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Profile of Michèle Montas, spokesperson for the Secretary-General of the UN

06 Nov 2008

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This journalist and Haitian political militant is the spokesperson for the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, formerly head of South Korean Diplomats.

Michèle Montas was born in Haiti, in Port-au-Prince specifically, in a bourgeois family of three children. During her youth, she was forced to flee the country during Duvalier’s regime and settle in the United States, where she completed her Masters’ degree in journalism at Columbia University in New York, in 1969. 

The following year, she returned to Haiti where her career in journalism began.  She met her future husband Jean Léopold Dominique, well-known journalist who was criticizing the government and was head of Radio Haïti Inter since 1968.   This situation forced the couple to be exiled in New York several years later.  On 28 November 1980, the studios of Radio Haïti Inter were destroyed and all people present at the station were arrested.   Michèle Montas was imprisoned, along with other journalists and human rights activists, and expulsed to the United States with only the clothes on her back.

During this time, the husband of the journalist was found at the Venezuela embassy in Port-au-Prince, having received death threats.  Two months later, the couple was reunited in New York and their file was immediately taken in hand by Human Rights First. Michèle Montas and her husband were granted political asylum in the United States. The couple was among the first beneficiaries of political asylum obtained through the organization Human Rights First (1).

Madam Montas accepted the role of journalist in 1980 for the United Nations radio in New York. She oversaw the French sector of the radio.

Following the fall of Duvalier’s regime in 1986, the couple returned to Haiti and resumed their journalism work for Radio Haïti Inter.  They had to leave the country once again after the coup d’état of 1991 led by General Raoul Cédras, bringing about the demise of Aristide.  Once the latter resumed power, backed up by the Clinton administration, the couple returned to Haiti in 1994.

Michèle Montas and her husband were in disagreement with the Jean-Bertrand Aristide government and criticized the Lavalas party on the air.  Jean Dominique, Director of information at Radio Haïti Inter, was killed on the grounds of the radio station on April 3, 2000 by strangers.  Following this event, Mrs. Montas found herself at the head of Radio Haïti Inter in the capital city of Port-au-Prince.  She also threw herself into the fight against the impunity of the assassination of her well-known husband.

The widow was the victim of an assassination attempt on December 25, 2002 in her home.  During the attack, one of her guards, Maxime Séide, lost his life.  Radio-Haïti journalists were also victims to retaliatory measures.   The station was forced to close its doors in 2003.  These difficult events urged the journalist to return to the United Nations.  In New York, she took on the role of spokesperson for Julian Robert Hunte, president of the General Assembly of the United Nations.

In this manner, in 2003, Mr. Hunte was searching for a journalist from the Caribbean with an international professional reputation and a good knowledge of the UN.  Mrs. Montas was therefore formally hired on.  The journalist spent 13 months as the spokesperson for the 58th session and worked among 14 other professionals specializing in various fields : political, legal or economical.

January 1st, 2007, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, the newly appointed Secretary-General of the United Nations, began his five-year mandate.  On Sunday, December 31st, 2006, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon appointed Mrs. Montas, internationally known professional journalist, as his spokesperson.  It is important to note that Mrs. Montas became the first official woman spokesperson for a Secretary-General since the creation of the UN (3).  Michèle Montas succeeded Mr. Stéphane Dujarric, from France, who had occupied that role since June 2005.  

The fact of being a woman played in her favour.  In this regard, the Secretary-General aims at granting a great role to the French-speaking world within the UN.  Equality also represents a primary factor for Mr. Ban Ki-Moon.   He believes it is important that women be positioned among the higher ranks within the United Nations.

The main functions of spokesperson for the United Nations consist, among others, in insuring a daily media presence and permanent contact with Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, regarding the international issues.  Mrs. Montas deals with complex cases, listens to close collaborators, discusses difficult and sensitive issues, and examines the functioning of the world’s various governments, alongside the Secretary-General.

She therefore represents a close collaborator of the Secretary-General of the UN and renders accessible to journalists information pertaining to the most sensitive crisis in the world.  The position of spokesperson of the Secretary-General of the UN, as occupied since January 1st 2007, constitutes an important step in the career of Mrs. Montas.   However, she considers the struggle to be the same, whether dealing with the poorest in Haiti, refugees in Darfour, the exploited and oppressed in Somalia or elsewhere in the world.

Article translated from French by Murielle Swift

 

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