By Jacqueline Charles and Stewart Stogel, McClatchy Newspapers –
UNITED NATIONS — When a 15-member delegation of the U.N. Security Council arrives in Haiti Monday for an on-the-ground look at the situation two years after a devastating earthquake, it will find a nation at fever pitch over carnival, but lukewarm or even hostile on the topic of United Nations troops.
A new allegation of rape involving Pakistani soldiers and three young Haitian boys in the city of Gonaives has triggered renewed protests and demands from Haitian senators that U.N. soldiers lose immunity and be tried in a Haitian court.
Efforts to replace the 10,581-strong U.N. force with a new Haitian army also persist. And anger over a deadly cholera epidemic, which originated near a U.N. camp and has sickened more than a half-million people and killed about 7,000 people, continues.
“The image of their forces has deteriorated,” said Daly Valet, a political analyst and editor of Le Matin newspaper in Port-au-Prince.
At the same time, the delegation led by the United States will find a post-quake nation whose huge problems continue to exceed the limits of the U.N.’s mandate.
Political infighting and deepening polarization and debate have paralyzed the country in recent months, making for a potentially volatile situation.
“The recent two-year anniversary of the tragic earthquake makes this a good time for the council to go there and assess progress and encourage Haitian leaders and U.N. officials to take further positive steps,” said Kurtis Cooper, a spokesman for the U.S. mission. “Clearly many challenges lay ahead, especially how to create economic opportunities for the Haitian people. And it is now time for President 1/8Michel3/8 Martelly and the Haitian government to convert their good ideas into actions.”
Valerie Amos, U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, said it is important for the Haitian people to see that the international community remains concerned about what happens in the country, where a half-million people remain in tents.
“We need to remember that Haiti is a country that still has significant humanitarian needs,” Amos said. “The council members actually seeing what has been achieved for themselves will continue to make the case for donor support to get the resources for the government.’’
But the council faces a formidable task. The U.N. mission, known by its French acronym Minustah, is facing growing resentment over its handling of the cholera epidemic and rape allegations even as it reduces its troop numbers to pre-earthquake levels.
Last week Haitian senators demanded that the immunity granted to U.N. troops — under an agreement Haiti signed when they came in after a 2004 uprising forced former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile — be lifted. Prime Minister Garry Conille has directed his minister of justice to issue a formal request to the U.N.’s legal affairs office.
The U.S. and other nations have said they deplore the rape allegations, and they note that they are under investigation.
Council members will visit the cities of Miragoane, Leogane and Cap-Haitien. They also will travel to Caracol, the site of a new industrial park in northeast Haiti that the United States and Inter-American Development Bank are constructing, as well as pay visits to parliament, the camps and the police academy.
Reforming Haiti’s police is a key part of the agreement between Haiti and the United Nations, and there is growing concern over a push by Martelly to recreate the Haitian army, said a U.N. official. Political groups in Haiti have complained to the U.N. that they fear a new army could be used to repress dissent.
“It simply is not needed. We see no outside threat to warrant an army,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he’s not a member of the Security Council.
Michel Forst, the U.N.’s independent human rights expert, agreed. After visiting Haiti last week, Forst told Haitian-American leaders in Miami that there are other options Haiti can consider to establish security such as increasing and strengthening the Haitian National Police so it can take over security responsibilities.
“To me the Haitian Police is a cornerstone of the rule of law,” said Forst, who noted that a lack of decision by the Haitian government to fire 200 bad cops is hampering efforts to not only reform the HNP but also to send a clear message to the population on the rule of law.
“They know the guys who should be dismissed. High-ranking officers should be dismissed, some close to the director general of the police but no decision has been taken so far,” he said. How can young police officers, Forst asks, “refuse to receive, say $10 or $20 to pass drugs or information, when they know that the big boss receives thousands or millions of dollars?”