The United Nations has launched a new operation to combat rape and gender violence in Haiti, where some 1.3 million people were made homeless by January’s devastating earthquake, with the majority still living in camps.
Police and soldiers from the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSTAH) and Haitian national police (PNH), who are often the first responders, are being trained to tackle the problem and ensure medical services for victims, the top UN official in Haiti told the Security Council today.
“I remain concerned by the situation in the camps where vulnerable groups, particularly women and children, are at risk of sexual and gender-based violence,” MINUSTAH head Edmond Mulet said, outlining steps taken since the drafting last month of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on the impoverished nation, which he was presenting to the 15-member body.
“We have also launched a public information campaign on the prevention of and response to rape,” he added, noting that a 200-strong UN police unit continues to maintain a permanent presence in six high risk camps sheltering 135,000 people and carries out daily patrols in 70 other priority camps.
“I must stress that it is impossible to assure complete security coverage in the 1,300 camps, given the available PNH and MINUSTAH forces at hand,” he warned.
Touching on the points Mr. Ban raised in his report, Mr. Mulet stressed the need to carry out “credible and legitimate” presidential and legislative elections on 28 November with the maximum popular participation despite “the fragile political context and difficult humanitarian situation.”
He noted the logistical and security assistance that MINUSTAH was providing. The security situation remains generally calm, although it is still fragile.
“Institutional weakness, combined with the displaced persons’ camps, the resurgence of gang activity and the characteristic instability of the Haitian electoral season, contribute to creating a volatile security environment,” he said.
While the return to their homes of those displaced by the quake remained slow and tens of thousands of buildings needed major work or were beyond repair, Mr. Mulet called for a balance between providing services in the camps encouraging the displaced to return to their communities by providing basic services there, such as health and education.
He also appealed for an end to forced evictions to protect the rights of the quake’s most vulnerable victims. The UN and its partners plan to provide 139,000 solid transitional shelters by the middle of next year, he added.
Only $506 million, or 18.9 per cent of the international assistance promised for 2010, has so far been provided. “Now that there are several projects awaiting financing, I appeal to donors to disburse the promised funds speedily,” he said.
MINUSTAH, with nearly 12,000 military and police personnel currently deployed around the country, has been on the ground since mid-2004 after then president Jean-Bertrand Aristide went into exile amid violent unrest.