Photo credit: Vania Andre

By Wyatt Massey

The departure of the controversial United Nations peacekeeping force MINUSTAH after 13 years in Haiti leaves the country at a turning point of national stability and sovereignty that some are applauding and others are watching skeptically.

The UN mission will have a mixed legacy, but its biggest accomplishment was restoring a rule of law at a tumultuous time in Haiti’s history, said Robert Maguire, former professor and editor of “Who Owns Haiti? People, Power and Sovereignty.”

“MINUSTAH successfully repelled the pressure of some in Haiti who would have like to see the UN Mission oversee a kind of ‘cleansing’ of Aristide supporters,” Maguire said. “ (The mission’s) more positive legacy was its work during the presidency of Rene Preval to limit the gang and paramilitary violence that plagued Haiti during this period.”

The original stabilization mission was triggered after the 2004 coup, which exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and left dozens of people dead. The UN intervention assisted the transitional government and scheduled to last six months, with possible renewal. At the time, the mission’s main goals included stabilizing Haiti’s political process, training national police and protecting human rights.  

UN peacekeepers were expected to pull out after the 2010 elections, but renewed the contract and surged its force to help Haiti in earthquake recovery. The disaster was the greatest loss of UN staff life in its peacekeeping history.

Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, praised the transition in April, calling it a “strong example” of how peacekeeping missions should work. “This new mission will foster the independence and self-sufficiency of the Haitian people and will continue to support the Haitian National Police,” she said.

While the mission has its fair share of support and praise, it also has received intense criticism for the peacekeepers’ role in introducing cholera to Haiti and for the controversy surrounding sexual assault allegations.

The force was blamed for the 2010 outbreak of cholera, which killed more than 9,000 people and affected more than 800,000. The disease was brought to the island by peacekeepers relocating from Nepal after the earthquake. Poor management of wastewater contaminated the Artibonite River, where many Haitians access water.

Some Sri Lankan members of the force were implicated in a sexual abuse scandal involving children as young as 12 years old. Others are accused of sexually assaulting women. Rights groups criticize the UN for not compensating victims of these events.

Sienna Merope-Synge, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti staff attorney, said MINUSTAH’s departure will complicate any legal actions against the UN in regards to reconciling with cholera and sexual assault victims. Thousands of cholera victims continue to wait for compensation.

“It’s going to be really important for actors who care about human rights in Haiti and internationality to not let the UN silence MINUSTAH’s role in human rights (violations).”

IJDH will continue to advocate on behalf of victims. The UN promised to make due for the harm it caused and must be held accountable, Merope-Synge said.

IJDH will continue to prosecute the cases on behalf of victims. The UN promised to make due for the harm it caused and must be held accountable, Merope-Synge said

Some UN personnel will remain, but the current mission, with a staff of nearly 3,000 uniformed personnel and more than 1,000 civilians, will be downsized. The military force will reduce to 1,275 police officers in transition to the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH).

Mamadou Diallo of Guinea will lead MINUJUSTH. The program will assist Haitian police in training and human rights monitoring. Other UN missions in Haiti, such as UNICEF and the World Food Program, remain operational, too.

Historically, the UN has a mixed record with peacekeeping missions. The organization deployed peacekeepers to El Salvador in 1990 during the country’s brutal civil war. The mission was able to create conditions for peaceful elections. However, during the 1992 peacekeeping mission in Cambodia, peacekeepers are blamed for creating a sex trade economy and increasing the number of prostitutes  from 6,000 to 25,000.

The next UN mission in Haiti will focus on rule of law, a standard that Merope-Synge said the previous mission did not hold itself accountable to.

“It’s hard to see how the new mission will be able to effectively consolidate rule of law when it’s coming in with all of the baggage MINUSTAH has for not keeping rule of law,” she said.

Dan Beeton, Center for Economic and Policy Research international communications director, said the new mission is just another way for foreign governments to control Haiti. US diplomatic communication documents released by Wikileaks in revealed the US Ambassador in 2005 and 2006 saw the UN forces as a way to push US interests and control populism in Haiti, as well as decrease migration.

The UN deployed the peacekeepers to intervene in political conflict, but Haitians remain skeptical of the full intention of the mission. The peacekeepers had near immunity in keeping the peace and were sent by an international organization largely controlled by world powers with a history of colonialism. Across Latin America and the Caribbean, countries are wary of this kind of outside pressure given the United States’ history of intervening in domestic politics in an effort to squash the spread of communism and populism.

At the United Nations in September, Haiti President Jovenel Moise announced plans to establish a national defense force focused on disaster relief, which would take the place of UN forces. The president is also pressing for the revival of a national military, which Maguire said Haitians should reject to not empower the forces responsible for Haiti’s historic instability.

Beeton said a revival of the Haitian army would be “tragic and unfortunate,” given the army’s historic of violently suppressing dissent. “It’s questionable whether Haiti needs either a force like MINUSTAH, nor a military,” he said. “As long as Haiti’s governments seem so clearly influenced by the US, Canada, and France, its military is also likely to act against the interests of the Haitian people.”

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump has called for deep cuts in U.S. spending on foreign aid. Currently, U.S. contributions to the UN ($10 billion) make up a fifth of the organization’s overall budget and nearly 30 percent of the peacekeeping budget.

As for Haitians living in the United States, there is an air of uncertainty regarding their immigration status following the Trump administration’s decision to not renew more than 50,000 Haitian nationals’ Temporary Protected Status following its January 2018 expiration. 

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