Haiti: Progress against all odds

 

The year 2006 could not have started off worse for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). The Force Commander, Lieutenant-General Urano Teixeira Da Matta Bacellar, took his own life in early January.At the same time,opponents to the transition process waged a vicious slander campaign against MINUSTAH and its chief which, in the words of the Secretary-General, threatened the security of the mission personnel, as well as the holding of free and fair elections.With the first of three scheduled elections only a month away, it was widely believed that disaster loomed ahead.

 

MINUSTAH proved the pessimists wrong, rebounding from these early setbacks and forging ahead with a string of major accomplishments,which included assisting the Haitian authorities in organizing and conducting presidential, parliamentary and local elections; helping develop a police reform plan; conducting joint anti-crime operations; supporting the extension of State authority; and aiding the fight against poverty through quick impact projects and other activities.

 

Haitian President René Préval visits CitéMilitaire, a Port-au-Prince neighbourhood overcome by escalating gang violence, alongside Haitian National Police ChiefMario Andresol, MINUSTAH Deputy Force Commander General Eduardo Aldunate, and UNPOL Chief Graham Muir, 8August 2006. (MINUSTAH Photo by Sophia Paris)

 

The first hurdle to be cleared was on 7 February, when the presidential and initial round of parliamentary elections were held – the first nationwide voting since an insurgency forced former President Jean- Bertrand Aristide into exile two years before. The United Nations worked hand-in-hand with the Haitian electoral officials to organize and conduct the elections. The mission's 6,500-plus troops and 1,895 police officers were tasked with providing security and logistical support throughout the country, including distributing election material to some 9,200 polling stations. MINUSTAH’s military and police components implemented an “all hands on deck”policy with every uniformed peacekeeper out on the streets to help the Haitian National Police (HNP). The poll, remarkably free from violence with a far higher turnout than anyone predicted, was hailed as a significant step forward for Haiti. René Préval was declared the elected President by the Haitian authorities later in the month.

 

MINUSTAH again provided full logistical, technical and security support for the second round of parliamentary elections on 24 April. These led to the establishment of a broad-based Parliament and the formation of a multi-party Government, following extensive consultations. On 3 December, the electoral cycle was completed with the holding of local and municipal elections and a number of legislative run-offs.While the overall election went well, there were isolated incidents of violence, which upset the balloting, affecting a small percentage of the electorate.

 

The successful cycle of elections, which cemented the transition to democracy, not only helped Haiti internally, but also boosted the country’s international standing; CARICOM, the Caribbean regional body which had suspended Haiti following President Aristides’s ouster, readmitted it as a full member.

 

Since security is a crucial issue for Haiti, where kidnappings are relatively common and other forms of criminality remain substantial, MINUSTAH’s mandate includes provisions to assist strengthening the judiciary and penal system,and to professionalize the police. MINUSTAH’s post-electoral focus on ensuring security throughout the country not only improved individual safety, but also contributed to the general sense of greater stability so essential to encouraging foreign investment, fostering job creation and re-establishing tourism.

 

A significant step towards reforming and strengthening Haiti’s security structure was taken when the Government signed the Haitian National Police Reform Plan on 8 August.This plan,which followed an extended review and consultation betweenHaitian police and political officials, with support from the United Nations, lays out a clear and comprehensive outline for the development of a basic policing capacity within Haiti, drawing on experience in the country and internationally.

 

A UN peacekeeper throws tear gas during clashes with local residents following the arrest of an accused kidnapper in Port-au-Prince,Haiti, 20 December 2006.

(Reuters Photo by Eduardo Munoz)

 

Haitian and MINUSTAH officials also agreed in late August to an enhanced security plan for the least secure areas of Portau- Prince. A series of joint Haitian police and UN checkpoints were set up, several MINUSTAH platoons were redeployed from the outlying regions to the volatile shantytowns of Port-au-Prince to support the increased tempo of operations,and the configurationof Formed Police Units (specially trained and heavily armed UN police) was adjusted. In December, MINUSTAH and the HNP further increased their pace of operations to counter the activities of armed criminal gangs,and especially the kidnapping of innocent civilians, including schoolchildren.

 

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere,with low levels of literacy,high infant mortality rates and short life expectancy. Extreme poverty is a fertile breeding ground for criminal activities, which means that security in Haiti cannot be sustained without also supporting social and economic development in the poorest neighbourhoods.The United Nations family, which plays a significant role in this area of activity,completed numerous infrastructure projects and provided clean drinking water to more than 150,000 people in the capital on a daily basis.

 

MINUSTAH’s focus also includes activities to improve the poor human rights situation; reorient the stalled disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process; and strengthen the democratic structures of governance and the rule of law.However, the mission’s successes in 2006 did not come without a heavy price. Eleven peacekeepers lost their lives in the course of the year,including five from acts of violence.

 

 

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Prepared by the Peace and Security Section, United Nations Department of Public Information.

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