Nearly 10 years after the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) was established as the largest peacekeeping force in the Western Hemisphere, its top officials are considering withdrawing its troops from the Caribbean nation.
Sandra Honoré, the leader of MINUSTAH, recently visited officials in Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Chile, the countries whose troops comprise the bulk of peacekeeping troops in Haiti. Honoré met with officials in those countries at the request of the UN Security Council, she said.
"This past decade has proved challenging both for Haiti and for the mission,” said the Trinidad-born diplomat, whose official title is Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Haiti. She was appointed to her post as the leader of MINUSTAH in July 2013, succeeding Mariano Fernández of Chile
MINUSTAH has made great progress during its 10 years in Haiti, Honoré said.
“In 2004, when the mission was established, Haiti was in a profound state of instability, characterized by political turmoil and urban violence — perpetrated largely by armed groups,” she said. “Our principal mandate was to establish a secure, stable environment, including support for the development and professionalization of the Haitian National Police, actions to restore and maintain rule of law and public security, assistance in the organization of transparent elections, and the promotion and protection of human rights.”
“Haiti in 2014 is not what it was in 2004, and MINUSTAH’s contribution to this end is widely recognized both by Haiti and by the international community.”
In October 2013, the UN Security Council voted unanimously to extend MINUSTAH’s mandate until mid-October 2014.
UN Security Council studies options for peacekeeping force
Since 2006, seven classes of Haitian National Police cadets have graduated. The police force now has 11,228 officers, including 950 women, Honoré said. An additional 1,300 cadets will have started their training by the end of March 2014. Haitian authorities hope to attain a nationwide police force of 15,000 officers by 2016.
“We believe these efforts should be supported and sustained,” Honoré said. “Despite economic growth of 4.3 percent last year, it is clear that the reconstruction of this nation is a long-term enterprise that will require many more years of sustained effort.”
The 15-member Security Council is considering several options for MINUSTAH’s future, Honoré said:
• Withdraw all MINUTAH forces and name a special envoy for Haiti.
• Withdraw military forces while keeping the police mission intact.
• Keeping a police presence and a reserve military presence for strategic purposes. A reserve force would have the capacity to conduct airlifts.
• Continuing MINUSTAH’s current mandate will reducing military and police forces gradually.
UN officials are planning to gather more information before deciding which option to pursue.
“The Security Council will not take a decision immediately,” Honoré said. “The idea is that a UN strategic assessment mission will visit Haiti and come up with detailed information allowing the council to ultimately take a decision. It would be premature of me to pre-empt the council members and the opinions that will be found on the basis of their own deliberations.”
Earthquake reconstruction picking up pace
MINUSTAH’s original mission took on added urgency in January 2010, when a magnitude-7.0 earthquake hit Port-au-Prince and its environs, 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.
But the quake is receding into Haiti’s past as reconstruction efforts pick up pace.
“In my eight months in Haiti, I’ve witnessed first-hand the emptying of post-earthquake camps. Of the 1.5 million people originally there, only 147,000 are now lodged in the camps, and the government intends to close them all by year’s end,” Honoré said. “In addition, roads are being paved and public spaces renovated. This has given new impetus to reconstruction and renewed hope and confidence in Haiti’s development and growth, and have been made possible thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the Haitian people and Haitian authorities themselves.”
MINUSTAH 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, followed by Uruguay, Argentina and Chile.
Uruguayan President José Mujica recently told a group of lawmakers in Montevideo that he plans to withdraw his nation’s 850 peacekeepers from Haiti sometime in 2014. Uruguayans — which make up 11 percent of the MINUSTAH force — 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.
Force to be cut to 5,021 peacekeepers by June
Under UN Security Council Resolution 2119, troop levels will fall to 5,021 soldiers by June, though MINUSTAH’s police component will remain unchanged at 2,601. Likewise, its operational budget will fall from $648.4 million in 2012-13 to $576.6 million for 2013-14.
“The onus will be as much on our counterparts — both Haitian and international — as on the UN system to ensure that MINUSTAH’s withdrawal and handover take place in an orderly, responsible fashion so that never again will there be the need to deploy peacekeepers in Haiti,” said Honoré.
Praise for strategy
In a recent report, the International Crisis Group (ICG) praised the UN for focusing its efforts on developing the National Police “as the key security force” capable of preventing armed threats to the Haitian government itself. The report is titled “Towards a Post-MINUSTAH Haiti: Making an Effective Transition.”
The ICG also gave high marks to MINUSTAH’s Community Violence Reduction (CVR) program, which targets urban slums in and around Port-au-Prince — areas that were historically under the influence or partial control of armed gangs.
“The CVR program represents a unique approach in peacekeeping operations and its managers see it as a model for future interventions,” the report said. “It aims to create economic and social opportunities with a view to extracting former gang members and at-risk youth, as well as women and other vulnerable groups.”
But perhaps most importantly, the ICG report also urges the UN not to rush any decisions about restructuring its peacekeeping mission.
“A transition to a reduced military, more specialized UN police, more FPU [Formed Police Units] and fewer rank-and-file civilian police officers, and a more robust political mandate is required,” it said. “If MINUSTAH is to be the last peacekeeping mission deployed to Haiti, national authorities must also increasingly take responsibility for stability. This means a greater countrywide state presence, as well as better public services, including housing and protection to those still displaced by the earthquake.”