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
Training and employment:
- Mrs. Montas holds a diploma in journalism from the University of Maine, and holds a Masters’ degree in Journalism from Columbia University in New York, 1969.
- Michèle Montas began her career as journalist in Port-au-Prince for the paper Le Nouvelliste. She later worked as editor-in-chief for the cultural magazine Conjonction.
- From 1970 to 1980, she worked as journalist for Radio Haïti Inter, the only free radio station in the country. She hosted the seven o’clock news and several years later became director of the station, in 2000.
- In the early 1980s, she worked in the French-speaking sector of the United Nations radio, as show host during her exile in New York.
- The journalist worked for the United Nations in the cabinet of Mr. Hunte for 10 years (4). During the 1990s and up until December 31st, 2006, she acted as editor-in-chief for the French sector of the United Nations radio. In this position, she continued to fight for freedom of expression.
- In 2003, Michèle Montas became spokesperson for the General Assembly of the UN.
- On January 1st, 2007, she was appointed as spokesperson for the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon from South Korea.
•L’Agronome (2004), a documentary by Jonathan Demme with the collaboration of Jean Dominique. The portrait of a journalist and his wife, Michèle Montas, who give their points of view on the numerous battles in Haiti and on human rights violations. Original title, in English: The Agronomist
(1) For 25 years, this organization has helped thousands of people fleeing persecution.
(2) January 1st is a significant date of an epic nature in Haiti and for Black people. On January 1st, 1804, the island of Saint-Domingue (former name of Haiti) gained its independence. This former French colony became the first Black state of the modern era and the second independent state of the Americas, following the United States. It is important to add that Haitians have been able to demonstrate a great level of maturity and stoicism during a time when nearly all peoples of the American continent had not thrown off the burden of colonialism. Haiti was able to demonstrate to America the first civil code of an independent state (inspired by the Napoleonic code), in spite of the face that this country had experienced the bloodiest decolonization ever known.
(3) Mr. Ban Ki-Moon followed the second five-year mandate of the former Ghanaan head of the most important world organization, Mr. Kofi Annan. Mr. Ban Ki-Moon appointed Mr. Vijay Nambiar, from India, as Chief of his cabinet.
(4) More specifically, during both exile periods from 1981 to 1987 and during the coup d’état in 1991.