Cholera, babies left by U.N. peacekeepers top list of Haiti’s woes

U.N. Security Council visits Haiti

U.N. Security Council visits Haiti ahead of permanent closure of its peacekeeping operation.
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U.N. Security Council visits Haiti ahead of permanent closure of its peacekeeping operation.

The 15-member United Nations Security Council ended a visit to Haiti Saturday, promising to review what it heard during two days of meetings with a cross-section of Haitians as it prepares to permanently withdraw its blue helmet peacekeepers after 13 years.

Members heard a variety of concerns during the discussions, which began with President Jovenel Moïse on Thursday and concluded late Friday with members of the judiciary and the heads of national accountability institutions, including Haiti’s Central Financial Intelligence Unit chief Jean-Francois Sonel. Sonel has come under fire after he forwarded a money-laundering investigation on the president’s finances to an investigative judge ahead of Moïse’s Feb. 7 swearing in.

Among the issues Haitians raised: the lack of independence of the judiciary; the need for the U.N. to compensate victims of cholera and the abandoned children of peacekeepers; and the desire for a new, smaller mission to be Haiti’s last.

There was also harsh criticism over the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti or MINUSTAH, which will end in October and be replaced by the smaller mission. MINUJUSTH will be tasked with further development of the Haiti National Police, judicial reform and human rights.

“We had very important meetings,” said Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solíz, Bolivia’s Permanent Representative to the U.N., who led the delegation as head of the council. “We listened and ... we will be analyzing all of the information we have gathered.”

On Saturday, as members prepared to depart, Solíz called the visit “timely,” given the ongoing transition from peacekeeping to institution building.

“We see it with our eyes wide open, there are big challenges and there isn’t a solution that will come from one day to the other. It is a process,” he said. “Haiti has fortunately entered a new period of stability providing an important window of opportunity.”

But the solutions, more than one Haitian emphasized, have to be tailored to Haiti’s needs and must be impactful.  

“If it’s something cosmetic they are going to give us, we’re not interested,” former Prime Minister Michèle Pierre-Louis said after welcoming council members to lay white roses at memorial for Haiti’s 2010 earthquake victims in Martissant, then joining them over lunch as they met with members of civil society.

“It has to be something that respects us, respects our dignity,” she added. “We know we have difficulties, but the cosmetics — we are tired of.”

Members of the United Nations Security Council pay respects to victims of Haiti's Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake during a two day visit to Haiti. Bolivia Permanent Representative Sacha Sergio Llorentty Solìz joins Haiti Planning Minister Aviol Fleurant in a silence on Friday at Parque Martissant where a memorial stands in the botanical garden. Jacqueline Charlies jcharles@miamiherald.com

A similar point was raised hours later as the council traveled to the country’s new supreme court building to meet with the superior council of judges.

“U.N. missions have been coming here since 1993, said Judge Noë Pierre-Louis Massillon, an adviser to the council and a head judge from St. Marc. “When they leave, they aren’t supposed to come back.” “But they keep coming back because they haven’t really addressed the real problems or sat down with the real actors. Sometimes they spend a lot of money in the system, and where they’ve spent the money isn’t where the real problems are because they didn’t sit down.”

At 4:53 p.m. Jan. 12, 2010, Haiti suffered its worst natural disaster. More than 300,000 people died and an equal number were injured; 1.5 million were left homeless.

His message to the council: “We cannot be independent if we don’t have the means to stand on our ground.”

“Whatever they do has to respond to the true needs,” Massillon later said. “Reforms can’t just be about firing judges.”

Jerry Tardieu, a congressman who heads a special commission in the Lower Chamber of Deputies on amending the Constitution, said he believes the visit was productive given the variety of voices the delegation heard from.

“It’s one thing to receive the reports of the Secretary-General’s special envoy, and it’s another thing to move around and talk to people,” said Tardieu, who met with the delegation along with nine other lawmakers in a close-door meeting at parliament.

Toward the end of the discussion, Senate President Youri Latortue turned the tables, raising questions about cholera and challenging members on Haiti’s right to re-establish the army, which he has personally been pushing.

Asked about the army debate, Solíz said it was a sovereign issue. He said he was impressed with lawmakers’ reform efforts and pushed back on the criticism over MINUSTAH and its personnel.

“They have been with the Haitian people in many, many difficult moments,” he said, noting last year’s Hurricane Matthew in the south and the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake. “They have worked together closely with the Haitian institutions in order to have successful electoral process and I think that was a very important contribution we want to underline.”

Ericq Pierre, a former board member of the Inter-American Development Bank, is among the tens of thousands of Haitians hard-hit by Hurricane Matthew.

But MINUSTAH has also endured criticism over cholera, which was introduced by Nepalese peacekeepers months after the earthquake. Despite publicly embracing the U.N.’s approach to eradicating the disease, which has killed more than 9,000 and sickened more than 800,000, nations have been reluctant to contribute to a $400 million cholera trust fund or support a new plan to turn over $40.5 million that will be left over at the end of MINUSTAH to the fund.

“We have heard the appeals concerning cholera, including the statement of a victim, and reiterated the Security Council’s support for the Secretary-General’s new approach,” Solíz said.

The body has also come under fire for the sexual abuse and exploitation of Haitians by peacekeepers, many of whom have abandoned children they fathered while in Haiti.

“You can’t have a first mission that failed. You don’t address the failures, and then you go and continue another,” said Mario Joseph, a human rights lawyer who represents cholera victims and the mothers of U.N. peacekeepers’ children. “There is nothing for Haitians to have any confidence in. Cholera is a huge problem. What kind of response will they give cholera? The victims of cholera are still in the streets, they are still protesting. How do we know that MINUJUSTH won’t be worse? The children of peacekeepers who have been abandoned — those questions haven’t been addressed.”