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Restoring Haiti's Leader

UN and OAS support is crucial for Aristide and Haitian democracy

THE United Nations and the Organization of American States (OAS) wrote a new chapter in the book on democratic transitions in July when they brokered the Governor's Island Accord to return Haiti's first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, to office. Whether history regards it as fact or fiction depends on whether the UN and the OAS stick to the outline and whether the international community, particularly independent human rights observers, help write the text.

In 1990, these combined efforts were critical to ensuring Haiti's first peaceful election in 200 years, which swept Mr. Aristide into office. Today they are equally important for ensuring the president's scheduled return. But the Governor's Island Accord is not fail-safe. The negotiators recognized that an international presence would be necessary as a safeguard in the transition process. But the two key components of the International Technical Assistance Police Mission will not be fully deployed until the end of the transition period. That means that the responsibility in the short run for creating a climate for the transition rests with the military. Given the record in the 22 months since Aristide's exile, Haitians will not be easily persuaded that the signature of the coup leader, Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, is a sufficient guarantee of a change in attitude.

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The human rights climate since the July 3 signing ceremony raises legitimate concerns about the coup regime's commitment to the principles of the accord. Peaceful rallies are routinely disrupted and participants beaten. Coup leader Cedras has publicly stated his determination to prevent popular rallies in the transition period. The International Civilian Mission, charged with monitoring human rights, reports that "there is [still] no perceptible lessening of human rights violations."

In this volatile environment, first impressions will be extremely important. The UN and OAS must strive to show that there will be no compromise of the goal of restoring Aristide's democratically elected government. The UN and OAS can and should complete deployment of the International Civilian Mission as soon as possible.

The mission has had a good start. But, in seven months, only 150 of 250 observers have been selected, and the regime has failed to honor its commitments to permit free movement and access to detainees and to cooperate in facilitating the mission's work. Without the full backing of the UN and OAS, including expedited consideration of mission candidates and follow-up with the coup regime on compliance issues, this sorely-needed effort will be unable to fulfill its mandate. The separate International Techni cal Assistance Mission is now being formed. It will support programs established by Aristide, in consultation with the international community, for professionalizing the military and the creation of a civilian police force. The peace mission must work closely with the International Civilian Mission.

That means sharing information on ongoing problems for further investigation. The Technical Mission must be structured to avoid the problems that have plagued efforts in El Salvador and Cambodia, including lack of true autonomy from the military and adequate screening to ensure that officers and individuals implicated in abuses are not part of the new force. This fragile balance between an outgoing coup regime and a start-up international observer presence will be severely tested.

The president must nominate and the parliament must ratify a prime minister. This should occur in a climate conducive to free and open exercise of political rights. If Haitians cannot debate their choices freely or convene meetings of political parties, or civic groups, then it is difficult to see how the remaining steps, including the name of a cabinet and the return of civilian officials to their posts, can be accomplished.

The transition process will begin to lose its integrity and credibility.

Outside observers skilled in monitoring the exercise of these important political rights can help keep the process on track by facilitating a climate conducive to transition to lasting democracy.

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We have learned a great deal in these 22 months since the coup: that international observers have an ongoing role after election day to ensure that fragile democracy takes root; that democratically elected governments deserve our unconditional support, and that the military does not share a popularly elected presidential mandate.

We now owe it to the Haitians who have suffered so long and have sacrificed so much for democracy to put these lessons into practice.

If the UN, the OAS, and the international community marshal their efforts as they did in 1990, then the Governor's Island Accord will fulfill the promise of a democratic chapter in Haiti's troubled history.

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