Press Releases

    23 February 2004

    “Alarming and Dangerous” Situation in Haiti Requires Concerted International Response General Assembly Told

    Briefed by Under-Secretary-General Kieran Prendergast

    NEW YORK, 20 February (UN Headquarters) -- The current “alarming and dangerous” situation in Haiti required concerted action by the international community Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Kieran Prendergast, said this morning as he briefed the General Assembly. 

    The briefing was hosted by Assembly President Julian Hunte (Saint Lucia) and was organized in response to the concerns and queries by Member States on the United Nations role in responding to the violence that has gripped the country in recent weeks.  Since the anti-Government uprising began at the beginning of this month, dozens of people have been killed in clashes between the police and opponents of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and in his opening remarks, Mr. Hunte said that the Assembly’s approach to conflict prevention and resolution bore centrally on its revitalization initiatives.

    As he briefed the General Assembly, Mr. Prendergast said the United Nations remained in close contact with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Organization of American States (OAS), which had taken the political lead in the efforts to mediate between the Government and the opposition to overcome the political impasse. The Organization was also assessing its own role to see how it could be more helpful in facilitating mediation efforts. 

    Describing regional efforts, he informed the Assembly that yesterday the OAS Permanent Council had adopted a resolution strongly condemning the violence in Haiti and deploring the loss of life in recent days. Calling on the Government of Haiti to fulfil its commitments under the CARICOM Action Plan and earlier OAS resolutions, OAS Member States had also expressed their firm support for the Government of President Aristide and its efforts to restore public order by constitutional means. In his address, Secretary-General Gaviria had mentioned his conversation yesterday with Secretary-General Kofi Annan and noted an emerging consensus on Haiti within the international community. The two Secretaries-General had agreed on the need for a generous and timely response to Haiti’s growing humanitarian crisis.

    The Secretary-General, had repeatedly underlined the United Nations’ full support to the two regional organizations and intended to appoint a Special Adviser for Haiti, he said.  Also required was the Organization’s more active humanitarian engagement. The Secretary-General had asked Mr. Prendergast to brief the Security Council next week, and he would also remain in close touch with the President of the Assembly.

    Mr. Prendergast recalled that the situation in the country has remained volatile since the flawed elections in May 2000. Anti-Government protests had increasingly focused on the demand for President Aristide to resign, but the latter emphasized the he would not leave office before the end of his term in February 2006. With the positions of the Government and the opposition hardening, dialogue and negotiations had become increasingly unlikely. 

    Mr. Prendergast added that, at present, the United Nations had no political presence in Haiti. With the information on the developments emanating mainly from the media and other sources on the ground, the capacity of the Secretariat for political analysis of the situation remained limited and needed strengthening. 

    Further, he said that the situation had deteriorated rapidly in the past few weeks with the emergence of an “armed insurrection” of anti-Aristide groups, who had no formal links with Haiti’s political opposition. The deployment of police to retake the towns seized by those groups had resulted in extensive damage to persons and property. 

    In some places, former police and military had established linkages to gangs, he said.  Some police had abandoned their stations, and desertions had increased. Indeed, some prominent former military and police had appeared publicly in the company of gang leaders.  The city of Hinche had been seized on 16 February, thereby blocking access to the northern parts of Haiti, he said. Since then, Prime Minister Neptune had declared that the Government was facing a coup d’état and requested the support of the international community. 

    The disturbances had hampered efforts to provide food, medicine and other supplies to Haiti’s most vulnerable citizens, as well as victims of recent violence, he continued. They were also affecting the education, health and transportation sectors in the country.  Especially hard hit were Port-au-Prince, Gonaives, Cap-Haitien, Saint-Marc and Hinche. 

    Despite the growing insecurity, the United Nations had been able to continue food delivery to more than 13,000 families in the poorest areas surrounding Port-au-Prince and to some 40,000 primary school students. Efforts were also being made to ensure the distribution of food to the northern and north-western areas. There were plans to ship food and supplies to the north by boat. The Resident Coordinator had called on all parties to allow the establishment of humanitarian corridors to provide assistance to the population affected by violence.

