RFI exclusively interviews Ecuadorian María Isabel Salvador, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Haiti and Head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) about the critical situation in the Caribbean country and the possibilities of sending a force international police force to support local officers completely overwhelmed by the level of violence. “80% of the territory of Port-au-Prince is controlled by criminal gangs,” she says.
RFI: The situation in Haiti is very worrying. A panorama out of control in which, according to what you denounced this Thursday before the Council, 264 alleged gang members died at the hands of self-proclaimed vigilante groups. The UN Secretary General himself, Antonio Guterres, spokeof a critical situation.
Maria Elizabeth Salvador: It must be understood that the situation in Haiti has reached tremendously high levels of criticality. This is not the result of a punctual and specific moment or of a punctual and specific event, but rather the consequence of a long process. I would dare to even say historical. Definitely in the last two years it has had a substantial increase, becoming a multidimensional crisis. It is not just a political, socioeconomic or security crisis, but it is a multidimensional crisis that is at extreme levels.
That is the context, but the most urgent thing is the issue of security, because security levels are almost non-existent. Almost 80% of the territory of Port-au-Prince is under the control of criminal gangs, they have access roads to the capital, access and exit and have the ability to access illegal weapons. If this is not solved, the rest will not be able to improve.
The humanitarian crisis or the human rights crisis are also very serious extreme crises. Almost half of the population needs help or some kind of humanitarian protection. Three million children have food insecurity problems. It is an extremely serious situation. Unfortunately, in Haiti, because it is located where it is, it suffers in relation to climate issues, the effect of earthquakes, the effect of tropical storms.
RFI: Where does the solution go?
Maria Elizabeth Salvador: The solution does not happen, I would say that it begins today at this juncture due to the need for international support, for a police force that mainly helps and works hand in hand, that complements the Haitian National Police in order to control security and achieve security stability that allows progress on other issues. The next issue is the political issue, that is, moving towards free, democratic elections, free and transparent, inclusive elections that allow the democratic re-institutionalization of the Haitian State.
R.F.I.:Why hasn’t an agreement been reached yet to launch this international force, knowing that there was a special UN mission (Minustah) that was there from 2004 to 2017?
Maria Elizabeth Salvador: I think that first you have to make a clear difference with respect to Minustah. The great mission that was present in Haiti for many years was a mission eminently made up of military forces, it was a peacekeeping force. What is being talked about today is a force or a group, not of the United Nations, but of states that are willing to cooperate.
Obviously, that mission will also have to have the validation of the Security Council, but it will not be a United Nations force. It is what is being talked about for now. And the big difference also, it must be emphasized, is that this international security body must basically be a police force, because what is sought is to work with the police so that they can advance in the control of criminal gangs, freeing them from others. functions that they have today and for that they need an accompaniment from another state. The Haitian National Police today is seriously understaffed. The number of police is very, very below international standards. It is a support and complement mission, always within the framework of Haitian sovereignty.
RFI: And which countries would be part? Are there some countries already interested?
Maria Elizabeth Salvador: The main problem is that for the Security Council to give the go-ahead for this to happen, there must be a country that expresses its decision to lead this process. In other words, this is going to be multinational in the sense that several countries have to contribute in different ways, but leadership is needed and that leading country has not been able to be identified to this day. And as long as that doesn’t happen, the Security Council can’t approve anything. There are countries that have shown all their interest in cooperating, but none have been able to say ok, I’ll take the lead.