Haiti: The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Nigel Fisher, answers questions on Radio Télévision Métropole’s top program ‘Le Point'.

15 fév 2013

Haiti: The Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Nigel Fisher, answers questions on Radio Télévision Métropole’s top program ‘Le Point'.

February 7th, 2013

Q1. With a [very significant] career behind you, why are you not simply designated as the successor to Mr. Fernandez? Why ‘ad interim’?

NF: It is for the Secretary-General of the United Nations to respond to that. Normally, however, there is no immediate succession within a Mission. And the position, for the moment, is ‘ad interim’.

Q2. Is there a possibility that you will be designated?

NF: I don’t know.

Q3. You don’t know yet? OK. We had the opportunity to talk recently. You said that there was an important mission awaiting you, including providing support to the Haitian government in the organization of necessary elections, which are still pending. Why do you think this should be a priority for MINUSTAH?

NF: As you know, we are here to promote some key developments in Haiti, including: improving the security situation in conjunction with the Haitian authorities and advancing the rule of law and good governance. That is why we support the Haitian authorities. According to the constitution, we are already late with the electoral calendar. I think it is very important for the future of democracy in Haiti, that we start the process for free and open elections as soon as possible. And I also think that the realization of these elections will be a benchmark that will enable the international community to assess the level of credibility of the government. I think, for the moment, the delay is problematic for Haiti’s partners.

Q4. Your predecessor expressed the same concerns. Recently, the US Ambassador was in Parliament, along with Cheryl Mills, to express their concerns about the electoral process. You and MINUSTAH do not impose conditions while the United States imposes certain conditions, including [the demand that] elections be credible and transparent. There are 15 million dollars awaiting to finance the electoral process. As chief of MINUSTAH, what do you propose?

NF: Well, it is normal to wish for credible and open elections. This desire cannot be considered as ‘imposed conditions’. What we try to do is to support Haiti. It is certain that we engage with the presidents of the two Chambers, saying that a situation of division will not help the advancement of the democratic process in the country. As for us, it is in Haiti’s national interest to make these elections happen as soon as possible. And they must be inclusive - and not exclusive.

Q5. You are there; ready to support the process in terms of logistics?

NF: Yes, absolutely. But for this, you need first an electoral law, a calendar, a date... Discussions are now taking place around the formation of an electoral body.
Yes, our main job is to help ensure safety and provide logistical support to the elections. We believe that it is very important that the elections are held this year.

Q6. Like another of your predecessors, Edmond Mulet, you know Haiti well.
We know that you have been here for several years… In 2008 you oversaw a UN team to assess the damage caused by four consecutive cyclones recorded in the country. Now that you are MINUSTAH’s chief, have you identified other priorities or challenges, apart from the organization of the elections?

NF: As I said, our main task is really to support the improvement of the security situation by strengthening the Haitian National Police (HNP). Our main objective is to have 15,000 police by 2016, as stated in the development plan of the PNH. We also promote the rule of law and an independent judiciary system. This is another crucial element of our mandate. And there’s maybe a third aspect - good governance, to know how we can work with government agencies to strengthen the state. Because our goal is not to stay here forever; rather it’s to withdraw when national institutions are stronger.

With reference to my recent job as Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for the UN Country Team, I must say that the fight against poverty is also an important element. This is not mentioned in the mandate of MINUSTAH itself, but in the mandates of development agencies of the United Nations. At this crucial moment, especially after the storms of last year, after the drought, the situation of the most vulnerable has worsened. It really should be a priority and I wonder, when we talk about the rule of law and security, what does that mean for an ordinary person? Take the example of a poor woman who lives in a house that does not have the resources to send a child to school, so she sends him to the city as a restavèk… What is democracy to this person? What does justice mean to her? What is ‘development’ for her? Thus, we always talk about institutions, but behind the institutions are the Haitians themselves and we must ask ourselves what it all means to them.

Q7. Have you the answer?

NF: It means access to justice… It means that every Haitian, rich or poor, must realize that justice is open and equal for all… It means that democracy signifies that I, as an individual, as a Haitian… I have the right to participate in decisions that will affect my life. A good education, good health, it is not a privilege, it is a right. Thus, as a citizen, I call on government authorities to invest in the social order so that I may be protected.

