Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today pledged the continued assistance of the United Nations for Haiti, which, while having made significant gains in recent months, still faces a number of daunting challenges such as reviving its crippled economy and strengthening the rule of law.
“The United Nations will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Haitian Government and people in the noble and necessary work of building a more just and prosperous future,” Mr. Ban stated during an open debate of the Security Council on Haiti.
The meeting, convened by Colombia, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council for April, is taking place as Haitians and their international partners are looking to consolidate progress following last month’s elections. According to preliminary results, popular musician Michel Martelly defeated former first lady Mirlande Manigat to take the presidency.
Mr. Ban commended the people of Haiti for this important step towards the consolidation of democracy, adding that it builds on the gains the small Caribbean nation has made, with the support of the UN peacekeeping mission there (MINUSTAH), towards security, respect for basic freedoms and an end to the state-sponsored violence.
“Today, the Haitian press enjoys greater freedom than at any point in the country’s history. Urban slums are no longer controlled by criminal gangs. The National Police has become a capable and trusted institution,” he noted, commending President René Préval – who also took part in today’s meeting – and his administration for their role in these advances.
He also commended the President for his leadership and valuable contribution in building his country amid difficult challenges, including last year’s devastating earthquake, noting that recovery and reconstruction are slowly gathering momentum.
More than 20 per cent of the estimated 10 million cubic metres of rubble have been removed, Mr. Ban reported. In addition, the number of earthquake-affected people living in camps has decreased from more than 1.5 million in July last year to 680,000 today.
He also noted that the cholera epidemic that struck the country towards the end of last year appears to have stabilized.
But while important progress has indeed been achieved, Haiti continues to face daunting challenges, he pointed out. “The country’s economy is on its knees. Public institutions are barely able to deliver essential services. Millions of Haitians remain dependent on the assistance of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to meet their most basic needs. Too many women and girls live in fear of sexual violence.”
Without the rule of law, lasting peace and prosperity will remain elusive, he added, reiterating what he stated in a report released last week.
“Haiti’s judicial system is deeply dysfunctional. Its prisons remain dangerously overcrowded. Property records are unreliable and non-existent. Public expenditures often lack transparency,” he stated. “Rule of law reform must be a top priority for Haiti’s next President.”
Also addressing the Council, former United States President Bill Clinton, who serves as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Haiti, reported on the progress made by the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission, a panel on which he serves along with Haitian Government officials, the UN and other international partners.
So far the Commission has approved more than 87 projects – valued at $3.26 billion – that when completed will help an estimated 2 million Haitians.
“The idea is to take the Haitian Government’s own development plan and make sure that all the projects approved are consistent with that,” Mr. Clinton said, calling on Haiti’s partners to ensure adequate resources so that the Commission can continue to fund critically-needed projects.
In a presidential statement adopted during the meeting, the Council welcomed the ongoing electoral process in Haiti and stressed the importance of its completion in a “peaceful, credible and legitimate” way, which will contribute to consolidating democracy, allow for the completion of constitutional reform and provide a strong basis for the continuing reconstruction efforts.
The 15-member body also stressed that there can be no genuine stability or sustainable development in Haiti without strengthening its democratic institutions.
While recognizing Haiti’s long-term recovery challenge, the Council called on the international community to continue to its vital support, and on donors to fulfil their pledges without delay.
Mr. Préval said in his remarks that the international community needs to change its focus in Haiti.
“Tanks, armoured vehicles and military should be replaced by bulldozers, engineers, more police instructors and experts in justice and penal systems,” he said.
Today’s meeting is slated to hear from more than 40 speakers, including the President of Colombia, who is chairing the meeting, and a number of foreign ministers, as well as senior officials from the Organization of American States (OAS), the Inter-American Development Bank and the Caribbean Community.