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Africa

Can the UN Security Council Finally Wrap Its Mind Around Haiti? It’s Trying

todayMarch 20, 2024 16

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Child in Haiti
More than 362,000 Haitians are displaced in their country as violence by armed gangs convulses the Caribbean island nation amid a government collapse, lack of a strong police force and an intervention force being long delayed to the country. A new transitional council, proposed by the Caribbean intergovernmental bloc, could stem the chaos. UNOCHA/HAITI 

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The United Nations Security Council endorsed an international police mission last fall to try to regain control of Haiti from the powerful armed gangs dominating parts of the country. Yet violence is now convulsing more regions of Haiti as the mission has been put on hold and the interim Haitian government has resigned.

The Council has been deliberating in the last few weeks behind closed doors on how to seize the moment to restore a semblance of peace in Haiti, but the gangs wield a firm upper hand, and immediate regional solutions involve steps that do not require the electoral will of Haitians.

Caricom, the intergovernmental regional bloc, recently orchestrated political measures — calling it a transitional council — with the United States, in consultation with other countries as well as civil society, the private sector, political parties and faith groups, all aiming to calm Haiti down. But the proposals face resistance from many  Haitians, including the gangs.

Two key steps need to happen in tandem for the transitional council to begin, diplomats said at the UN this week: naming an interim leader and arranging a security plan to ensure the safety of Haitian citizens. Some experts contend, however, the latter is more urgent than the political agenda. (One source familiar with the Caricom proposal said that an ex-Supreme Court judge may be named as interim leader.)

The permanent representative to Japan and current rotating president of the Security Council, Kazuyuki Yamazaki, told PassBlue that the Council is deliberating with “other countries, including Kenya, in finding a way forward.” Yamazaki did not say what options the Council might be considering.

The creation of an international security support mission was to be led by Kenya, who volunteered for the role after larger countries, like Canada and the US, declined to take up such a politically loaded position. But Kenya soon met opposition from within after declaring its willingness. A Kenyan court quickly barred the government from deploying the country’s police unless certain conditions were met in Haiti. Months later, President William Ruto’s government indicated the mission was back on track. Then Haiti’s interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry resigned on March 12, and Kenya paused the mission again, citing the lack of a formal government in Haiti.

Henry was forced to resign after being locked out of his country while traveling home from Kenya. Gang members had taken control of the airport and seaport in Port-au-Prince, the capital, keeping Henry from returning. Henry had gone to Kenya in February to speed up the process of the UN-backed 1,000-strong police mission, where he signed a “reciprocity agreement” with Ruto. The Caricom agreement also required Henry to resign.

The Kenyan official in charge of the police mission, Monica Juma, did not respond to a request from PassBlue for a comment. The UN said five other countries — Benin, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, and Chad — have pledged to contribute troops to the mission. Experts told PassBlue that the mission would need more than 5,000 trained personnel to combat the gangs.

Kamina Johnson Smith, Jamaica’s foreign minister, met with the Security Council privately on March 18 to update members on the Caricom proposal. She echoed the need for both a political and a security plan to resolve the deadly confrontations by gang members in Haiti against civilians.

 

 

José Singer was a special envoy to the UN when his country, the Dominican Republic, was a member of the Security Council in 2019-2020. In a phone call with PassBlue about Haiti, of which his country shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, he said that Kenya would need the money and other logistics in place before the mission started, to be effective. The US has pledged $300 million, the highest share so far for the operation, but it is unclear whether the money would go through the UN or directly to Kenya. Moreover, the US Congress is blocking the release of the funds.

“Kenya does not have the money, but they are willing to put their [police] in front for the mission, but they cannot move ahead without the money,” Singer said. “The mission will take money and time, and nations have not shown much interest in how much they’d give. No one, apart from the US, has stepped up on the money part, and without the money, Kenya can’t move. It is an expensive operation, and the more time passes the more expensive it becomes.”

Calls by Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, for “urgent deployment” of the UN-backed police mission, on March 5, show the critical necessity of the intervention. At the same time, the notorious gang leader and former member of the Haitian police, Jimmy Chérizier, famously known as Barbecue, warned of civil war.