Q8. In other words, such rights are not respected here in Haiti?

NF: It varies, but the majority – 70-80% of the population - lives in poverty. Thus, it’s clear that their rights are not respected, not even the right to a job….Following three years with IDP camps in the wake of the earthquake, from time-to-time we ask questions like: "What do you want?" People never ask for something like a tent, a house... It’s always: "I need a job, I need to work, I need to earn a living - for only then can I choose what to do with my salary… send my child to school…" In my opinion, it is important that every citizen can make a living in dignity. Also, when one says that Haiti is open for business… "Open for Business," what does that mean? "Open for Business" to a minority, or to all Haitians? If it’s for all Haitians, then that indicates the direction in which we must engage with the country’s policy makers, taking into account the priorities.

Q9. If I understand you correctly, Mr. Fisher, certain rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are not respected: the right to work… health… education.... Don’t you think that the situation here in Haiti is worrying at that level?

NF: MINUSTAH would not be here if everything was working well. We were invited by the government of Haiti. We are here to carry out a mandate from the Security Council of the United Nations dating back to 2004. In this country, there is a weakness in terms of security, rule of law, governance… and we are here to assist Haiti on the path to progress in these areas and [to ensure] stability. We are working with the authorities to see how Haiti could provide a better response to disasters, and not just rely on the international community. In 2010, we almost saw a veritable invasion of humanitarian players. We must accompany, but not replace necessary Haitian systems.

Q10. Perhaps in a moment, we will return to [discussing] the work you have done in other countries. We know you've worked in a dozen countries - in Africa, the Middle East, you were also in Asia, Afghanistan… in Rwanda… in Iran... [all of these countries] where problems continue to exist... Now that you're in Haiti, does that mean that the situation in Haiti today is very serious? Is, in 2013, MINUSTAH’s presence in Haiti indispensable?

NF: This is perhaps for Haitians to judge, but the [UN] Security Council deems [MINUSTAH’s presence] essential since it has not yet sufficiently advanced security, nor strengthened national institutions for the consolidation of democracy. I wish that Haiti could take over from us as soon as possible, but it is not for us, especially not me, to decide - because it is the Security Council which must evaluate the situation. But it depends on both sides: the Haitian side and our side.... I think that what will follow in the coming months will be very important: it is for both parties to agree, Haiti and MINUSTAH, to find indicators to assess progress and [decide] when the Mission, in accordance with achievements, may withdraw. It is very important that this is not just a MINUSTAH initiative, but that there’s an agreement between the two parties.

Q11. One tries to understand your approach… We often speak of stability…
We had elections; Mr. Préval was elected during the presence of MINUSTAH and passed the gavel to his successor, Michel Martelly. Don’t you think that we’re on the road to stability? Since you're here to stabilize, once stability becomes a possibility, it raises the question of the importance of the presence of MINUSTAH. Is stability still fragile in Haiti?

NF: Yes, I think it is fragile. There are several aspects to consider in terms of stability and security. On the one hand, we can say that in recent years, for example, the kidnapping rate has decreased, but at the same time, the homicide rate has increased in comparison with 2001. It is a mixed picture. In terms of strengthening the police, our efforts have worked, but we have a huge challenge to achieve the goal of 15,000 agents and officers by 2016. I must say that apart from the elections, there is a deep problem with the political culture in Haiti. If I had to give a personal perspective, I would say that it is the policy of exclusion… That is to say, we all either win or lose. For parliament, for example, to establish commissions, the majority party has the right to own the majority, but all political persuasions should be represented in discussions. And in this process where there are no winners, it is unfortunately the path on which Haiti seems to advance. I think it’s very important to have a political agreement, but at least a basic agreement on how we manage politics. How are we going to create an economy in which everyone can participate, not to exclude and include someone else? I think one of the principles applied at the international level, in any truly democratic approach is to promote a policy of inclusion. I think it is important. Divisions are not useful.

Q12. You advocate inclusion and participation. But your predecessor felt that there lacked a herd instinct among Haitians. Do you share this point of view?