    Since last week, a United Nations inter-agency humanitarian mission in Haiti had been conducting an assessment of the evolving crisis to ensure an appropriate response and mobilization of resources. The mission had been assisting the Resident Coordinator and the United Nations Country Team in formulating a coordinated response to humanitarian needs. Attempts were being made to secure access to vulnerable populations, improve communications and address the growing insecurity in affected areas. 

    The Resident Coordinator had also convened meetings between United Nations agencies, programmes and non-governmental organizations active in Haiti to share information and coordinate the delivery of services.  As conditions permitted, the United Nations was fielding targeted assessment missions to the hardest-hit areas. At the moment, teams were visiting the northern areas that had been cut off in recent days, particularly around the cities of Cap-Haitien and Port-de-Paix. The Country Team was planning to launch a “Flash Appeal” for assistance by the international community in order to focus on the issues of health, water, displaced people, conflict resolution and disarmament.

    In response to ongoing human rights concerns and considerable evidence of an increase in violations of basic rights, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would place a Human Rights Adviser in Port-au-Prince beginning next month. Following the closure of the International Civilian Support Mission in Haiti (MICAH) in 2001, the international community had remained engaged in rendering assistance to the Haitian people. The Organization’s activities in the country had continued through the work of its agencies, in particular the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). 

    Following Mr. Prendergast’s briefing, the Foreign Minister of the Bahamas, Frederick Mitchell, speaking also on behalf of CARICOM, outlined an action plan -- drawn on CARICOM’s initiative and embraced by the wider Organization of American States -- to encourage direct talks leading to a settlement of the crisis in Haiti.  Among the States that had been intimately involved in the process, he mentioned the United States, Canada, France, and the European Union, as well as the countries belonging to the Friends of Haiti group. 

    The Government of Haiti had fully agreed to the plan, which was designed to ensure respect for the constitution by all the parties within the country, he said. It called for a continued constitutional role of the President and a fully functioning role of a Prime Minister and Cabinet, as well as the opposition’s cooperation in drawing up rules for demonstrations and their engagement, which had been heretofore rejected in the movement toward free and fair elections. The plan also envisioned professionalization of the National Police; continued security and economic support to the country; and disarmament of the gangs. 

    He also informed the Assembly that in a few hours representatives at a ministerial and vice-ministerial level expected to travel to Haiti to speak with the leaders of the parties, with a view to delineating the execution of the plan in more specific detail, including dates and time lines. It was envisaged that there would be substantial progress in the implementation of specific objectives by the Government of Haiti by the time of CARICOM’s inter-sessional meeting at the end of March.

    Urging international support for the CARICOM initiative “to the fullest extent that your resources allow” to ensure security, good governance, humanitarian relief and economic support, he stressed that in the immediate future the world community, in cooperation with the Haitian Government and people, was the ultimate guarantor of peace and stability in Haiti. However, support could not be successful unless the people of Haiti agreed on a commonality of interests amongst themselves.  Peace was a public good, which was in the best interests of Haiti, despite the historical hatreds and dislikes, past injuries and claims. 

    Commenting, the representatives of Ecuador, Ireland (on behalf of the European Union), Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil, France, Dominican Republic, Argentina, Bolivia and Chile expressed grave concern over the outbreak of violence in Haiti and called for a negotiated settlement of the crisis. Speakers also supported the efforts of CARICOM and the OAS to address the problem. The international community could not leave Haiti alone, and representatives called for international assistance in reaching a peaceful and democratic solution there. The United Nations needed to attach high priority to the situation in Haiti, they said.  All means of stopping the violence had to be explored.

    Haiti's representative, Jean C. Alexandre, stressed the urgent need to find a negotiated solution to the crisis with the support of the international community. His Government condemned the violence and the loss of life. It would do its utmost to resolve the crisis.  Branches of the opposition had adopted a plan designed to undermine the constitutional authority. They engaged in violence and their demands were trying to systematically hamper the regional initiatives and the actions by the Government.  President Aristide was willing to engage in dialogue and prepared to do everything necessary to ensure the rule of law and democracy in the country. With the CARICOM action plan, in conformity with the 2002 agreement with the OAS, the Government would try to normalize the situation.

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