Dispatches from the Field: Final Day Meetings and Press Conference in Haiti
Council members’ third and final day (25 January) on their visit to Haiti began with two meetings. First, Council members met with the “Core Group” (Brazil, Canada, France, Spain, the US, the EU, and the Organization of American States), the ambassadors of Council members with representation in Haiti, and representatives of the troop contributing and police-contributing countries, to continue the Council’s discussion over the future configuration of UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and changes in its personnel structure. This was followed by a meeting with women’s groups, where Council members praised the role of women in promoting peace and stability in Haiti.
Council members then visited the Haitian National Police Academy. Minister of Justice Pierre Richard Casimir addressed Council members, noting that the current visit demonstrates the international community’s commitment to Haiti. He further ensured Council members that free and fair elections will take place but noted that historically election periods have been prone to instability. In this regard, he pleaded with Council members not to drawdown MINUSTAH’s current troop levels. Finally, he conveyed Haiti’s gratitude for MINUSTAH’s contribution towards building Haiti’s national police, and emphasised the importance of police training for Haiti’s future. The Police Director-General also addressed Council members and thanked MINUSTAH for its support. He said that the security in the country had improved as had police capabilities, as proven by the response to recent political demonstrations, which for the most part were peaceful and did not result in violent exchanges with the police. While noting that currently the Haitian police force is 12,000 officers strong, he said that the aim is to have a force of 15,000 by 2016.
After further discussion with the Haitian representatives, Council members were given a live demonstration by the Haitian police of its SWAT team conducting an arrest and a crowd control unit peacefully dispersing a demonstration.
From the Police Academy, Council members continued to the commemorative memorial for the 2010 earthquake victims at Titanyen, where many of the bodies of the victims of the earthquake were buried, and where they were greeted by the Haitian permanent representative to the UN, Denis Regis. (Accompanied by Casimir, the co-leads of the visit, Ambassadors Cristián Barros Melet (Chile) and Samantha Power (US) laid wreaths at the memorial and a moment of silence was held in honour of those lost in the earthquake.
Before departing for New York, Council members held a press conference at the MINUSTAH base in Port-au-Prince where Barros and Power addressed reporters and answered questions. Barros said that Council members had been exposed to the different perspectives on the various challenges facing Haiti. Both ambassadors said that the Council had urged the political actors to work together to ensure the holding of free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections. Power added that Council members had stressed to all actors the need to strengthen checks and balances on the use of governmental power and the need for the various political actors to acknowledge the necessity for compromise in order to move past the political impasse and work together for the benefit of the people of Haiti. Power also added that security is an important foundation for a democratic Haiti, and that the Council will continue to support the Haitian National Police and the work of MINUSTAH in this regard.
In response to questions regarding the responsibility of MINUSTAH for the lack of successful governance in Haiti and the Council’s position on the current crisis, Power said that it is not for the Security Council to dictate to Haiti how to resolve its political issues, but that the UN and the international community will continue to support Haitian-led efforts. Council members were also asked about the future of MINUSTAH and iwhether, in the absence of an acute security situation, peacekeepers are still needed in Haiti, as well to comment on Casimir’s request to maintain current troop levels until after the elections. Barros responded that it is too early to reach any conclusions at this stage and the Security Council will have to look at this issue in the coming months. He added, however, that the visit had given Council members more information on this issue and that such an assessment can take place after the Council receives the next MINUSTAH report,expected in March.
It seems that several Council members found the visit to Haiti to be useful in gaining a better understanding of the political climate and the security situation, and how these two issues may affect one another. With the next Secretary-General’s report expected in March, with possible recommendations on the future of MINUSTAH, the opportunity to get a first-hand impression and receive information directly from the main actors in Haiti was seen as valuable by many. In addition, some Council members emphasised that the timing of the trip was important in light of the current political impasse to send a message to the president and other political actors that a solution must be found as soon as possible to move forward with the conduct of free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections, and that political actors must find an appropriate compromise to achieve this goal.
For some Council members, it was important to learn more about the activities of MINUSTAH. The various aspects of the work of its military component was of particular interest in light of the scheduled drawdown of about half of MINUSTAH’s military component after the next Secretary-General’s report due in March, in accordance with resolution 2180. Some Council members emphasised the importance of trying to assess the impact that the drawdown will have and the possible impact of future adjustments in troop levels. In this regard, they also wanted to learn more about the capacities of the government forces, in particular the capacity of the Haitian police, to replace any voids created, as well as the capabilities of the UN Country Team to replace some of MINUSTAH’s operations. In addition, another point of focus was how MINUSTAH’s future configuration may be affected by the fact that elections were not held as expected, before the drawdown scheduled for March. It seems that several Council members are now of the impression that given the current political stalemate, any further changes to MINUSTAH’s troop numbers should not be considered at this point and a more gradual approach may be preferable until clarity is gained in this respect. Other Council members who have been less convinced that peacekeepers are needed if the security situation on the ground remains stable, may not have had their perception drastically altered by this visit as the security situation appeared stable at this juncture.
A briefing on the visiting mission, where Barros and Power are expected to brief the Council as the co-leads of the visit, is currently scheduled for Thursday. A written report on the Council’s visiting mission is expected to issued at a later date.