Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Michele J. Sison at the Democracy Dialogue Event

Good evening,
Distinguished members of tonight’s panel,
Distinguished senators and deputies,
Members of the Electoral Commission,
Political party leaders,
Business leaders,
representatives of the press,
Members of civil society,
ladies and gentlemen.

It is great to see so many of you here this evening gathered to discuss the issues of democracy and governance. It’s really important for us at the U.S. Embassy to have this opportunity to hear a full range of different perspectives from so many of Haiti’s stakeholders – youth, women, civil society, the media, and other important voices.

I applaud the work all of you are doing to promote a more open, free, and prosperous future for the people of Haiti. At the U.S. Embassy, we recognize that that long-term, sustainable development is linked to sound democratic governance. It’s especially important that we have so many civil society members with us here tonight. Haiti’s vibrant civil society has a special role to play in moving Haiti forward on this path to inclusive development. Civil society has a valuable voice to contribute to public policy discussions, holding elected authorities accountable, and advocating for long-lasting reforms.

We’re very proud to be supporting the goals outlined in President Moise’s seven priority axes of development. But we know that our partnership with Haiti in health, education, agriculture and food security will not be effective or sustainable unless we work together with Haiti to support Haitian-led initiatives on inclusive governance and the protection of the basic rights of citizens.

That’s why we want to work with you – civil society and human rights activists, parliamentarians, political party leaders, media representatives, religious leaders, private sector representatives, and academics — to brainstorm this evening.

We want to hear from you how we can best support your efforts to promote participatory, representative and inclusive political processes and government institutions; foster accountability of public institutions and elected leaders to citizens and to the law; and protect and promote human rights.

Now recently, there has been a lot of discussion in both political circles and in the media about Haitians coming together to fight corruption. The fight against corruption was a key theme of the Summit of the Americas, where all the countries of the Western Hemisphere, including the U.S. and Haiti, gathered to discuss the challenges that face all of us.

In fact, U.S. Vice President Pence noted at the Summit that, “Corruption corrodes the foundations of democracy … and undermines trust in government. For we know as corruption grows, freedom and prosperity wither.” Of course, we noted that the fight against corruption also featured prominently in Prime Minister Ceant’s “Declaration de Politique Generale,”as did the importance of good governance and inclusion.

Across the region and around the world, fighting corruption is about fighting for a just and prosperous future for our countries. It’s about creating a thriving market economy based on the rule of law for the benefit of all citizens. And here in Haiti, I see a new vibrancy to this public discussion.

I also see a new vibrancy to the discussions around what we’d call “citizen-responsive governance. “ And again, the role of civil society organizations is truly critical; engaging with civil society allows us to hear the voices of citizens from across the spectrum, and to bring these voices and ideas into policy discussions with political parties, parliamentarians, and government agencies.

And for the private sector attendees this evening, I want to let you know that we’re also very interested in working with you in enterprise-driven development. We realize that traditional development assistance models are not always the answer, and so we’re asking the private sector to brainstorm with us on new initiatives that create sustainable economic growth opportunities.

So for all of you here tonight – from all across Haiti’s vibrant democracy — we’re here to partner with you, to figure out how to best work together to move Haiti forward on its path to prosperity and inclusive development.

As we brainstorm together this evening and explore the insights to be offered by our esteemed panel, I want to let you know that we’re walking with you on this path, supporting Haiti’s democracy and governance goals in a number of ways.

For example, strengthening democratic governance in Haiti must include empowerment of the media. The U.S. Embassy works to support Haiti’s vibrant independent media, which plays such an important role in advocating for citizen’s rights, fighting impunity, and promoting civic education and democratic dialogue. Our Public Diplomacy Section has supported the Association of Online journalists for the creation of T-Check, which will provide an online fact-checker for public policy speeches in a nonpartisan manner, combined with community issue-based meetings in target communities. In addition, USAID, through Groupe Croissance, supported the work of Haiti’s first economic journalists association, and through our Justice Sector Strengthening Program also sponsored investigative journalism training.

Our USAID programs support justice sector reforms and target the high rates of pre-trial detention in Haiti’s prisons that continue to pose human rights, humanitarian, and rule of law challenges. We’re advocating for the passage of updated criminal and criminal procedural codes that will ensure that the legal basis for investigations and judgments are solid, that the rights of Haitian citizens are protected, and that citizen and business sector confidence in the judicial system is increased.

USAID and the Embassy also partner with Haitian government and civil society to combat the scourge of human trafficking and to advance women’s empowerment. We work with civil society to advocate for the rights of people living with disabilities. USAID supports work to better mobilize domestic resources generated by the Haitian customs and tax authorities so that the state can better serve all its citizens. USAID’s support for the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) works with the CEP and civil society to ensure the transparent management of elections and increase civic participation (including encouraging more women to vote through targeted voter outreach programs). We also support groups that work to ensure that the rights of LGBTI persons are respected and that all citizens are able to live with dignity, free from discrimination or persecution. Meanwhile, our INL programs support police development and have provided cross-training to police, prosecutors, and judges as well as trained justice sector actors on topics such as ethics, corruption, and gender-based violence. INL will send two Haitian judges in October to the Judicial Studies Institute in Puerto Rico as a continuation of these activities..

So, in short, we at the U.S. Embassy are committed to supporting a Haitian-led approach, working with all of you to support democratic governance and transparency. It’s clear from your presence here this evening that you all agree with us on the importance of civil society and the importance of inclusive democracy.

We truly believe that our role is to help a country in its own unique journey to self-reliance, so what we hope to do is to partner with you and support Haiti’s across the board in key areas like health, food security, education, and in supporting transparency and democratic governance. We want to work with all of you, but especially with the next generation of youth, to build Haiti’s bright future. And we have a special interest in partnering with women, as well, as it’s been shown worldwide that when women participate actively in civil society and political life, governments are more open, democratic and responsive to citizens. USAID has worked through its governance programs to bolster the Association of Female Mayors and encourage women to run for public office.

As two nations that value democracy, Haiti and the US are working together to secure the equal rights of citizens to make the promise of inclusive democratic governance a reality for everyone. It is important for all of us to remember – democracy is a path, not a destination. We – the U.S and Haiti – and other democratic nations around the world, we are all on this path together. We look forward to your engagement, insights, and ideas. Thank you for coming, thank you for listening, thank you for sharing your insights. I wish you a very fruitful evening of lively discussion and creative brainstorming!