PORT OF PRINCE, Haiti – The top United Nations human rights official has called for strengthening Haiti’s police and judicial systems, as well as for greater assistance for the victims of the series of hurricanes that ravaged the tiny Caribbean nation in recent months.
Wrapping up a three-day visit to the country on Wednesday, November 5, Navi Pillay noted that the Government and people of Haiti are facing a “multitude” of human rights issues, including lack of access to food and water, prolonged detention without trial, and poor prison conditions.
In her meeting with President René Préval, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights voiced concern about the vulnerability of the population to natural disasters and discussed the development of policies to human rights to adequate food, health, housing and water.
Haiti remains in desperate need of support after four hurricanes and tropical storms – Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike – lashed the country between mid-August and mid-September, killing nearly 800 people and affecting an estimated 1 million people.
While noting the significant progress made in the area of security, she reminded the President that security and maintenance of public order could not be achieved at the expense of respect for human rights and the rule of law.
Ms. Pillay, who took up her post in September, also visited Cité Soleil, a poverty-stricken neighbourhood in the capital, Port-au-Prince, where she visited Kay Jistis (“House of Justice”) – a community-focused project supported in part by the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
The project aims at improving access to justice, and offers legal assistance to victims of detention-related violations. It also addresses the issue of prolonged pre-trial detention, which continues to contribute enormously to the crisis of overcrowding in the prisons.
During the trip, she also met with senior ministers, police and judicial authorities, the Ombudsman and members of civil society, including human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs), all of whom highlighted the situation in the prisons, where some 8,000 detainees live in unacceptable conditions and face long pre-trial detention.
The High Commissioner also met with Hédi Annabi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and head of MINUSTAH, which is assisting Haitian authorities in building strong national institutions. She noted in particular the need to strengthen the ability of the authorities to detain, prosecute and punish perpetrators of serious crimes, as well as to restore the rights of victims.