Haitians hanging out at the site of the construction of a canal in Ouanaminthe, a northeastern commune. Photo by Samuel Dallemand for Go West Now

Overview:

The American Bar Association held a panel in which attorneys shared their thoughts on Haiti and the Dominican Republic’s dispute over a canal and border crisis.

Four international law experts shared their views on Haiti and the Dominican Republic’s dispute over the canal during a panel Tuesday, with one saying an international arbitration body must step in to resolve border-related conflicts between the two nations, such as the controversial canal.

During the American Bar Association virtual panel — called “Evaluating International Law Implications of the Republic of Haiti-and Dominican Republic Canal Water Rights Dispute” — the three other experts offered a mix of solutions. Those include Haiti halting construction of the canal for dialogue, continuing to negotiate diplomatically and obtaining assistance from the Organization of American States (OAS), as is currently underway.

Rafael Cox Alomar, a law professor at David A. Clark School of Law, offered the most notable view with his international arbitration recommendation.

“Given the institutional weaknesses that Haiti’s governmental structure is going through at the moment, the international community must get involved,” Alomar said. “Otherwise, Haiti and the Dominican Republic alone might not be able to solve this problem that might lead to a more difficult case and we could even see a military confrontation among these two countries.”

The canal dispute has escalated in the past two months to the point that Haitian security agents and Dominican soldiers nearly faced each other at least twice. Fearing these instances could lead to a military confrontation, Alomar said the controversy must be handled in an “international arbitration.”

Other experts shared different takes on a potential resolution.

Rose Rameau, a professor of law at Georgia State University and Independent International Arbitrator & Mediator, disagreed, suggesting both countries should attempt to negotiate first. Luis Pena Jimenez, an adjunct law professor of Fundamental Issues in DR Law and Constitutional Law at Universidad Catolica Santo Domingo, also thinks dialogue could lead to a solution but first Haitians need to halt the construction of the canal.

“The dialogues must start by some form of negotiation and we need not to instigate nor escalate this,” Rameau said. “We need to make sure we do it right, showing Haitians that they matter.”

While Jimenez agrees with the idea of dialogue he said in the meantime Haitians must stop building the canal.

“You can start a dialogue and they keep building the canal,” Jimenez said. “Then it’s completed and it will have consequences.”

Meanwhile, Philippe-Raymond Cantave, an international business lawyer from the Port-au-Prince bar association, said a third party needs to help the two neighboring lands solve the issue, a task the OAS has already taken.

“The organization that is geographically closest should be the one to start resolving the issue, which explains the involvement of the OAS,” Cantave said. “The regional organization that has the most connection to the issue proposes a solution.”

Haiti and the Dominican Republic both agreed for OAS to mediate the conflict and a delegation team from the organization arrived in Santo Domingo on Oct. 16. It has since pushed the Dominican Republic to resume flights to Haiti on Oct. 31.

The panel was part of the The YIN Rule of Law quarterly series, which aims to examine current events that involve democracy, human dignity, preservation of international agreements and international law.

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Onz Chery is a Haiti correspondent for Go West Now. Chery started his journalism career as a City College of New York student with The Campus. He later wrote for First Touch, local soccer leagues in New York and Elite Sports New York before joining Go West Now in 2019.

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