Haiti’s electoral council must take full account of an international mission’s findings, reportedly eliminating the Government candidate from the presidential run-off, or face the prospect of considerable unrest, the United Nations peacekeeping chief warned today.
“After a year marked by the devastating earthquake of 12 January 2010, and the ongoing cholera epidemic, it is of paramount importance that the current political crisis is brought to a swift conclusion so that the Government and people of Haiti can focus on the challenges of reconstruction and recovery,” Under-Secretary-General Alain Le Roy told the Security Council.
Thousands of protesters last month rampaged through the streets of Port-au-Prince, the capital, accusing the ruling government coalition of rigging the results, after tallies of the 28 November first round released by the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) put former first lady Mirlande Manigat and outgoing President Rene Préval’s party candidate Jude Celestin in first and second place, qualifying for the run-off.
Popular musician Michel Martelly was less than one percentage point behind in third place, but excluded from the run-off between the two top-vote winners.
Mr. Préval invited an Organization of American States (OAS) mission to assess the results, and its report, delivered 10 days ago, recommends putting Mr. Martelly in second place, thus eliminating Mr. Celestin, according to media accounts. These accounts say that Mr. Préval “has reservations” over the mission’s findings.
“Having officially received the report of the OAS technical mission, the CEP must now honour its commitment to fully take into account the report’s recommendations with a view to ensuring that the results of the elections truly reflect the will of the Haitian people,” Mr. Le Roy said.
“Should the CEP decide otherwise, Haiti may well be faced with a constitutional crisis, with the possibility of considerable unrest and insecurity. At this critical juncture, it is vital that the CEP be allowed to carry out its work without political interference,” he added, urging Member States to continue working with all parties “to ensure that CEP is able to steer the electoral process towards an outcome that is both credible and legitimate.”
He told reporters afterwards that the 15-member body all agreed that the OAS mission’s recommendations should be followed. “Everyone expressed the need that the will of the people be respected,” he said.
In his briefing Mr. Le Roy noted that for the time being, the overall security situation remains calm despite sporadic instances of violence, and he mentioned the return from exile earlier this week of former president Jean-Claude Duvalier, which media accounts have cited as a possible destabilizing factor.
Earlier this week the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said there were major issues concerning human rights abuses that took place in Haiti during the 15 years that Mr. Duvalier was in power from 1971 to 1986.
“In the critical days and weeks ahead, it is vital that the international community stand united in impressing upon all relevant actors in Haiti the need to set aside their narrow partisan interests and work towards a better future for their country,” he said.
“Haiti is at a crossroads. The choices made in coming days will determine whether the country continues to move forward along the path to stability and long-term development. The recommendations of the OAS technical mission provide the elements of a path out the current crisis and merit our full support,” he added, pledging full UN support “to ensure that dialogue, and respect for the country’s laws and institutions ultimately prevail.”
A peacekeeping mission, known by its French acronym MINUSTAH, currently with nearly 12,000 military and police personnel, has been on the ground in Haiti since mid-2004 after then president Jean-Bertrand Aristide went into exile amid violent unrest.
Giving the Council an update on the humanitarian situation in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos warned of the “urgent need for massive mobilization activities to promote prevention and early treatment” in the cholera epidemic, which has already infected almost 200,000 people and killed over 3,700 since October.
She noted that Haiti has “ideal conditions” for cholera’s spread, with poor and non-existent water, sanitation, and healthcare infrastructure, population density especially in the urban slums, and lack of knowledge of how to prevent infections through hygienic steps.
But the overall fatality rate has dropped from a peak of 9 per cent to around 2 per cent, indicating that while the infection is still spreading, treatment facilities and intensive public information campaigns on how to protect from the disease are working. She warned, however, that these efforts require stability in the country, adding: “If aid supplies and aid workers cannot move around freely, or if sick people cannot reach help in time, the fatality rate will quickly rise again.”
On the earthquake, which killed 220,000 people and made 1.5 million others homeless, Ms. Amos said much had been achieved in the past year but 800,000 people are still in camps.
“The relief effort has helped millions of people, but it has not – and will not – provide the long-term solutions which are desperately needed. Accelerating recovery efforts must be the absolute priority for 2011,” she cautioned.
“It is important to still be realistic about how long it is going to take to get everybody to where they want and need to be. We cannot expect that Haiti, the poorest and least developed country in the Western Hemisphere before the earthquake, will be rebuilt in one year or even two. Humanitarian agencies are prepared to stand beside the poorest and most vulnerable Haitian people for as long as it takes to recover.”