Diálogo / December 18, 2013
By Larry Luxner
Nearly four years after a massive earthquake struck Haiti, foreign peacekeeping troops continue to provide security by patrolling the streets of Port-au-Prince and other large cities under the command of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
But MINUSTAH is exploring its options, with a report due next March by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on “reconfiguring the mission,” agency chief Sandra Honoré said in a recent interview.
The Trinidadian diplomat, whose official title is special representative of the secretary-general in Haiti, replaced former agency chief Mariano Fernández of Chile in July 2013. In October 2013, the 15-member United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to extend MINUSTAH’s mandate until mid-October 2014 — which would mark 10 years since its initial deployment.
“The secretary general thinks it is time to consider whether a multifaceted peacekeeping operation is still the best way to continue supporting the government and people of Haiti,” Honoré said by phone from Port-au-Prince.
Force to be cut to 5,021 peacekeepers by June 2014
The earthquake, which measured 7.0 on the Richter scale, hit Port-au-Prince and its environs on Jan. 10, 2010, killing an estimated 220,000 people, including 96 UN peacekeepers. Another 300,000 people were injured and 1.5 million left homeless by the quake, which destroyed the capital and sparked an outpouring of international charity.
Some 300,000 Haitians are still living in refugee camps and tent cities spread throughout the Caribbean country.
“The question of the withdrawal of MINUSTAH uniformed personnel has been an ongoing one,” Honoré said. “After the earthquake, there was a surge with respect to the support we were providing to the government. The withdrawal of those uniformed personnel will continue as security conditions on the ground permit, and as our work continues to strengthen and professionalize the Haitian National Police.”
MINUSTAH currently has 6,270 peacekeeping troops, 2,425 police officers, 437 international government and civilian staffers, 1,302 Haitian staffers and 195 UN volunteers. Its peacekeepers come from 19 countries, mainly Latin America, and its police officers hail from 41 countries. The largest “blue helmet” contingent is represented by Brazil, which has 1,700 peacekeepers in Haiti. Other key contributors to the MINUSTAH mission are Uruguay, Argentina and Chile.
The UN Security Council’s Resolution 2119 calls for cutting troop levels by 1,249 by June 2014. That means that within six months, MINUSTAH will be down to 5,021 soldiers, though the police component will remain unchanged. Likewise, its operational budget will fall from $648.4 million in 2012-13 to $576.6 million for 2013-14.
Mission objective: Building up Haiti’s National Police “
The reaction that we have from the government of Haiti to the work of MINUSTAH as a peacekeeping mission is favorable,” Honoré said, explaining that her mission — in keeping with the consolidation plan — is focusing on a specific number of core objectives.
“One of them is police development,” she said. “The Haitian National Police now has 10,000 officers. With the support of our UN police, the performance of the HNP has been improving. This is critical for enduring stability in Haiti. It’s the only constituted body to provide law and order in the country.”
By 2016, MINUSTAH hopes to boost the HNP’s force to 15,000 officers, compared to its current complement of 10,000 officers, Honoré said.
“In the four months I’ve been here, what I have seen is appreciation for the work this mission is doing. There are, of course, people who feel the mission has been in the country for almost 10 years and that it should be winding down — which in fact it is,” said Honoré, the first woman ever to head MINUSTAH in its 10-year history.
‘Reconfiguring’ MINUSTAH operations
Before coming to Haiti, Honoré was Trinidad’s ambassador to Costa Rica. She also served as chief of protocol at Trinidad’s Foreign Ministry, and from 1995 to 1996 was assistant to the chief of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission to Haiti. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to present options for MINUSTAH’s “reconfiguration” by March 2014 “to explore the best way the UN can continue contributing to greater stability,” Honoré said. “He has spoken about replacing MINUSTAH with a smaller and more focused assistance mission by 2016.”
The stability provided by MINUSTAH peacekeepers is crucial as Haiti develops its own police force, according to Carl Meacham, director of the Americas program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), a Washington, D.C. think tank.
“(MINUSTAH) was formed in June 2004 to restore public order after the ouster of [former president] Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and played a key role in stabilizing Haiti following the earthquake. MINUSTAH’s main task continues to be maintaining order and the rule of law.” Meacham said.
Uruguay may withdraw peacekeepers next year
On Oct. 28, 2013, Uruguayan President José Mujica told a group of lawmakers in Montevideo that he’s considering pulling his nation’s 850 peacekeepers from Haiti in early 2014. Uruguayans are now deployed in Fort Liberté and Morne Casse in Haiti’s northeast, as well as Hinche, Mirebalais and Belladére on the central plateau, Jacmel in the southeast and Les Cayes in the south.
Uruguay traditionally provides more soldiers for UN peacekeeping operations than any country in the world on a per-capita basis. Uruguayan troops also serve in the UN’s peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The United Nations should take three specific actions, said Mark Schneider, senior vice-president and special adviser on Latin America at the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. The UN should develop a fully transparent, five-year transition strategy to define the shift from UN to Haitian responsibility for stability; narrow its focus on strengthening institutions responsible for the rule of law; and demonstrate its own commitment to the values enshrined in the UN charter.
MINUSTAH “remains an essential contributor to stability and security in Haiti,” Schneider argued. “The pace in the downsizing of MINUSTAH’s military component and the handoff to the next administration has to be conditioned by realities on the ground.”
MINUSTAH has helped improve public safety in Haiti
MINUSTAH has undoubtedly helped bring violence down in Haiti, Schneider said. The incidence of homicides in Haiti is by far the lowest in the Caribbean — 6.9 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). While MINUSTAH has helped improve public safety in Haiti, security forces must remain vigilant, Schneider said.
“There’s no question that MINUSTAH’s presence has resulted in reduced gang activity in Haiti. Secondly, the violence that comes along with gang activity has dropped. By going after the gangs, you significantly reduce that,” Schneider said.
Asked what she thinks of recent suggestions that Haiti reconstitute its armed forces — which were disbanded in the wake of Aristide’s overthrow — Honoré said she was not in a position to answer. But Schneider said most Haiti observers including himself are firmly against the idea.
”I can’t think of a single policy proposal that is more unnecessary than reviving the Haitian Army,” he said. “Even if it were only to be seen in economic terms, you’d have to duplicate the administrative structure of managing and financing the army and the police. Given the level of scarcity in Haiti, the establishment of an army lacks any rationale.”