The Moise government in Haiti has once again postponed a controversial constitutional referendum. The chair of the electoral counsel announced on Monday, June 7 that the referendum, re-scheduled for June 27, would be indefinitely postponed due to the current COVID-19 outbreak in Haiti..
There is widespread opposition to the referendum in Haiti. First, the referendum seems to clearly violate the current constitution, which does not allow amendment via referendum. Secondly, people are being asked to simply vote yes or no on what is an entirely new form of government. For example, the proposed constitution would concentrate power in the presidency, by eliminating the senate, and also end Haiti’s dual executive form of government, where the president shares power with a prime minister. Finally, there is little trust in Moise, who has ruled by decree since January of 2019 and who many, including members of Haiti’s Supreme Court, argue should have stepped down on February 7, 2021 when his tenure ended in favor of an interim authority to oversee elections.
As the security situation in Haiti continues to decline, the human rights law clinics of Harvard, Yale and New York University School of Law issued a statement calling on the Biden administration to “unequivocally” denounce the referendum, saying it should not simply be postponed, but “should never be held.” The Law Clinics’ joint announcement on the statement’s release reads:
The Global Justice Clinic, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, and the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School issued a statement on June 8, 2021, calling on the U.S. government to heed civil society’s demand and cancel the planned constitutional referendum in Haiti. The referendum, which will ask Haitian people to vote “yes” or “no” on a new Constitution, is illegal. It is the most recent, bold effort by President Jovenel Moïse to consolidate power and comes on the heels of dozens of presidential decrees that undermine checks on the executive. Haitian civil society has widely denounced the referendum, noting its illegality and emphasizing the impossibility of holding a vote under the current administration. International actors are increasingly recognizing the illegitimacy of the referendum, and the danger to democracy that it poses. However, continued technical support and provision of aid to the government of Haiti to hold elections means that international actors, including the United States government, are tacitly supporting the unconstitutional vote. With long experience working in solidarity with Haitian civil society, and building off our February statement, the clinics urge the U.S. government to urgently and publicly call to cancel the referendum.