Kidnapped women and girls are gang raped and subject to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. A federation of influential armed gangs have their demands met by the government, while illegal weapons, banned under a U.S. arms embargo, freely enter the country.

With such a volatile social, economic and political crisis, elections organized under Haitian President Jovenel Moïse will not work and will not be seen as legitimate by the people, three Haiti-born civic leaders and a former U.S. ambassador to the country told the House Foreign Affairs Committee Friday.

The virtual meeting came after Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s answered questions Wednesday during a hearing on U.S. foreign policy about Moïse’s abuse of power during the 15 months he has been ruling by decree. Blinken expressed worry about the nation’s worsening predicament.

“It’s something that we are very actively looking at,” Blinken told Rep. Andy Levin, D-MI,who asked what Haiti policy could be expected to look like under President Joe Biden. “I share your concern about some of the authoritarian and undemocractic actions that we have seen, particularly this irregular rule by decree.”

Friday’s all-female panel of witnessesfeatured an immigration advocate, an anti-corruption activist and a human rights defender, all Haitian, along with former U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Pamela White. They all agreed that Haiti’s human rights environment is deteriorating and insecurity widening. In a fresh reminder of the country’s mounting crime, three policemen were killed Friday during an operation in a gang stronghold and kidnapping lair in Port-au-Prince.

“It is difficult for me to imagine having successful elections this year in Haiti,” said White, who served in Port-au-Prince from 2012 to 2015 and was tapped by the Republican members of the committee to share her opinion of the situation. “Free and fair elections are important pieces in any democracy’s complex puzzle. But having an election will not transform Haiti— it never has and it never will.”

The panel’s Haitian witnesses also raised concerns about the continued deportation of Haitian asylum seekers by the Biden administration and called on the U.S. to distance itself from a planned referendum by Moïse this June to introduce a new constitution. They urged for a new way forward in U.S.-Haiti relations that starts with listening to Haitian civil society.

“We want to end with all of the corruption and impunity. We want to end with the old practices; so many people do not want to give us this chance to decide for ourselves,” said Emmanuela Douyon, an activist with the anti-corruption grassroots group, Nou Pap Dòmi (We Aren’t Sleeping), underscoring the frustrations of members of Haiti’s opposition and civil society who have felt dismissed in the current crisis plaguing their nation. “This is what we are defending: the right to decide for ourselves.” continue reading

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