|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
5862nd Meeting (AM)
‘IN HAITI, WE FACE A TIME OF OPPORTUNITY, WHICH IS ALSO A TIME OF RISK,’
SAYS HEAD OF UN MISSION, AS HE BRIEFS SECURITY COUNCIL
Hedi Annabi Describes ‘Real and Significant’ Political, Economic Gains,
But Warns Progress ‘Extraordinarily Fragile and Subject to Swift Reversal’
“In Haiti, we face a time of opportunity, which is also a time of risk,” Hédi Annabi told the Security Council this morning.
The Secretary-General’s Personal Representative and Head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) said, “In a rapidly changing and often difficult environment, it is important to avoid the trap of premature optimism, or alternatively disproportionate discouragement in the face of inevitable setbacks.” Encouraged by “real and significant political, security and institution-building progress”, as well as by “initial signs of improvement” in the socio-economic situation, he warned that that progress remained “extraordinarily fragile and subject to swift reversal”.
“I believe that we must stay the course and stay focused on the reality that this is probably an exceptional moment of opportunity for Haiti to escape the destructive cycles of the past. We need to work together, to ensure that this opportunity is seized, that the country’s emerging stability is consolidated, and that firm foundations are laid for a better future,” he said.
The foundation of any durable progress would be the existence of a minimal level of political consensus in Haiti, he continued. The current Government had sought to promote such a consensus and generally continued to enjoy legitimacy in the eyes of the public. Having come to office in June 2006 through an electoral process, it had started to address a number of key issues, including the strengthening of State institutions and the fight against corruption and impunity. There were clear and continuing threats to the political consensus and democratic debate could relapse into political infighting and instability, which in turn could generate violence.
He said that, over the past six months, tensions among the various branches of the Government had, at times, threatened to escalate and to undermine public confidence. One instance of such deterioration in relations had taken place in late February by the “summoning” of the Prime Minister before the Chamber of Deputies. A shooting had taken place in Parliament during a debate on investigations into alleged spending irregularities by legislators. Other problems might include constitutional reform and preparations of elections for one third of the Senate. Unrest in various parts of the country appeared to have political dimensions, in addition to mounting frustrations about the rising cost of basic food commodities.
While MINUSTAH would continue to promote constructive dialogue, it was incumbent on the wider international community to actively encourage a responsible approach by all political actors, he said. Ultimately, progress would depend on the Haitians themselves. It was crucial that political leaders and opinion-makers rise to the occasion and show restraint and a genuine desire for collaboration. Overall, democratic structures must be strengthened and nurtured. Basic administrative capacities must be enhanced. MINUSTAH could provide a small portion of the required assistance and would continue to work towards the strengthening of national capabilities in such key areas as border management. Coordinated bilateral aid, however, would remain vital to enable real and durable progress.
Important gains in the area of security had been made, although warning signs could be seen that the situation remained fragile, he said. The sustained security operations during the first part of last year against gangs in Port-au-Prince and Gonaïves continued to bear fruit, but there had also been a resurgence of kidnappings in the past few months. There were also indications that gangs might be trying to reorganize themselves. The security implications of a rising number of anti-Government demonstrations had been made clear last week, when MINUSTAH offices in Les Cayes had to be evacuated. A firm and visible response was essential, which was the reason why MINUSTAH had reinforced its collaboration with the Haitian authorities and had enhanced sharing of information.
He said that MINUSTAH had also stepped up the presence of checkpoints throughout Port-au-Prince, where most kidnappings had taken place. Investigative and response capabilities of the police must be enhanced, which required the help of police-contributing countries in obtaining the necessary skills. The Mission was also reinforcing its presence along the land and maritime borders, with the objective of supporting the extension of State authority in the area, and to help the Government deter smuggling in drugs and arms. Real effectiveness in that area would depend on complementary bilateral assistance to the Haitian authorities from Member States in the region. MINUSTAH military and police had also provided assistance at times of urgent humanitarian crises.
MINUSTAH had launched a series of innovative Community Violence Reduction projects that could make a genuine difference on the ground by providing immediate employment through small-scale projects, he said. They projected supported reintegration of people who had been involved in lesser criminal activities, by including them in the workforce. They also helped generate some tangible improvements in the daily lives of communities at risk. He said he visited six of the projects last month in Cite Soleil and Martissant and was encouraged to see that, after some delays, the programme was on track.
Haitian rule-of-law structures were needed for security, he said, noting some progress in the last six months, but that greater efforts were needed to reach the benchmarks listed in the report. MINUSTAH was working closely with Haitian authorities to implement the Haitian National Police reform plan. Some 8,450 officers were now in service; 1,000 of them were not involved in policing, but in other functions such as corrections, the coast guard and the fire brigade. That was far short of the minimum of 14,000 officers required for basic policing duties, according the reform plan. MINUSTAH would continue its efforts to help develop the police’s institutional capacity, but bilateral support was also needed to fill outstanding needs in such key areas as infrastructure, transport, telecommunications and other equipment.
The adoption last December of three critical laws on the independence of the judiciary and of national reform plans for the justice and penal systems could pave the way for progress, he said. However, the Haitian political leadership’s sustained engagement was necessary to put in place the Superior Council of the Judiciary and the Ecole de la Magistrature. Short-term and medium-term steps, including by providing more resources, skills and equipment, were needed to address the unacceptable security and human rights situation in the country’s prisons.
He said Haiti’s socio-economic situation was mixed. The country had made significant progress in stabilizing its economy. Real gross domestic product (GDP) growth was an estimated 3.2 per cent in 2007, in line with 1991 levels. Annual inflation was 8 per cent in 2007, down from 30 per cent to 40 per cent a few years earlier, and the currency had remained stable. The Government had prepared a National Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRSP) paper that would form the basis of discussions in Port-au-Prince on 24 and 25 April. Still, the vast majority of the population continued to face hardship, due to significant price increases in several staple commodities in recent months. It was urgent for donor countries, international financial institutions and the private sector to work with Haitian authorities on projects to improve the socio-economic situation and enable the stabilization process to proceed.
Haitian authorities would continue to need substantial external assistance, including the peacekeeping operation and sustained support from donors and the wider international community. In line with the Council’s request in paragraph 22 of resolution 1780 (2007), the report proposed initial benchmarks by which to consolidate the stabilization process. In terms of political progress, that could include the completion of a new electoral cycle, which would begin this year with the senatorial elections and should culminate in the peaceful transition to a democratically elected President and Parliament in 2011. It would also include creation of a sustainable security structure, key elements of an independent and credible judicial and penal system that upheld human rights standards, and a functioning administration that could deliver basic services, including an effective border management strategy. Improved living standards of the general population, positive economic growth over several years, and a significant increase in employment and investment were key indicators that the Council must keep in mind as it made decisions on the future of its involvement in Haiti.
The report of the Secretary-General on MINUSTAH, covering developments since 22 August, is contained in document S/2008/2002.
The meeting started at 10:05 a.m. and adjourned at 10:35 a.m.
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