Haiti: Security and the Reintegration of the State
Latin America/Caribbean Briefing N°12
30 Oct 2006
Security is the core challenge for new President René Préval and the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSTAH). Violence and impunity, rooted in the state’s weakness, are pervasive, especially in Port-au-Prince. Haiti’s five-month-old government must confront the illegal armed gangs, break the international crime/political power at ports and borders and cope with rising drug trafficking and kidnapping. Armed gangs and criminals, including elements of the Haitian National Police (HNP), perpetrate the violence but it is also fostered by the worst poverty in the Western Hemisphere. Dismantling the gangs and pursuing serious police reform are critical to every broader goal of the new administration, from education reform, infrastructure, private sector investment, jobs and agriculture to governance.
Conditions in Port-au-Prince dominate international perceptions. The provinces, where some 60 per cent of Haitians live, may be quiet but press and politicians respond to events in the capital. And impunity still rules across the entire country. The HNP are spread thin, poorly equipped, minimally trained and unable to confront any regional smuggling threats such as drugs, weapons, contraband and human trafficking coming through the porous ports and borders. Small planes operate with virtual freedom from make-shift airstrips in the countryside, whether carrying cocaine from Colombia or other illicit cargo.
The state security apparatus is as much a source of the problem as a solution. The HNP, along with the judicial system, is in dire need of reform. For two decades, donors have initiated police reform and judicial development projects and spent tens of millions of dollars. The 1987 constitution provided for an academy to train judges; the military was disbanded and the HNP instituted in 1995. None of these efforts have overcome endemic corruption, patronage and perception of the state as a means to personal enrichment.
New plans have again been drafted to restructure the police and judiciary: the Haitian National Police Reform Plan and the Strategic Plan for the Reform of Justice in Haiti. These, especially the police reform that includes vetting current officers, must be announced formally, implemented urgently and monitored transparently on a rigorous timetable. Judicial reform presents even more complexities, some constitutional, others requiring parliament’s approval and some, including nominations of new judges, needing a local government apparatus that does not yet exist. It is critical to the success of police reform and to building a rule of law that protects citizens and has their respect.
Protecting citizens also is a central goal of proposals to dismantle urban gangs in Port-au-Prince. With the newly appointed National Commission on Disarmament, Dismantlement and Reintegration (NCDDR), the government has put into place a three-part strategy for dealing with the gang-related violence and kidnappings that at times have paralysed the capital:
Since early August, MINUSTAH has been squeezing the gangs by seizing and holding their territory, including with checkpoints on the roads leading into and out of the slum areas.
The disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) program for gang members has been linked to community development and violence reduction projects for the communities designed to create jobs, infrastructure and visible services and bolster the state’s presence in Cité Soleil, Bel Air, Martissant and other armed group strongholds. If gang members refuse to disarm, they are to be targeted by special HNP units backed by MINUSTAH troops and police (UNPOL).
The NCDDR is to coordinate the disarmament and violence reduction strategy and improve what has been a woeful effort to communicate with the public.
With support from UNPOL and MINUSTAH, the authorities also must begin to break up the networks that exploit the lack of rule of law at nearly all Haiti’s ports and border crossings. Estimates are that between $100 million and $240 million are lost each year in uncollected customs and port revenues. Transparent accounting and utilisation of port and border revenues could go a long way towards encouraging tax compliance and cutting down on illegal drug trafficking and smuggling, while effective law enforcement in selected port and border crossings also would encourage foreign direct investment.
None of the needed reforms will happen quickly: citizens’ trust has been deeply damaged over two decades of fitful democratic transition, and the state neither yet possesses nor is seen to possess the monopoly on legitimate use of force that a functioning state must have. Immediate practical steps for the new government and MINUSTAH to take, with financial and technical aid from donors, include:
implementing the National Police Reform Plan by setting a timetable to vet every officer, retaining, retraining, arming and mentoring those who are cleared, while removing the others but giving those against whom no criminal charges are pending a soft landing in a retraining program;
completing the database and registration of all police officers and their weapons, and applying standards for recruitment, merit-based promotion, career development and a new code of conduct;
building the 200 commissariats called for in the police reform plan and considering co-locating some with health clinics, legal aid offices and potable water sources, where women and children gather;
physically taking back control of the docks and border crossings and ensuring customs and ports fees are paid into the state treasury;
building a viable vetting procedure into the justice reform plan so as to target and remove corrupt judges, creating special chambers of respected jurists to handle the most serious cases and using ad hoc panels with international advisers to review pre-trial detentions; and
dismantling the gangs and reducing community violence by retraining and reintegrating into society gang members who disarm, prosecuting with a degree of leniency the leaders who turn state’s evidence and end their criminal conduct and giving no quarter to those who refuse to cooperate.
Port-au-Prince/Brussels, 30 October 2006