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Haiti: update on the humanitarian situation

17-05-1995 News Release 20

On 1 April the Multinational Forces handed over responsibility to the United Nations Mission for Haiti, which is composed of 6,000 peace-keeping troops and 900 police personnel from 37 countries. The UN mission's mandate is to maintain peace in the republic during the transition period and to train a national police force by 1996.

This Caribbean country is among the poorest in the Americas and the western world, with a literacy rate of only 50%, a per capita gross national product of barely 200 US dollars and a child mortality rate of around 15%. Social differences gave rise to the present level of violence, with a small elite of wealthy French-speaking Haitians on the one hand and a poverty-stricken population, mostly living in shanty towns without drinking water or electricity, on the other. " Fragile peace " is the expression used by international bodies to describe the current situation in Haiti.

The ICRC's operation in Haiti was launched in October 1993 on the basis of the organization's right of humanitarian initiative in the event of internal violence. Its presence became more firmly established from September 1994 as a result of the United Nations'involvement and the US Administration's decision to resort to non-violent armed intervention to put an end to the situation that had been prevailing in the country since September 1991.

The above developments led the ICRC to adopt a preventive approach, which consists in spreading knowledge of international humanitarian law among the general public, the police and the international armed forces, ensuring the protection of security detainees and improving detention conditions, maintaining cooperation with th e Haitian National Red Cross Society and strengthening the Society's operational capacity.

The ICRC delegation is also actively involved in promoting contacts between non-governmental organizations, international agencies and the Haitian authorities with a view to improving the overall situation, particularly as regards detention conditions in the country.

 Inside Haitian prisons  

In its protection work and visits to detained persons the ICRC focuses on making the authorities aware of the need to observe the rules of humanitarian law.

In 1994, ICRC delegates conducted 60 visits to 40 places of detention, including the country's 14 main prisons, and concluded that the detainees were in need of humanitarian aid. After discussing the various requirements with the Haitian authorities, the delegation undertook major sanitation work in some of the detention centres visited. It also began distributing relief supplies such as food, sleeping mats, buckets and leisure items and provided medical assistance for the detainees. The ICRC drew the attention of other organizations authorized to do renovation work in the prisons to the situation, so that they could undertake the most urgent tasks.

 The children of Guantanamo  

The delegation in Port-au-Prince is now coming to the end of its search for some 350 families of unaccompanied children from the Guantanamo base, and is working in cooperation with the Haitian Red Cross to ensure that their rights are respected.

The ICRC's role is also to promote knowledge of international humanitarian law and human rights and to explain the specific nature of the organization's activities to government officials, members of the opposition, troops forming part of the UN peace-keeping mission, the UN agencies and non-governmental organizations.