posted on Sun 25 Jan 2015 7:33 PM
Dispatches from the Field: Council Meetings in Haiti

Day 1: Meetings with MINUSTAH and Haitian Government

On Friday (23 January), the Security Council arrived in Haiti for its three day visiting mission. Council members began their visit at the Port-au-Prince compound of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), where they first had a working lunch with MINUSTAH senior officials, lead by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General Sandra Honoré, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General Carl Alexandre and the resident coordinator and Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Peter de Clercq. This was followed by further meetings with the representatives of the UN Country Team and with the commanders of the various contingents of MINUSTAH.

Council members and the senior officials discussed several issues, including the current political crisis, the work of the UN Country Team and the implementation of resolution 2180, in particular concerning MINUSTAH’s drawdown of military personnel. (Adopted on 14 October 2014, this resolution authorised a reduction in the mission’s military strength to 2,601 from the current number of 4,957 personnel. However, because Council members were sharply divided over the downsizing, a compromise provision was included that the troop reduction would not start until after the publication of the next Secretary-General’s report on MINUSTAH, due in March. At the same time, the resolution requested the Secretary-General to inform the Council of any “major changes” in the situation, and reiterated that the Council may adapt force levels if conditions in Haiti change, or if necessary to preserve progress made.) Several Council members are of the view that gaining a better understanding of the concrete effects that the scheduled military drawdown and any future readjustments to the mandate, may have is the most valuable information that the Council could gain from this visiting mission.

Following these meetings, Council members left for the presidential palace, where they met with Haitian President Michel Martelly, Prime Minister Evans Paul and other members of the newly formed government. The meeting was followed by statements made to the press by Martelly and the co-leads of the visit, Ambassadors Cristián Barros Melet (Chile) and Samantha Power (US). Martelly said that he conveyed to Council members his commitment to pursue dialogue to enable the holding of elections without delay, and he hoped the Council’s support would assist in breaking the political deadlock on this issue. He also spoke of progress made that morning (23 January) with the appointment of the nine members of the Provisional Electoral Council, which is expected to organise the elections. In addition, he took the opportunity to renew his call for Council members to support concrete action to eradicate cholera. In response to a question concerning protests demanding his resignation, Martelly said that protests are part of the democratic process and that continued dialogue with the opposition has resulted in fewer protests.

Barros, as president of the Council, reiterated the Council’s support for the government and people of Haiti and urged political actors to work together to ensure the conduct of fair, free and inclusive elections in accordance with the constitution. Power commented that Council members are in Haiti in order to learn what the UN can do to support Haiti at this time. She expressed the Council’s collective disappointment that efforts to pass an electoral law before the dissolution of the parliament were unsuccessful, but said that Council members are encouraged by continued consultations with the opposition to break the stalemate and offered the Council’s full support for this process.

From there, the Council continued to a dinner hosted by the foreign minister Duly Brutus, the minister of justice, Pierre Richard Casimir, and the president of the senate, Simon Desras, as well as other members of the newly formed Haitian government.

Day 2: Visits to MINUSTAH Projects, Meetings with Peacekeepers and Political Parties

On Saturday (24 January), the Council began its day with a visit to one of the governments “16/6 projects”, undertaken with MINUSTAH’s assistance . The programme focuses on the rehabilitation of neighborhoods affected by the 2010 earthquake through the reconstruction of improved and safer housing, access to basic services, and improving infrastructure allowing for the residents to live there again. Council members were told that the community was involved in deciding the priorities of the rehabilitation of their neighbourhoods as well as in doing the work.

The Council then flew via helicopters to Cap-Haïtien, where they visited three of MINUSTAH’s quick impact projects conducted by the mission’s Community Violence Reduction (CVR) section First, Council members were taken to a hospital and rehabilitation center for the handicapped that was built with the financial assistance of MINUSTAH, including an adjacent sports center for the physically disabled. From there they drove by the Nan Bannann river bank area, a particularly poor neighbourhhod, where MINUSTAH is funding a project to rehabilitate the river bank to mitigate the risk of future flooding caused by garbage accumulating in the river banks. Council members then continued to the Haitian Coast Guard base in Cap Haitien, one of three such bases in Haiti, responsible for the northern coastal sector. The Haitian coast guard chief briefed Council members on the activities of the coast guard, which is part of the Hatian National Police, in tackling piracy, drug trafficking, search and rescue and illegal immigration. He also spoke of the need for coast guard expansion in terms of personnel and equipment. Members of MINUSTAH’s police unit then briefed on how they assist the coast guard’s work. Council members then visited the Institute Sacré-Coeur du Cap-Haitian, a hospitality management school for at risk youth, from primary school and up.

The delegation’s last stop in Cap Haïtien was at the MINUSTAH base, home to the Chilean battalion. There they were briefed by the force commander, Lieutenant General Jose Luiz Jaborandy Jr. (Brazil), on the activities conducted by the military component of MINUSTAH. Council members engaged with Jaborandy Jr. on the implications of MINUSTAH’s expected future drawdown of half of its military strength.

Council members then returned to Port-au-Prince for a visit to a women’s prison where they were taken to the holding cells and met prisoners involved in MINUSTAH CVR-funded programmes. The trip to Cap Haïtien and the prison showcased for Council members the multifaceted work of MINUTSAH that goes beyond merely security operations.

The late afternoon and evening were spent on several meetings with local political actors, where the focus was on the efforts to find a solution to the political deadlock. Council members met first with the ten senators whose terms have not expired. They then met with two groups of political parties. First they met with those that have signed three 11 January political accords with Martelly that would allow adopting an electoral law followed by the holding of elections (the accord was to extend the terms of the members of the chamber of deputies until 24 April and the senators until 9 September, subject to approval by the parliament and adoption of the amended electoral law in an extraordinary session, but the parliament dissolved before the accord could be voted on). Council members then met with the representatives of political parties that did not sign the accord. This was followed by a meeting with local civil society representatives. At the last minute, a meeting was arranged between Council members and the just-appointed Provisional Electoral Council. Council members listened to the various political positions expressed during these different meetings including grievances regarding the postponement of elections due since 2011, complaints over the lack of sufficient opposition representatives in the newly appointed government and regarding the newly appointed Provisional Electoral Council. It seems that throughout the meeting, as with the meeting with Martelly, Council members reiterated the message that a solution to the impasse must be found and elections must be held as soon as possible. The evening ended with a reception hosted by Honoré for the Council members.

The visiting mission continued on Sunday before Council members returned to New York.