Report 10 / Latin America & Caribbean

A New Chance for Haiti?

Nine months after an armed uprising and international pressure forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to resign, the security situation in Haiti is worsening.

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Executive Summary

Nine months after an armed uprising and international pressure forced President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to resign, the security situation in Haiti is worsening. The UN Mission, established on 1 June 2004, has deployed only two thirds of its authorised force and failed to disarm armed supporters of the disgraced leader and members of the equally disgraced disbanded army. If international intervention is not to fail for the second time in a decade and Haiti to become a failed state haemorrhaging refugees to the U.S., it is essential to start a serious disarmament process and a more inclusive political process that aims at building a national consensus, not merely holding promised but increasingly at risk 2005 elections.

In a year that was supposed to have been dominated by celebrations marking the bicentenary of their victory over slavery and colonisation, Haitians have had to contend with political violence, an abrupt change of government, and humanitarian crises resulting from two tropical storms. In early 2004, after several years of fruitless diplomatic efforts to bridge political polarisation, Haiti was again convulsed by political violence. Pressured particularly by France and the U.S., Aristide left the country on 29 February. His fall led to a dangerous reconfiguration of a fragile political landscape, including the alarming re-emergence of the former military and their civilian allies who had led a successful coup against him in 1991.

The UN Security Council authorised rapid dispatch of a Multinational Interim Force to stabilise the country and a follow-on peacekeeping mission, MINUSTAH. However, only two thirds of the prescribed force has deployed, leaving a security vacuum that has had disastrous consequences. A transitional government of technocrats led by former UN functionary Gérard Latortue as prime minister was quickly installed but it has been hampered by lack of a comprehensive political agreement. Mainly because it and MINUSTAH have not tackled disarmament of illegal armed groups, Haiti is drifting towards anarchy. The transitional government has failed to establish its authority in most of the provinces where former military are acting unlawfully as security providers. At the same time, armed Aristide supporters are asserting control of most of the capital's poor neighbourhoods and are increasing attacks on police and civilian targets.

At least 80 Haitians -- including eleven police officers (three beheaded) -- have been killed in unrest and often violent pro-Aristide protests that began on 30 September, the anniversary of the 1991 coup d'état. Most were shot in heavily populated Port-au-Prince slums where armed groups battled with the Haitian National Police, who have been accused of summarily executing young men in the Aristide strongholds.

Although the U.S.-led international force was in a strong position to disarm and demobilise rebel and pro-Aristide forces when it entered, very little was done. MINUSTAH has failed to implement the primary aspect of its mandate, to stabilise Haiti, and its inaction has allowed the former military to consolidate, making it more difficult to confront them in the future. With fewer than 3,000 demoralised, poorly equipped and poorly trained members, the police lack the capacity to restore order. It is urgent to increase the number of UN peacekeepers to the level set by the Security Council and to toughen their strategy for dealing with illegal armed groups.

The transitional government lacks a political base and appears increasingly fragile. The transition process is at stake, and urgent corrections are needed to bolster it. These include a broader political agreement, acceleration of the process to constitute an impartial police force and judiciary, and immediate disbursement of pledged funds for visible reconstruction and recovery projects.

Also essential is a broad national consultative process to set out the priorities, objectives and timetable for the transition and steer the transitional government's policy until an elected successor takes office. Ideally this would start with local and departmental consultations, leading to a national conference with representatives from all political sectors and civil society groups. MINUSTAH should facilitate this with the participation of other international actors. The reconciliation process must go beyond Aristide's party (Fanmi Lavalas) and the former opposition to encompass other social, economic and regional groups. The objective should be to broker a pact among all Haitians that would constitute an inclusive agenda at least until elections in 2005. The holding of those elections should be considered as a principal item of the transition agenda, but not the only one.

The international community hopefully will draw the right lessons from the last, failed intervention so it can help the country move forward at last on the path of democratisation and development. They include the need to engage on security and development for a lengthy period -- at least a decade -- including a genuine process of inclusiveness, building of state capacity in public education and health, and support for urban jobs and sustainable agriculture.

Port-au-Prince/Brussels, 18 November 2004

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