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Haiti faces ‘exceptional opportunity’ but progress fragile – UN envoy

Haiti faces ‘exceptional opportunity’ but progress fragile – UN envoy

Hédi Annabi, SRSG and Head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti
Haiti is facing a time of exceptional opportunity to escape the destructive cycles of the past, with real and significant gains on security, the economy and institution-building, but this progress remains extraordinarily fragile and could swiftly be reversed, according to the UN’s top envoy to the country.

Speaking to the Security Council, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Haiti, Hédi Annabi, said that while the current Government had promoted political consensus and had begun to address key issues including corruption and impunity, there were “clear and continuing threats that democratic debate could relapse into political infighting and instability, and that this could in turn generate violence.”

Mr Annabi said that the latest unrest in Les Cayes, where a demonstration over living costs led to an attack against the local UN office, demonstrated the potential security implications of the recent price rises. Noting that the Haitian public was “especially sensitive to threats of instability,” Annabi said a “firm and visible response” to such violence was essential.

Mr Annabi said there appeared to be a political dimension to the current unrest, and that growing public discontent had the clear potential to undermine efforts at stabilization. He urged donor countries and the private sector to work with the Haitian authorities to find creative ways to generate what he called a “stability dividend,” which would provide immediate and tangible improvements in socio-economic conditions. In later remarks to journalists, Mr Annabi suggested that this should include urgent humanitarian assistance followed by long-term agricultural aid to increase crop yields.

Mr Annabi said tensions between political actors and between the branches of government had occasionally threatened to escalate and to undermine public confidence, recalling that this was dramatically illustrated by the recent shooting incident in Parliament, during a debate related to investigations into alleged spending irregularities.

Mr Annabi called for the wider international community to encourage a responsible approach by all political actors, but added that ultimately, political progress would depend on Haitians themselves. “While moments of tension will be inevitable, it is crucial that political leaders and opinion-makers rise to the occasion and show restraint and a genuine desire for collaboration,” he said.

On security, Mr Annabi said that the sustained operations against gangs conducted in early 2007 continued to bear fruit and that the situation remained “far better than it was.” However, a resurgence of kidnappings was becoming a political liability for both the government and the UN mission in Haiti, known as MINUSTAH.

“There are also recurrent indications that gangs may be trying to re-organize themselves,” he warned. “These kinds of threats, which appear essentially criminal in nature, may be manipulated for political purposes.”

Mr Annabi said that while there had been some progress on institutional reform over the past six months, much more remained to be done to reach the benchmarks noted in his report. He noted that while some 8,450 police officers were now in service, this fell far short of the 14,000 required for basic policing duties, and that while three critical laws on the judiciary and the penal system had been passed, continued and coordinated efforts would be essential to turn these “blueprints” into reality. Mr Annabi went on to characterize the Haitian prison system as “unacceptable from security and human rights perspectives.”

In a statement to the press issued after Mr. Annabi’s report, Security Council members expressed support for continued implementation of police and judicial reform. They strongly deplored the violence which took place on 4 April in Les Cayes and expressed their deep regret about the loss of life. They encouraged the long-term commitment of international donors, and the call for a high-level international conference in Port-au-Prince on 25 April.

Council Members also reiterated their support for the Secretary-General’s intention, expressed in his own report earlier this month, to prepare a consolidation plan with benchmarks to measure continued progress, on the basis of consultation with the Haitian authorities.