PORT-AU-PRINCE/NEW YORK/GENEVA (17 September 2012): Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Ivan Simonovic, has spoken of “encouraging signs in Haiti today”, but also of risks, at the conclusion of his four-day mission to the country.
He cited as promising the recent constitutional amendments that establish a 30% quota for women in public life and a constitutional council, the appointment of a Minister for Human Rights and the Fight against Extreme Poverty, and a significant decrease in the camp population from 1.5 million to 370,000.
“Haiti is at a crossroads. If the right steps are taken on a number of key issues, there is potential for progress – but at the same time, there are risks of backsliding. The new Permanent Electoral Council must be credible and have the confidence of the wider political spectrum to ensure that local, municipal, and Parliamentary elections take place without delay and are free and fair and without violence.”
During his Sept 12 - 15 visit to discuss human rights challenges ahead of the upcoming revision by the UN Security Council of the mandate of MINUSTAH, the UN stabilization mission in the country, Simonovic met with senior government officials, including Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, the ministers of Foreign Affairs, Human Rights and Extreme Poverty, Justice as well as the Director General and the Inspector General of the Haitian National Police. He also met with UN officials, the diplomatic corps and representatives of civil society.
“The planned recruitment of 5,000 new police officers in the next 4 years carries great potential for a secure Haiti. If they are recruited based on their merits, well-trained and include more women, the Haitian National Police will be strengthened and so will the confidence of the population. The role and independence of the Inspector General is key for ensuring that human rights violators are excluded from serving,” he said.
Simonovic called for the planned downscaling of the military forces of MINUSTAH to be accompanied by stronger support to the national police and rule of law institutions.
“Police reform is not enough. Reform of the justice system is long overdue. I visited the National Penitentiary where its 3,489 inmates live in inhumane and degrading conditions. Among them only 278 have records of having been convicted, most of the rest are in prolonged pre-trial detention. A more independent, reliable and efficient justice system is necessary to resolve not only this situation but to ensure that the rights of the population are better protected, including land rights. The ongoing penal code reform must be concluded without delay and should enable prosecution of past grave human rights violations in line with Haiti’s international legal obligations.”
Simonovic urged the international community to increase its support to Haiti’s long-term development efforts as the massive humanitarian aid that came to the country in the wake of the earthquake declines. “For too long, too many Haitians have been claiming their economic and social rights in vain, and have not even been reached by basic services. The new development efforts must be based on human rights and ensure that benefits are enjoyed by all, in particular the poorest.”
“Many of the most vulnerable are still trapped in camps, on private lands and threatened by forced evictions. I have stressed the need for consultation with residents and respect for international human rights standards in the process of dismantling these remaining camps. A comprehensive housing and urban development policy is needed”
Simonovic observed that Haiti has a chance to attract investment and create new decent jobs, which is vital in a country where the majority of the workforce is unemployed and enjoyment of basic economic and social rights remain a challenge. In this connection, security and respect for the rule of law and curbing corruption are critical.
The UN official noted that civil society organizations and the opposition have a lot to contribute to the country’s development efforts. It is therefore important for the Government to engage them and all Haitians in rebuilding their country.
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