NF: At the political level, I return to the question: Does everyone agree on a political work platform? It is not necessary that I should love you, but I must accept that you have the right to speak; that you have the right to participate in discussions… And I think sometimes that mutual respect is absent. And we're here to work, to work out what democratic experience will advance based on, at least, an agreement. I want to discuss this with my Haitian counterparts. What can we do to encourage Haitians to believe in the democratic process that is being put in place?

Q13. You have previously said that the citizen may not know what democracy is. This may be the same for the elections, that is to say, for the citizen; it is not ‘his business’. You invite them to go and vote; they vote and it stops there.

NF: I went on a building site in a certain zone in 2010, during the elections. A group of Haitians were working on the road… It was to create a small road between farms and markets to facilitate the delivery of goods. I asked people whether they were going to vote. One man replied: “Why? Is that going to change something for me?” I think [that attitude] must prompt the leaders to reflect and see how we can work together to change public perceptions. I believe that elections are essential for democracy.
Citizens have the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives. But I return to more traditional examples: what is democracy for a simple farmer? Perhaps, it’s the possibility of eating twice a day instead of just once; it may be sleeping on a mattress instead of floor boards, or to live in a community where there is solidarity where we can help each other... All this, too, is democracy.

Q14. This is Mr. Fisher’s definition?

NF: There are several definitions... It is an element of the definition.

Q15. Today, taking into account these considerations, do you think that there is little progress in Haiti?

NF: No, no, there is a lot of progress… I’ve only been only here for three years, but I can see a lot of progress. One can see it physically…. The clearing of debris; moving people out of camps… There were 1.5 million people in July 2010, now there are 350,000, this is much less.
We saw investments. We see the city’s roads and streets repaired. It is the same in the rest of the country. Yes, you can see progress, you can see investments. But it could be much more... If we take the gross national product last year, estimates at the beginning of the year stood at 8%. Finally it was 2.5%. What happened? Was it a lack of investment? But I think that this is also linked to a country still sends out messages that there are no elections or that there is a lack of dialogue at the political level…. I must say that this is one of my concerns, and I think it should be a concern for the leaders too. What is the effect of signs of political dysfunction being sent to investors, friends of Haiti? Can they believe that Haiti is ‘open for business’? I think the message [being sent out] is not clear.

Q16. You're talking about uncertainties that may constitute a bad signal? I want to return to the comparison you made when speaking about citizens. Given that some problems cannot be solved by the above, why does MINUSTAH not address these problems at root-level, that is to say, actually accompany the Haitian people? Certainly, you accompany the government, but there will be no real stability without the conscious participation of Haitians.

NF: As you know, we have offices around the country in every department, not just the UNPol and military, but also our Civil Affairs section. It is their job to assist - especially in the strengthening of local governance, but also promoting dialogue platforms with civil society. For example, during the last elections, we encouraged – right across the country - platforms to gather local leaders, representatives of civil society to ensure that everything would go well. After the earthquake, we followed the so-called "voice of the voiceless." We asked across the country what the people needed… But it is not ultimately the responsibility of MINUSTAH to focus on the economic and social development. Rather it is the role of United Nations’ agencies and donors. But if I go back to MINUSTAH, if we discuss the rule of law it is to promote this dialogue: how is it that people, Haitian citizens, can participate in the political process? It’s there. For example, we have encouraged and organized platforms with women - not to promote the role of women in the economy, but to discuss how women can participate in the political life of their country and stand as candidates in elections.

Q17. Mr. Fisher, back to what you've done in other countries... In countries where there has been conflict, civil war, is there a universal formula that works to help pull countries out of the doldrums of underdevelopment, a formula that could apply to Haiti? For example Rwanda is a bit like Haiti. Afghanistan and Iraq have very different cultures. Do you believe there’s an existing formula that could apply to Haiti?

NF: Maybe there is no perfect formula, but I can mention a few things... I’m used to working in such situations of crisis and war. In these crises, we must ensure the protection of civilians, especially children. In the case of war, we must prevent them from being traumatized. It is therefore [necessary] to negotiate to protect citizens and ensure their fundamental rights. It is a key element. I’ve negotiated with predatory governments. I’ve negotiated with rebels. One always needs an open channel of communication. We cannot change things without discussion. But once I negotiate with rebel predators, I always say, do you think the abuse of children's rights, for example, will help you achieve your goals, thinking that you will attract the government's attention? No, you will be put in the dock and the international community will condemn you.

