Interview with Sandra Honoré, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti

Sandra Honoré, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti. UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

16 April 2014 – In July 2013, Sandra Honoré of Trinidad and Tobago assumed the position of Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti and Head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission there, known as MINUSTAH, which was authorized in the aftermath of the ouster of President Bertrand Aristide and augmented after the destruction of the 2010 earthquake that took some 220,000 lives including 96 UN peacekeepers.

Following the completion of Presidential elections in 2011 that allowed the Government to take over its full role in coordinating recovery, MINUSTAH has been working to fulfil its original mandate to restore a secure and stable environment, to promote a functioning political process, to strengthen Haiti’s Government institutions and rule-of-law-structures and to promote and to protect human rights.

Most recently Ambassador to Costa Rica, Ms. Honoré has served her Government as a diplomat since 1979, including assignments in the United States and Brazil. She became Director of her Foreign Ministry’s Caribbean Affairs Division in 2005 and was Chief of Staff in the Office of the Assistant Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS) from 2000 to 2005. In Haiti, she previously served as Special Assistant to the Chief of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission, from 1995 to 1996.

The UN News Centre spoke to Ms. Honoré after she briefed the Security Council on long- awaited progress on national a dialogue and elections planning, and described necessarThe objective of every peacekeeping mission is for the national authorities to take over the responsibilities to which the mission makes its contributions.y steps needed to ensure that progress was not endangered by the drawdown and eventual withdrawal of MINUSTAH. These include further strengthening of the Haitian police and consolidation of the democratic process, rule of law, good governance and improving services to the population, she told the council.

UN News Centre: Haiti has endured many crises, both political and otherwise. What are the greatest obstacles to stability? How can MINUSTAH help overcome these in the remainder of the mandate period?

Sandra Honoré: The resolution that established MINUSTAH called for special focus on security and stabilization in Haiti, as is evident from the name. We have been working with the Government and the Haitian National Police (HNP) with respect to building the capacity of the police, working for the professionalization of the police and increasing the numbers of police who are available to provide for security throughout the national territory.

Special Representative Honoré meets with Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe soon after her arrival. Photo: MINUSTAH/N. Markogiannis

The police in Haiti were some 5,000 in number when MINUSTAH was established. That number has increased substantially. There are now 11,228 and, of these, 950 are women. One of our goals is to increase the number of female police officers serving and we see that the Haitian National Police is on a definite path of improvement in its performance, the manner it acquits itself of its security responsibilities and our goal is to work with the HNP so that their number increases to a minimum of 15,000 by the year 2016, at which time additional work will still be required. When we consider that the population of Haiti is 10 million, 15,000 is the goal that we have set but the HNP will have to continue its development path.

UN News Centre: What is the state of the government at this point? Why was it so difficult to agree on electoral rules?

Sandra Honoré: There has been a long period of acute polarization in the politics of the country, a long period of stalemate between the executive and legislative branches. What was interesting about the inter-Haitian dialogue which took place between 24 January and 14 February this year was that, for the first time in the country’s recent political history, various currents of opinion were able to sit around the same table: the executive, the legislative and political parties to discuss a number of issues of critical importance to the country such as elections, such as an amendment to the constitution and also the question of governance.

Ms. Honoré briefs the Security Council on Haiti in March 2014. UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

That dialogue ended with the signing of an accord, the Accord of El Rancho, in which the participants agreed to the holding of one combined election in 2014 for two-thirds of the Senate, for the entire Chamber of Deputies and for the municipalities and territorial collectives – local elections. Elections for the municipalities have been delayed since 2011, the Senate is now function with two-thirds of its membership because the mandate of one third has already expired.

If elections are not held this year, this would mean that another third of the Senate would see its mandate come to an end, by January 2015. That would mean that the Parliament would be dysfunctional. The mandates of the Chamber of Deputies will end in October, and therefore the idea of one combined election to fill the Parliament and the municipalities was a very good idea. We look forward to the work that will be done by the electoral counsel, by the Government, to organize transparent and inclusive elections to fill these posts before the end of 2014.

UN News Centre: Can you update us on efforts to deal with the cholera outbreak?

Haitian police undergo training in intervention tactics and techniques. Photo: MINUSTAH

Sandra Honoré: The UN country team in Haiti and MINUSTAH have worked with the Government since the outbreak of the epidemic in support of its efforts to eliminate cholera from Haiti. The overall incidence of the disease has now been reduced by half and fatality rates are now below one per cent, which is the alert threshold defined by the World Health Organization, globally. The persistence of cholera in Haiti is mainly due to the lack of accessibility of the population to clean water and to appropriate sanitation facilities.

The number of cases that we have seen since the outbreak in 2010, in 2011, for instance, 53 per cent of the total number were recorded, while in 2013 only six per cent of that large number of 680,000 cases since the outbreak. So what we are seeing is that there is in fact a drop in the number infections, a significant drop in the number of fatalities and, for the month of January 2014, we saw the lowest number of cases and cholera-related deaths since the beginning of the epidemic in October 2010. These results show that the strategy that the UN is employing in support of the efforts of the Government, focused on reducing the factors that will increase the spread during the dry season is in fact bearing fruit.

UN News Centre: What are your best hopes for what Haiti can achieve before the departure of MINUSTAH in 2016?

Ms. Honoré inaugurates the prison of Cap Haitien following MINUSTAH-funded renovations, in in April 2014. Photo: MINUSTAH/N. Markogiannis

Sandra Honoré: The best hopes have to do with the four areas on which the Mission is now concentrating in this phase of its consolidation. Those have to do with our work in support of the professionalization and modernization of the Haitian National Police, the strengthening of the rule of law and the promotion and protection of human rights, the strengthening of the national capacity for electoral management and the use of dialogue as a means of arriving at consensus, the use of consensus-building in the consideration of the critical issues which the country faces, the challenges which the country faces and the direction of the energies of the authorities and of the population as a whole toward the goal of the country for sustained economic development.

On the anniversary of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Ms. Honoré participates in a tribute to UN colleagues who perished in the tragedy. Photo: MINUSTAH/N. Markogiannis

The objective of every peacekeeping mission is for the national authorities to take over the responsibilities to which the mission makes its contributions. The outcome I would like to see in Haiti is one in which the four areas of focus of the Mission in this phase of consolidation is fully taken over by the Government of Haiti, so the Mission can leave with satisfaction that the Government has fully taken up its responsibilities and that security in country is be assured by the National Police with, as I’ve said, at least a minimum of 15,000 agents, putting it into a good situation to keep developing.

Read related news story:

Haiti: UN envoy hails ‘unprecedented’ political progress as key step ahead of elections