UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The top U.N. official for Haiti is urging the Caribbean country's new government to keep its promises to fight corruption, improve justice, and combat poverty especially in rural areas, saying peacekeepers have accomplished their mission of stabilizing the Western hemisphere's poorest nation.
Sandra Honore said Haiti today "is far different" than it was in 2004, when the U.N. deployed peacekeeping troops following a rebellion that left the country on the brink of collapse. And she said she doesn't believe the country is prone to the same forces.
Honore stressed in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday that Haiti still faces many challenges, "but there is a degree of stability, a degree of relative calm all things considered today that was not there before."
She said President Jovenel Moise, who was elected in February, has made very clear that he wants "to bring change and bring improved circumstances" throughout the country and especially in rural areas, and he is advancing his flagship development program, the "Caravan for Change,"
Honore said corruption has been a problem in Haiti and Moise has said this is a key area he will tackle.
"The United Nations encourages the government to do all that is in its power to deal with corruption, and to ensure that sanctions are applied to those who are involved in corrupt practices," she said.
"The government has also repeatedly indicated that one of the goals that it has is to try to reduce the gap between the haves and the have-nots — to ensure that access to opportunity, to education, to health care, is made available to populations in the far-flung rural areas which may not have had the benefit of access to these services in the past," she said.
Honore urged the government to "keep to this goal" — and to keep Moise's pledge to provide 24-hour electricity throughout the country within 24 months.
Honore also encouraged the government to make available the resources needed by local government to combat poverty and provide education, health and opportunities especially in rural areas.
The United Nations has been involved in Haiti on and off since 1990. The current peacekeeping mission known as MINUSTAH, which Honore heads, arrived in 2004 and is scheduled to end in October. In addition to helping normalize the country, the U.N. force played an important role after a devastating 2010 earthquake that killed as many as 300,000 people and after Hurricane Matthew last October.
But U.N. troops from Nepal are widely blamed for inadvertently introducing cholera, which has afflicted over 800,000 people and killed more than 9,000 people since 2010. And some troops also have been implicated in sexual abuse, including of hungry young children.
Honore said the U.N. is committed to a two-track approach — treating victims and improving water and sanitation infrastructure in the country, and providing "material assistance" for communities that were most affected.
"There are people who have maintained that there should be individualized payments to the families of persons who have fallen victim to cholera," she said, but "this has not impeded the mission's or the U.N. system in Haiti's ability to continue the work it has been doing in support of the Haitian people for a number of years and in a number of areas."
MINUSTAH will be replaced by a much smaller U.N. mission that will focus on continuing the training of the national police force, as well as assisting the government in strengthening judicial and legal institutions, and monitoring human rights.
Honore urged the government, civil society and Haiti's political parties "to work assiduously at improving those areas in the justice system that require improvement."