MINUSTAH, the Peace Force that Lifted a Country in Need
By Dialogo February 03, 2015
The United Nations (UN) has had an active involvement in Haiti since 1990, but it wasn’t until the Security Council adopted resolution 1542 that the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti –MINUSTAH– was officially established on April 30, 2004.
Though the mission was originally set up to support Haiti’s transitional government in restoring and maintaining a secure and stable environment and promoting and protecting human rights, the role of MINUSTAH has changed over time according to the current situation of the country. Lieutenant General José Luiz Jaborandy, Jr., MINUSTAH’s current Force Commander, recently told Diálogo
that the role of the military component of the mission was stronger when it was first established. “Currently, the military component no longer plays a leading role. It has adopted a secondary role in support of the Haitian authorities’ actions on security, developing infrastructure, humanitarian actions, and improving the living conditions of its population,” he stated.
In addition to including 1,622 police, close to 1,550 local and international civilian personnel, and 150 United Nations volunteers, MINUSTAH’s original mandate authorized a military component of up to 6,700 military personnel from countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Jordan, Nepal, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, the United States, and Uruguay, according to United Nations data. But these numbers have also varied according to the updated mandates under which the peacekeeping mission operates.
In order to help with Haiti’s immediate recovery, reconstruction, and stability efforts following the 2010 earthquake, for example, the mission’s military component was increased to an apex in the mission’s history. Just to mention one case, Brazil, which has led MINUSTAH’s military component since 2004, saw the need to deploy a second battalion –BRABAT II– to augment the force and fill the needs of the nation.
In the aftermath of the earthquake, and in spite of losing 18 military personnel, BRABAT I and II were responsible for providing assistance and security to 1.5 million displaced Haitians; removing debris and paving, drilling, and repairing roadways; distributing 375,000 tons of food; and performing 19,000 surgeries and 40,000 medical consults, according to data provided by the Brazilian Ministry of Defense. BRABAT is based out of Port-au-Prince, and includes service members from the Brazilian Army, Air Force, Navy (Marines), as well as a platoon from the Paraguayan Army.
For its part, the Chile Battalion, composed of Chilean Army and Navy (Marines) members based out of Cape Haitian, immediately deployed a platoon to Port-au-Prince to assist in providing security at food distribution centers and to the vehicles transporting it. According to Chilean Navy Captain Pedro Abrego, partner nation liaison officer at U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), “this type of humanitarian task deeply touches the Soldiers, because in spite of fulfilling a mission of providing security, organizing people into lines, and avoiding unrest and plundering in the midst of their search for food, it meant that they were lending a hand in a humanitarian act to those who needed it most.”
The Chile Battalion remained in place and continued to support their Haitian brethren although Chile itself was beset by an 8.8-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami only a few weeks later, on February 27, 2010. “In spite of this new natural catastrophe, the Chilean Soldiers continued their work to alleviate and offer security to the vulnerable Haitian population in need, loyally fulfilling their mission of maintaining a safe and stable environment and contributing to the support and recovery efforts of the people of Haiti,” said Cap. Abrego.
MINUSTAH’s Canada Battalion contributed to the Haiti recovery efforts with a humanitarian task force mandated with delivering various services and humanitarian resources to the Haitian government and the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince.
“Specifically, the Task Force provided emergency medical services; engineering expertise; maritime, aerial, and land mobility and support to Haiti’s security and defense,” said Canadian Army Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Theriault, Canadian liaison officer at SOUTHCOM and former participant in MINUSTAH’s Canada Battalion from 2005-2006. “At the mission’s peak, the Task Force included 2,050 Canadian military service members deployed in Port-au-Prince, Leogane, and Jacmel,” he noted. “The Canada Battalion was responsible for stabilizing Leogane, the most heavily affected area, according to the UN, with losses and damage in the 80-90 percent range and 20,000-30,000 deaths.”
Considering that the 7-magnitude earthquake ravaged the nation and a large part of the MINUSTAH force itself –it claimed the lives of 102 United Nation personnel, among the 220,000 total lives lost as a result, according to UN statistics– these accomplishments show the resiliency and humanity of the people that worked together to come through and support Haiti back to her feet.
According to Lt. Gen. Jaborandy, “the encouragement, enthusiasm and commitment of those who have honor of representing their country by working for Haiti through the United Nations,” are important factors in overcoming the challenges that this type of mission involves.
By June 2011, Haiti’s security situation had improved since the earthquake struck. The democratic presidential elections of 2010 and subsequent run-off elections of March 2011 were successful in re-instituting the democratic process, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recommended the first of several partial drawbacks in the mission’s military and police components.
“I am confident that a partial drawdown of the Mission’s surge military and police capabilities would be unlikely to undermine the progress made so far on the security front and would not affect the ability of MINUSTAH to carry out its mandated functions,” he said in his August 2011 report to the Security Council.
During his interview, Lt. Gen. Jaborandy stated that the current force is at 5,021, but that it is expected to be further reduced to about 2,370 in March, once Security Council Resolution 2180 of October 2014 is approved. The resolution stipulates a reduced presence as well as a new operational role to operate as a Rapid Response Force supporting the UNPOL, the HNP and the military troops.
But the number of participants is only one of the factors that have made MINUSTAH the powerful force behind Haiti’s recovery. Working jointly and collaboratively with the International Community, MINUSTAH’s presence also signified that the whole world joined to work towards lending a hand to their ailing sister.
“We live in a society of abundance, and because of it we must share our successful experiences and methods to aid in the development of a less fortunate society,” said Lt. Col. Theriault.
“Regardless of the cultural differences and the different forms of employment among the Armed Forces that are represented [in MINUSTAH], we’re all united under the brotherhood of a single flag and focused on a common goal. We fly many different flags but we’re one group. We’re a family,” said Lt. Gen. Jaborandy.