OAS Peace-Building Experiences: Progress Achieved,
Lessons Learned, and Future Possibilities
OAS/UN International Civilian Mission -
The military coup against the democratically-elected President
Aristide on 30 September 1991 was the first challenge to the commitment made by OAS member
states when they adopted the Santiago Commitment to Democracy and the Renewal of the
Inter-American System in June 1991. It required the Permanent Council to respond
immediately to "sudden or irregular interruption of the democratic process".
Consequently, the OAS took the lead in addressing the Haitian crisis with the UN playing a
supportive role. Diplomatic recourses and an embargo preceded the deployment of a field
mission requested by President Aristide and the participation of the UN to bolster these
Establishment of the Mission
The OAS Civilian Presence was established in mid-September 1992. It
could be called a "foot-in-the door" mission. The military had grudgingly
accepted 18 observers, whereas President Aristide wanted 300-500 persons. Drawing the
lessons from preceding agreements on which the military had reneged, the OAS
Secretary-General sent the Mission in hurriedly before the door could be slammed shut. It
was deployed without vehicles, without communications, without office space, without a
signed agreement, without a designated coordinator. That's how I came into the picture.
When some six weeks later, the Mission made its first monitoring visits outside
Port-au-Prince which elicited keen public and media interest, the military regime
responded by neutralizing it on the grounds that the Mission's presence was illegal and,
consequently, they could not guarantee the security nor the freedom of movement of the
In February 1993, the UN having joined forces with the OAS in
November 1992, the OAS Civilian Presence became the nucleus of the joint International
Civilian Mission in Haiti of the OAS and UN. It was deployed in a non-supportive
environment characterized by a hostile military-dominated regime, sceptical political
parties and human rights ngos, and a pattern of widespread and systematic human rights
abuses. The Mission was seen as part of a broader political process directed by a
jointly-designated Special Envoy to resolve the Haitian crisis. It was envisioned that its
presence would lead to an improvement of the human rights situation and thereby facilitate
the positive evolution of the political situation. The Mission was unique in two aspects.
It was the first joint, fully integrated field-mission between a regional organisation and
the United Nations. It was deployed before a political settlement had been reached.
Mandate and Organizational Development
In addition to observing the human rights situation, the OAS
Civilian Presence was also requested to monitor the political situation, and the impact of
the embargo and to facilitate the distribution of humanitarian relief. The ICM was given a
mandate narrowed to protecting and promoting human rights. The mandate was broadened after
the return to constitutional order to include monitoring elections, institutional
development (police/prisons/judiciary/new institutions) and local capacity-building
(NGOs). In the early post-October 1994 period the Mission was being constantly requested
to facilitate small development projects. Though outside the mandate, the Mission provided
assistance in this area for about a year.
The Mission undoubtedly surprised the military by opening the first
regional office within two weeks and establishing a presence in all the regions in some
six weeks. The initial field knowledge gathered by the OAS Civilian Presence combined with
the flexibility of OAS administrative procedures facilitated this rapid deployment. Later
on, the comparative advantage of the UN's greater logistic experience, expertise and
capability came into play to sustain the Mission. The Mission operated in a context which
had inherent logistic difficulties - abysmal roads, poor telephone communications (what
little existed was denied the Mission as of 1994 by the military and it survived on
satellite phones and faxes), etc. These difficulties were compounded by the effects of the
embargo and delays in recruitment and in procurement of vehicles, laptops and other
essential equipment. The Mission size has fluctuated from a peak of 220 in October 1993,
to 70 in July 1994, to 180 in February 1996, and down to 80 today. At the outset the
recruitment of 280 observers was envisaged.
Organizationally, MICIVIH was a fully integrated mission with its
director (OAS) and deputy director (UN) jointly designated by both organisations and an
equal number of staff members provided by each organization. The interface of two
disparate administrative cultures of dissimilar size was regulated by MOUs and a joint
working group. Despite misgivings at the senior echelons of both organisations and an
initial concept for two separate but supportive components, the pairing worked quite well,
a tangible demonstration of unity and collaboration.
