When a major earthquake clobbered Haiti in January 2010, a shift in how international officials talked about solving the country's ills was already under way. Starting with then-U.N. special envoy, Bill Clinton, the word "aid" had fallen from use, in favor of the new buzzword in international development: "investment." The term was sexier, more optimistic, and promised something not only for recipients but also givers with diminishing economic and political confidence: a return.
After the catastrophe, investment fever was everywhere, expressing itself in hundreds of millions of dollars poured into efforts to scale up Haiti's moribund export sector, particularly in low-wage textile factories, tourism, and niche-crop agriculture, such as mangoes. Another directly related trend was the investment of money and political capital in a new president, Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly, a former pop musician whose core governing principle -- expressed, in English, at his inaugural address -- was to create "a new Haiti open for business, now." Anything that threatened those investments, and the further investments they were meant to attract, could expect a cold reception.
That's the greeting that awaited Michel Forst, the visiting U.N. independent expert on human rights in Haiti, when he returned to Port-au-Prince last November. His ensuing report was an ice bath in reply. Forst alleged police torture and pervasive judicial corruption, deteriorating security, crackdowns on press freedom, and a general inadequacy on the part of Haiti's leaders -- including Martelly and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe -- to uphold the rule of law. He invoked the recent cases of Serge Démosthène, a groundskeeper allegedly tortured to death by police trying to elicit a confession in the killing of a major Haitian banker; and Calixte Valentin, a Martelly adviser arrested on murder charges but freed months later by a "judge believed to have been appointed solely for the purpose." Forst even took a swipe at the United Nations for failing to "throw light on the causes of the outbreak of the cholera epidemic" its peacekeepers are suspected to have caused. (Evidence suggests U.N. soldiers introduced the disease, previously unknown in Haiti, by contaminating a major river with their sewage. With more than 8,000 dead, the U.N. has refused to apologize, and recently rejected a petition for redress.) "I cannot hide from you my concern and my disappointment in the face of how the situation has developed in the fields of the state of law and human rights," Forst explained, as he presented his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva last month.
The report was Forst's last as the U.N.'s expert on human rights in Haiti. Upon finishing his presentation, the French official announced that despite being eligible for an additional, sixth year on his term, he was resigning immediately "for personal reasons." As if to underscore the improbability of that explanation, the council's president, Remigiusz Henczel, thanked Forst for his work, "Regardless of the reasons for your resignation."
To Haitians who had been following the story, it seemed clear that Forst hadn't jumped on his own. "Michel Forst is very attached ... to the rule of law and fight against impunity while we have a government that acts arbitrarily and encourages impunity and corruption. " Haitian human-rights campaigner Pierre Espérance told the newspaper Haiti Progrès.