Armed groups and weak rule of law still plague Haiti - UN report

Armed groups and weak rule of law still plague Haiti - UN report

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While the troubled Caribbean nation of Haiti is making tentative steps towards stability and development, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's latest report on the progress of the United Nations peacekeeping mission there warns that the rule of law remains weak and armed groups continue to undermine the country's institutions.

Mr. Annan's report to the Security Council on the most recent work of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (known by its French acronym, MINUSTAH) says it has made "a promising start" this year, progressively restoring security to areas of the country as it deploys more and more troops.

But this process must be accelerated, the Secretary-General says, urging States to sustain efforts to provide French-speaking personnel, particularly civilian police officers.

The report warns that illegitimate armed groups claim to be exercising official security and administrative responsibilities, especially in Haiti's north and east along the border with the Dominican Republic, in the absence of national police.

Mr. Annan adds there have been reports of "isolated instances of violence and gunfire," citing killings, home invasions, kidnappings and gang activity. The armed groups include former soldiers and police, street gangs, organized criminals and supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who departed Haiti in February after weeks of unrest.

Warning that the presence of these armed groups and their ability to act in quasi-official roles weakens the legitimacy of Haiti's democratic institutions, the report calls on the Transitional Government to strengthen the institutions and overhaul or abolish those that do not achieve democratic standards.

Mr. Annan also suggests the creation of a national commission on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration so that the estimated 25,000 members of armed groups are no longer a threat and the political process - including elections scheduled for next year - can proceed without pressure.

The Secretary-General identifies the restoration of the rule of law as another key challenge, arguing it is crucial to ensuring that Haitians have confidence again in their State institutions.

"The Government of Haiti must do more to establish a well-functioning justice system that is accessible to all and operates free of inappropriate governmental, political or private influence," he writes.

Mr. Annan says the sudden acquittal of a former paramilitary leader facing a murder charge, after a trial in which "the proper procedures were not respected," does not indicate a commitment to effectively tackling a culture of impunity.

He also expresses concern about lists of citizens barred from travelling outside Haiti without any judicial justification.