Initially, the OAS administered the field offices and the UN the
headquarters. Both provided their share of material resources and recurrent costs were
shared 40%/60%. Subsequently, it was agreed that the UN would provide all material
resources and pay the bills with 50% of recurrent costs being picked up by the OAS.
In the early stages, the Mission undertook systematic induction and
orientation training of its observers and drafted observation guidelines. Intensive
courses in Creole obviated the need for Interpreters.
The observers were evacuated in mid-October 1993 for security
reasons and then expelled, after their return in January 1994, in July 1994 when they were
deemed to have become a security threat. The Mission re-deployed in October 1994.
Faced with an uncooperative military the ICM adopted an approach it
called "active observation". This went beyond merely observing and collecting
information on human rights abuses. It included making representation on behalf of victims
to have them freed from arbitrary or illegal detention, denouncing publicly violations and
instituting legal and medical assistance programs for victims. A major strand of the
Mission's strategy was public reporting on its activities and findings. This was a means
of alerting international opinion and also of exerting pressure on the military. These
public reports achieved greater resonance in 1994 when the political situation became
stalemated and there was a considerable deterioration of the human rights situation. The
Mission enjoyed great independence vis-ŕ-vis both organisations in its actions and public
After the return to constitutional order the Mission changed its
strategies. It became pro-active (using training and promotion to prevent violations). It
offset the irritation that monitoring could elicit with institution-building activity and
used public denunciation as a last recourse, in part out of respect for the sovereignty of
the state, in part also recognition of the political will of authorities and officials to
give priority to accountability and not tolerate impunity. In a word the Mission moved
from what was previously an adversarial stance vis-ŕ-vis the military and became, as it
were, partners of the constitutional authorities in their efforts to increase respect for
human rights and lay the foundations of the rule of law, key elements of the democratic
The Mission has always, and deliberately, kept itself at some
distance from the frontlines of the diplomatic and political processes at play, during and
after the crisis period. However, its knowledge of local actors and realities has always
been a key input.
Successes and Limitations
a) During the coup d'état period the Mission achieved three things:
- initially, a deterrent and mitigating effect which disappeared
entirely 6 months later;
- assistance to victims;
- drawing human rights violations to international attention.
Its limitations were stark:
- lack of means of enforcement:
: inability to prevent the situation from worsening;
: inability to prevent killings by the forces of repression (though
use of safe-houses and facilitating departure from the country in exceptional cases);
: inability to provide security.
- unrealistic expectations of the Haitian people on to what the
Mission could achieve
b) During the constitutional period:
- Contribution to a generally improved human rights situation
: dissuasive effect through monitoring and human rights training for security forces on human rights principles
: introduction of record-keeping as a key human rights protective device in prisons, police detention centres and prosecution offices;
: key supportive role with regard to the enforcement of
accountability and normative standards;
- contribution to the reinforcement of institutions:
: initiation of prison reform
: training of police, magistrates, prison wardens
: critical support leading to the establishment of new institutions (Ombudsman Truth Commission)
: technical assistance, expert advice for revamping of the judicial
- contribution to efforts to instill a democratic culture:
: modest but essential contribution to efforts to change attitudes and behavior through human rights advocacy and promotion
: building bridges between institutions, sectors, communities
: introduction of peaceful conflict resolution techniques to associations and institutions.
: facilitating public awareness on human rights issues.
- continued credibility as an objective source of information on the human rights situation, and on the electoral situation;
- widespread respect and trust;
- successful collaboration between the UN and a regional
- lack of certain types of expertise within the mission
- intractable nature of problems that impede institutional reinforcement
- short-term mandate renewals inhibit long term planning
- importance of pre-deployment planning
- importance of mandate flexibility
- OAS should consider establishing a field operations unit to
backstop its field missions
- a good blend of human rights specialists, jurists and persons of
varied skills and experience makes a more effective combination than having only human
- C.Vs don't tell the full story about a candidate. Need for
interviews and proper selection procedure.
- importance of training and clear guidelines for commonality of
approach and objectives.
- the intrinsic link between respect for human rights and the
- need for closer coordination with human rights institutions of the inter-American system.