UN: “Haiti Is At a Crossroads”

Above: the UN’s ASG for Human Rights in Haiti (UN Photo/Logan Abassi)

By the Caribbean Journal staff

While Haiti is showing “encouraging signs of progress,” a number of challenges remain, particularly on the fronts of poverty and justice reform, according to UN Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic.

Simonovic, who began a four-day trip to Haiti this week, urged the international community to continue to support the country’s development.

“Haiti is a at a crossroads,” he said. “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 United Nations, which continues to have a significant peacekeeping presence in the country, has been pushing Haiti to move forward with reforms relating to security and the Rule of Law, including a strengthened national police force.

This week, Simonovic’s trip included a trip to Haiti’s national jail, which houses 3,400 inmates in what the UN called “precarious conditions.”

According to Simonovic, of those inmates, just 278 have been convicted, while the rest wait in prolonged pre-trial detention.

“Police reform is not enough,” he said. “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 also called on the world to help further Haiti’s development.

“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,” he said. “The new development efforts must be based on human rights and ensure that benefits are enjoyed by all, in particular the poorest.”

Haiti still houses hundreds of thousands of victims from the earthquake in tent camps, and the UN official said the country needed a “comprehensive housing and urban development policy.”

That echoes the call of Luca Dall’Oglio, the head of the UN’s International Organization for Migration, who exhorted Haiti to make progress on the reported 575 such camps in the country following Tropical Storm Isaac.