer that the Diaspora should seek.
For starters there is a tendency to over-simplify the Haitian revolution and downplay its impact on ordinary Haitians.
What resulted was the slaughter of not just French colonizers but also the deaths of thousands of blacks and mulattos and the almost complete destruction of Haiti at the time. Those calling for revolution today seem to have also forgotten its brutality including torture, rape and the mass murder of non-combatants. Indeed, a cursory look at the outcome of recent internal conflicts in Haiti should leave one wary of another politically based civil war.
In the post-earthquake, post-cholera environment, Haitians are taking to the streets out of frustration. Their government is absent, their leaders, ineffective—and this election compounded those frustrations. But at the core of the many challenges in Haiti’s political, social and economic system is the near absence of the rule of law.
Former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan once eloquently summarized the rule of law as:
“… a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires, as well, measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness and procedural and legal transparency.”
Under even the most generous application of this definition, Haiti has never known the rule of law. For most citizens, injustice has ruled over justice, chaos over order, and inequality over fairness. In Haiti, it is the law of the strong over the weak with no mitigating space for redress or any sense of social compact or contract.
To my friends and colleagues, whether one cares about education, health, or economic development, solutions must be rooted in the rule of law.
In education, where 800,000 children do not attend school and over 60% are illiterate, an important task for any organization operating in the sector should be unabashed support for the application of the Haitian constitution. It makes primary education mandatory and free. Education is also the vehicle through which people can learn about their civic obligations and their roles as citizens. The constitution in this case not only guarantees the right to education but also requires the state to “make schooling available to all, free of charge, and ensure that public and private sector teachers are properly trained.”
On the issue of health, the Haitian constitution declares that “The State has the obligation to ensure for all citizens in all territorial divisions appropriate means to ensure protection, maintenance and restoration of their health by establishing hospitals, health centers and dispensaries.” This should be the mandate within which efforts toward health provisioning should be coordinated.
On the economic front, Haiti can fulfill its full potential only if investors have confidence in the judicial system’s ability to fairly adjudicate property rights. A streamline of the administrative bureaucracy will also be an important factor in attracting the necessary foreign investment that Haiti needs for sustained economic growth.
In the midst of calls for a new revolution and the cancelation of the 28 November elections, I want to propose that those of us in the Diaspora with any level of influence to reconsider our positions. Whether the elections were a complete fraud or had some irregularities may never be known given the changing rhetoric of the major candidates and their parties. What is clear, however, is the need to find a political solution that will provide some stability for the reconstruction process to start.
It is my sincere hope that my friends and colleagues consider other methods to influence and bring about positive change in Haiti. I have suggested the rule of law as the fundamental issue. It is at the core of our dream of a “democratic” society and is central to resolving the many problems that Haiti faces today. This election too shall pass but how we handle this and other similar challenges will define whether we fulfill the dream we all share for Haiti.
Johnny Celestin is founding president of the Haitian Fund for Innovation and Reconstruction Fund at the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.