The UN has a funding appeal underway to supplement the support mission’s operations. Yet that dedicated coffer has attracted just $11 million. Singer said the UN is the only organization equipped to solve the gang violence in Haiti but acknowledged that finding the best strategy is tough.

“The United Nations has all the tools to help Haitians rebuild, but it has to follow the lead of the people,” he said.

The UN has an unsavory reputation in Haiti. In 2010, a UN peacekeeping contingent inadvertently brought cholera to the country, killing at least 10,000 Haitians. A plethora of sexual abuse cases have also dogged the UN’s peacekeeping missions over many years, and they withdrew in 2019. Now, a small political mission, Binuh, is meant to help steer the country toward eventual democratic elections. In the current chaos, some international staff of Binuh have been evacuated from Haiti.

The US and Caricom are working to select the transitional presidential council to name Henry’s interim successor and organize a general election in Haiti. The council will have nine members: seven with voting powers; one from civil society and another from the religious community. The key to the council, numerous diplomats said on March 18, after a UN Security Council closed-door meeting on Haiti, is picking the interim prime minister.

Slavoj Zizek, a professor of philosophy at the European Graduate School, wrote in Project Syndicate, a media site of opinion essays on global topics, that Haiti is exhibiting all the “familiar features of a failed state” following the seizure of all critical infrastructure by gang members. He also warned that the gang might likely take over the government.

They have seized most of the capital’s downtown and some government headquarters, Matthias Pierre, a former elections minister in Haiti, told the BBC.

Reports from Haiti say the gang members also control some rural communities. The government declared a 72-hour state of emergency on March 10, after gangs stormed the country’s two major prisons and freed inmates that have since re-enforced the gangs, Pierre said. Heavy gunfire rang through the capital as schools and businesses remained closed.

Singer said there are better ways to address the lack of a legitimate government in Haiti other than the transitional council. The Security Council and other key players in the international community must allow Haitians to take the front row in electing their representatives, he said. (Henry himself had been appointed prime minister by ex-president Jovenel Moïse two days before he was assassinated in his home in July 2021.)

Haiti’s most infamous gang leader, Jimmy Chérizier, known as Barbecue, has warned of civil war. WLRN

Haiti has a semipresidential system of government, and Singer said the people should be allowed to elect mayors for the 146 municipalities, as recognized by the Haitian constitution. The majors can then elect the 42 district heads who can call for a constitutional review that allows for a presidential government setup.

“This way, Haitians can have a president who is elected by them,” Singer said. “It is a Haitian problem and has to be a Haitian-led solution. Starting the election from the bottom up is better than starting it from the top again because that has not worked. What Caricom is trying to do is important but has to be what Haitians want. The international community can only make suggestions. It is unlikely that they will be successful with the gangs still having this much power.”

The gang leaders have already rejected the solution provided by the US and Caricom. Guy Philippe, a former police officer who won a senate seat in 2016 in the Haitian parliament, before he was extradited to the US and imprisoned for drug-trafficking-related offenses, has declared his desire to lead Haiti. Philippe is a major gang leader in the country, but the US and Caricom have said that ex-convicts and anyone under investigation could not be part of the transitional council.

Renata Segura, the deputy program director of Latin America and Caribbean at the International Crisis Group think tank, said that although there is a need to keep communication channels open with the gang members, the no ex-convict clause by Caricom rules out the gang members from taking part in a legitimate government.

The gangs and political elites have always carried on a symbiotic relationship until the former grew self-sufficient. Now, they are more powerful than the politicians who once used them as tools for civic oppression. The use of gangs against opponents was pioneered in the late 1990s and early 2000s and has since been adopted by many other politicians in Haiti, Michael Deibert, an American writer and a researcher with the Center of International Studies at the University Institute of Lisbon, said.

“Haiti needs an effective way to investigate and punish the political and economic actors with links to these armed groups,” Deibert said. “The so-called transitional council supported by Caricom gives most of its political power to many of the same political forces that have succeeded already in bringing Haiti to this abyss.”

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