25 February 2010 Forty days after a massive earthquake struck Haiti, nearly 200 police officers serving with the United Nations peacekeeping mission (MINUSTAH) took part in a special tribute to their fallen colleagues serving with the national force.
The Haitian National Police (HNP) had just over 8,000 active officers at the time of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck on 12 January, claiming the lives of 75 of them and injuring more than 250 others. Nearly 80 officers are still missing.
A memorial service was held last Sunday at the site of Delmas 33 Police Station in the hardest-hit city, the capital, Port-au-Prince, which was reduced to rubble by the quake. That location alone lost 10 officers, as well as one UN Police (UNPOL) officer.
The cries of sobbing mothers, spouses and children of the HNP who were being honoured could be heard throughout the ceremony, held under a large white tent.
“Although they were grieving their colleagues and relatives, HNP officers were first to assist their country to cope with the disaster,” said Mario Anderson, the force’s Director-General. “They continued to work in open air, under the shadows of the trees or under improvised shelters to serve people.”
To date, more than 90 per cent of HNP officers are back on duty.
For its part, UNPOL, which sprang into action to assist the HNP carry out patrols on the streets of Port-au-Prince, lost 18 officers, with another 16 having been injured.
UNPOL members serving in Haiti are mandated to help monitor, restructure and reform the HNP, and its main tasks currently are ensuring public safety and facilitating the distribution of urgently-needed humanitarian aid.
Despite the scale of the disaster in Haiti, which was already the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation before the earthquake, its police force will not be rebuilding from scratch, Acting UN Police Adviser Ann-Marie Orler told the UN News Centre earlier this month.
“What was destroyed was equipment,” not human capital, she stressed, pointing out how this was demonstrated by the speed at which patrols resumed after the disaster.
The UN is also working closely with the Haitian Government to ensure that the justice system – with courts, prisons and other institutions having sustained severe damage – is built back stronger.
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