Council Debate on Haiti
Tomorrow afternoon (17 March), the Security Council will hold its semi-annual debate on the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Special Representative and head of mission Sandra Honoré will brief on the situation in the country and present the Secretary-General’s most recent report (S/2016/225).
The debate is taking place amidst continuing uncertainty about the timeline for the completion of the long delayed elections, following the failure to elect a new president before the end of Michel Martelly’s term on 7 February. The 5 February accord between Martelly and the leaders of the two chambers of the Haitian parliament aimed at safeguarding “constitutional continuity” envisages that the final round of the elections will be held on 24 April and the inauguration of a new president on 14 May. There seem to be growing doubts however, as to the feasibility of organising elections within this time frame.
As stipulated in the accord, Martelly resigned on 7 February as required by the constitution and on 14 February the parliament elected Jocelerme Privert, an opposition senator and former cabinet member under President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to serve as interim president for a maximum period of 120 days, until the holding of elections. Progress has been slow in implementing the remaining provisions of the agreement, which called for the installation of a new consensus prime minister to replace Evans Paul, the appointment of a new electoral council, and implementation of the recommendations of the 2 January report of the electoral evaluation commission. The commission was established by Martelly in response to persistent allegations of fraud in the first round of the presidential elections held on 25 October 2015.
Privert appointed Fritz Jean, an economist and former head of the Central Bank of Haiti, as prime minister on 25 February, and the members of Jean’s cabinet were announced on 8 March. However, the new government has not started functioning as its programme of work has to be first endorsed by the parliament. At the time of writing, the debate on the proposed programme had just started and it was unclear what the outcome would be. Regarding the new electoral council, all the members have been nominated but the council has yet to be formally established As a result preparations for the final round of the elections have not begun. Meanwhile, there have been calls for the creation of another electoral evaluation commission to conduct further investigations of the allegations of fraud in both the 9 August and 25 October elections, a move that could lead to further delays. It also remains unclear whether Jude Célestin, the opposition candidate who finished second in the first round of the presidential elections and then boycotted the run-off originally scheduled for 24 January, would agree to participate in a rescheduled second round, or would demand further investigations or put forward other conditions.
In a sign of growing impatience among members of the international community, Honoré and the international core group based in Port-au-Prince — comprising Brazil, Canada, France, Spain, the US, the EU and the Organization of American States (OAS) – met with Privert on 9 March to discuss implementation of the 5 February accord and stressed the importance of completing the electoral process within the agreed time frame.
In light of these developments, the electoral process is expected to be a key focus of the Council debate tomorrow. In a 29 January press statement following a briefing under “any other business” on 28 January by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations El Ghassim Wane (SC/12229), Council members expressed their “strong concern regarding the developments leading to the indefinite postponement of the final round of elections in Haiti”, and urged relevant actors to reach an agreement by 7 February on a road map for the conclusion of the electoral cycle in a free, fair, inclusive and transparent contest. Council members are likely to see the debate tomorrow as an opportunity to once again voice their strong concern about the situation and call on Haitian leaders to put aside their differences to advance the electoral process. They will be interested in Honoré’s analysis of the current state of play, in particular with regard to the feasibility of holding elections on 24 April, and may be looking for further details about what the UN is doing to support the process.
The security situation is expected to be another focus of the debate, and a theme Honoré will almost certainly address. The Secretary-General noted in his report that the situation remained influenced by the electoral process, and that although the 25 October polls had been more peaceful that those on 9 August, there had been a surge in protests, with some of them turning violent. He also noted that security had been handled primarily by the Haitian National Police and that only twice had MINUSTAH been called on to provide support. Also, crime levels remained stable. At the same time, the Secretary-General observed that the situation remained fragile and could be susceptible to setbacks. Council members who share these concerns may take the opportunity to once again call on political actors to remain calm and refrain from any violence, while others may choose to highlight as a positive development that the situation appears relatively stable.
Honoré is also expected to talk about the role of MINUSTAH and the impact that the delayed elections will have on the strategic assessment mission on the future UN presence, referred to in the mission’s mandate renewal resolution 2243 adopted last October, as well as on the overall planning of its reconfiguration. In his report, the Secretary-General proposed that the review would be conducted after completion of the electoral process, but that he would still present recommendations to the Council on the future of the mission ahead of the mandate renewal in October this year. He noted that MINUSTAH and the UN country team had already started working on a joint transition plan, which among other things would look at functions that can be transferred from the mission to the Haitian government or other partners. Council members may see the debate tomorrow as an opportunity to express their views on the future role of the mission and their expectations with regard to the timeline for the planning of the reconfiguration of the UN presence. In particular, it seems some Council members believe it is unwise to link the future reconfiguration of the mission too closely to the completion of the electoral process, as they see further delays as very likely, and may choose to convey these views in the meeting tomorrow.
Finally, the debate is likely to highlight continuing concerns among Council members as regards the rule of law, human rights and the humanitarian situation, including the cholera epidemic. In his report, the Secretary-General expressed particular concern about the human rights of detainees and the slow progress towards strengthening the rule of law and ending impunity, views that are probably shared by many Council members. He also urged continued attention to the difficult humanitarian situation and acknowledged with concern the increase in the number of cholera cases last year. According to a 9 February statement by the World Food Programme, the number of people facing severe food insecurity had doubled to 1.5 million since last year with the country facing its worst food crisis since 2011, while OCHA reported in January that the number of reported cholera cases had increased by 24 percent from 2014 to 2015.
In a related development, the Council this morning held a meeting with MINUSTAH’s troop contributing countries (TCCs) with briefings by Honoré as well as interventions by the mission’s force commander, Ajax Porto Pinheiro, and the police commissioner, Serge Therriault, by video teleconference. They confirmed that the security situation is largely stable, but fragile, and provided a positive assessment of the capacity of the Haitian police, while emphasising the need for adequate resources. With regard to the role of MINUSTAH, Pinheiro noted that although the military component had rarely been called on to intervene during the recent protests, it played an important role as a deterrent.