In Haiti, there is huge inequality between men and women. There is an exclusion based on gender. Why waste half the resources of Haiti with such an approach? If women and men are equal before the law, we must harness the talents of all.

Q18. Let’s address the behavior of UN peacekeepers in Haiti. Some were involved in acts of rape etc… How do you intend to enforce or apply MINUSTAH’s zero tolerance policy?

NF: Even one such case is one too many. As you know, we had several cases. What I want to do is investigate immediately and take the necessary steps to solve the problem. With the United Nations, which has no internal justice system, if there is a case or a charge, as Head of Mission, I must immediately send details of the case to New York. Then HQ contacts the country of origin of the alleged offender, because it is ultimately the contributing country concerned that must prosecute the accused in court. It is not the UN. The accused is liable under the law of his country. My role is to ensure that the justice of the country is set in motion against the alleged offender. For my part, I can assure you that there is a very strong message sent to the contingent concerned and that such people never work again within the United Nations.

Q19. You are going this week for your first briefing in New York. What are you going to say about Haiti?

NF: Above all, it will be an updating of the situation in the Mission. As Special Representative I will meet colleagues from the United Nations Secretariat, and members of the Security Council, while reiterating my commitment as Head of MINUSTAH to perform well on the mandate it was given by the last Council resolution.

Q20. Let’s wrap-up Mr. Fisher, but allow me one last question: it is thought that cholera was introduced into Haiti by MINUSTAH. You have heard this too?

NF: Naturally, and I've read all the reports and analyses.

Q21. What kind of follow-up do you anticipate?

NF: OK. At present, the case is before the United Nations’ Office of Legal Affairs and I cannot say anything about that. What is important now? It is to ensure that the health situation in Haiti is strengthened, for example, against epidemics. My job is to ensure that those who are still healthy will have better living conditions. I thus have to work with Haiti to raise funds for the installation of improved water supply and sanitation in order to prevent any outbreak, because it is an absolute tragedy. We lost thousands of lives. We cannot be neutral in the face of that.

Q22. Mr. Fisher, do you have a message for Haitians?

NF: Well, I've been here three years. I love the country. I really want to do something to help. I have no hidden agenda. And when I say that I’m really going to accompany Haiti, it is the philosophy that I have applied during the past three years I’ve spent here. How can we strengthen the institutions of civil society, government, national capacities so MINUSTAH can withdraw? I always wonder if what we're doing now is not going to have to be redone again in two or three years, because it is Haiti and Haitians who must gradually take over. This is not interference, nor passive observation. It is commitment and support.

Q23. How many active United Nations peacekeepers are there [in Haiti] today?

NF: About 7,000. Numbers fell last year, and they will decrease even more this year.

Q24. And this will continue?

NF: Of course. But everything depends on the conditions in the country.

Q25. In your view, has the PNH made progress?

NF: Yes, there is progress, especially when we see that, for example, in the field of criminal investigations, there was real progress. There is a strengthening, not only in terms of numbers but also in terms of capacity. But the road is long. It is also very important to ensure that there is a national police force throughout the country, even though the majority of the PNH is based here in Port-au-Prince.

Q26. Will vetting continue?

NF: Yes, absolutely… Already there have been several cases submitted for examination. This will continue. And at the same time, we must accelerate the recruitment process.

Q27. In your view, has there not been some abuse in the first phase of vetting?

NF: I don’t know about that. May I return to the subject during our next interview?

Q28. No problem. It will be our pleasure. You can answer that last question then.

NF: I agree.

Q29. Mr. Fisher, we have been happy to have this opportunity and privilege to interview you this morning. We hope that your participation in this program has appealed to listeners and viewers of Métropole. Thank you very much for agreeing to be with us.

NF: It’s a pleasure - and I'm sure that this will not be our last [encounter].

Q30. It will not be the last.

NF: Thank you.