PRESS CONFERENCE ON HUMANITARIAN SITUATION IN HAITI
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
28 February 2007
With Haiti at a crossroads following last year’s successful elections and the installation of the democratically elected Government, the international community needed a broader vision to improve the humanitarian situation in the country, advance development, and ensure the rule of law, Joel Boutroue, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, said at a Headquarters press conference this morning.
On the positive side, he said, the new Government enjoyed the confidence of the population and was committed to improving the situation in the country. It sought to assume ownership of Haiti’s development, investing the limited funds at its disposal in urgent action. Another positive factor was the international community’s commitment to support the Government and efforts by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) to clean up the gang-ridden “Red Zones”.
He noted, however, that despite the pacification actions, the situation would remain precarious unless the population could be shown the peace dividends, in which case the people could quickly lose confidence in the Government and the international community as a whole. With international support, the Government should “take the driver’s seat” now. For decades, international assistance for Haiti had been based on bilateral arrangements and now the international community was finding it difficult to come together and provide coherent support. While that was beginning to happen, many actors had trouble escaping the “business as usual” mode.
Haiti’s urgent needs included institution-building, reform of the police and justice systems and cash infusions into the slums to lift the population out of poverty, he said. From a broader perspective, the international community must be bolder, almost aggressive, in pursuing its plans. The broader vision should include tackling deforestation, rural development and rural-urban migration. There was now a unique window of opportunity for the Government and the international community to advance both short- and long-term goals and to jump-start real reform that should take the country out of the dead end in which it had been for so long.
Responding to several questions about a possible role for the Peacebuilding Commission, he said that had been discussed with Carolyn McAskie, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, and must now be discussed with the Government. Broad priorities for Haiti included the restoration of infrastructure, education and the rule of law. The Peacebuilding Commission could probably complement those efforts by trying to bridge the gap between relief and development and securing donors’ commitment to a common approach and strategy.
He pointed out, however, that Haiti was not a typical post-conflict country, as it was not facing a civil war. Rather, it was an extreme law-and-order situation. The problem so far had been that there had been “a certain amount of sprinkling” of funds, but now a framework of support for development was being created and it was important to get all the actors together. Should that be done, there could be enough resources for the country’s recovery.
Asked about the situation in the Red Zone, he said that, from a military point of view, it could be cleared in “a couple of weeks”, but that was the tip of the iceberg. What would take longer was the deployment of police, who were undergoing training with MINUSTAH’s help. Also, some rehabilitation, including school feeding and food distribution programmes, was already in place but required more resources for such labour-intensive projects as the cleaning of canals and the renovation of schools.
Regarding pledges and donations for Haiti, he said the appeal held in July last year had resulted in multimillion-dollar pledges, but most of the money had not gone through the United Nations. The Government was regularly tracking the several hundred million dollars disbursed since July, while putting institutions and laws in place to provide for improved disbursement.
He added that the United States was a very large contributor to Haiti’s development, with most of its assistance going through non-governmental organizations and contractors. Whether funding came from the United States, Canada or the European Union, however, it was important to ensure that it went towards the collectively agreed priorities, including education, rural development and reform of the justice system. Direct budgetary support was also needed.
In response to questions about civilian casualties during MINUSTAH’s military operations, he said that, in a limited number of cases, the Mission had been accused of shooting people but such allegations had often proved false. It had been alleged, for instance, that the Mission had shot two children, who had, in fact, been shot by gangsters. MINUSTAH investigated such cases and the Force Commander took extra care to minimize the number of civilian casualties. The rules of engagement were very clear: peacekeepers could shoot only when shot at. In fact, not a single shot had been fired in Cité Soleil in the last two weeks.
Asked whether the Mission’s mandate was strong enough, and if it enjoyed close cooperation with the Government, he said MINUSTAH’s strong mandate allowed it to continue its law-and-order activities while helping the country reform its institutions and the Security Council had asked it “to work in an even more integrated manner”. The Government was extremely open and willing to take ownership of the process. It was now up to the international community to “help the Government help itself”.
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For information media • not an official record
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