posted on Wed 10 Sep 2014 4:52 PM
Debate on UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti

Tomorrow morning (11 September) the Council is scheduled to hold a debate on Haiti to consider the Secretary-General’s most recent report (S/2014/617) on the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Special Representative of the Secretary-General Sandra Honoré is expected to brief. While no outcome is anticipated at this stage, the upcoming October mandate renewal for MINUSTAH is likely to be one of the key themes in the debate. (The current mandate expires on 15 October.) The debate is also likely to focus on the difficult political situation and the continuing delays in the preparations for the long-overdue local and legislative elections in Haiti.

When the Council last met to discuss Haiti on 24 March, the then recently concluded 14 March “El Rancho” accord on the organisation of elections had raised hopes that they would be held by the end of 2014. This cautious optimism now seems to have been replaced by a realisation that elections are unlikely to take place this year. In a 10 June presidential decree, the first round of the elections were set for 26 October, but they have now been postponed and no new date has been fixed. The adoption of the amended electoral law, which is deemed a requirement for the final preparations for the elections to move forward, continues to be blocked by a group of six senators who oppose the “El Rancho” accord on constitutional grounds. At press time, there were reports that President Michel Martelly had agreed to meet with the six opposition senators who have been blocking the adoption of the electoral law, but it was unclear whether he would be willing to discuss any changes to the composition of the electoral council, which seems to be one of their key concerns.

Council members are likely keen to hear Honoré’s assessment of the prospects for a solution to the political crisis and the possible timeline for the organisation of elections given the current state of affairs. In particular, they may be interested in her views on the implications of elections not being held this year and the technical feasibility of organising elections in early 2015. The mandate of two-thirds of the senators and all members of the chamber of deputies will expire in January 2015 and the inability to hold elections by then could therefore lead to the dissolution of parliament and Martelly ruling by decree. The uncertainties surrounding the local and legislative elections have also raised questions about the overall electoral calendar next year, as presidential elections are due in the second half of the year.

Other key issues that are likely to be addressed in the debate include ongoing efforts to strengthen the rule of law and the corrections system, progress in enhancing the capacity of the Haitian National Police (HNP), continuing challenges in improving the humanitarian situation and combating cholera, including the need for donor support, and the importance of socio-economic development.

With regard to the extension of MINUSTAH’s mandate, the Secretary-General’s report recommends a reduction of the mission’s military strength by more than 50 per cent from the current 5,021 troops to 2,370 (the equivalent of two battalions) by end of June next year. There would be no reduction in the police contingent of 2,601, resulting in a combined uniformed strength of 4,971. This represents an accelerated approach when compared with the Secretary-General’s initial consolidation plan for MINUSTAH which was presented to the Council in March 2013 (S/2013/139). While only preliminary, the plan suggested a 30 per cent reduction in the mission’s uniformed strength ahead of the presidential elections planned for 2015. (At the time, MINUSTAH had a total strength of 8,871 uniformed personnel. A 30 per cent reduction would therefore have brought it down to 6,210.) In explaining his new drawdown recommendation the Secretary-General points to the improvement in the overall security situation, as well as the increase in the capacities and professionalism of the HNP.

It seems Council members are divided over the Secretary-General’s recommendations and are likely to use the debate as an opportunity to express their views in anticipation of the upcoming negotiations of the mandate renewal. It appears that the Council’s Latin American members in particular are unhappy with the proposed reductions. On 15 August, 11 of MINUSTAH’s Latin American troop and police contributing countries (TCCs) sent a note to the Secretary-General emphasising that reductions in the mission’s military component must be made in a gradual, progressive and responsible way and taking into consideration the capacity of the national police and the electoral schedule. The note, which was presented to the Secretary-General in a 20 August meeting at ambassadorial level, also stressed the risks associated with an accelerated drawdown driven by factors other than the situation on the ground in Haiti. (This seemed to be a reference to what is perceived from the Latin American side as motivations based purely on the need to save money or the need to fill gaps in African peacekeeping operations.)

Among other Council members, however, there are those, like France and the UK, who would likely have supported an even bigger reduction in MINUSTAH’s military strength than what the Secretary-General has recommended. The UK in particular has in the past questioned the need for a continued peacekeeping presence in Haiti given the current security situation and has consistently been pushing for a faster drawdown. It seems that the Secretariat also increasingly favours an accelerated approach. The Secretary-General’s recommendation is seen as something of a compromise between the two sides.

While Council members have been divided for a while between those who are eager to see MINUSTAH leave and those who favour a more cautious approach, the two sides now seem further apart than they have been in the past. This was also confirmed at other meetings on Haiti this week. In discussions with Honoré yesterday (9 September), members of the Group of Friends on Haiti appeared sharply divided over the Secretary-General’s proposal. (Current members of the group, which plays an influential role in drafting Council resolutions on MINUSTAH’s mandate, are Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Guatemala, Peru, the US and Uruguay, which is the chair.) While Brazil, Canada, France and the US expressed support for the Secretary-General’s recommendation, the other members apparently argued in favour of sticking to the initial, more conservative drawdown plan.

There were further discussions on MINUSTAH today when the Council held a TCC meeting with Honoré and the mission’s force commander, José Luiz Jaborandy (Brazil), and police commissioner, Luis Miguel Carrilho (Portugal). It seems that Argentina and Chile, along with some other Latin American countries, reiterated the concerns expressed earlier about the risks associated with an accelerated drawdown. The debate tomorrow may provide further clarity on Council members’ views on MINUSTAH’s mandate renewal and what kind of dynamics to expect in the upcoming negotiations.

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