Is it time for MINUSTAH to leave Haiti?
Is it time for MINUSTAH to leave Haiti?
Speech / Latin America & Caribbean 8 minutes

Is it time for MINUSTAH to leave Haiti?

Presentation by Mark L. Schneider, Senior Vice President, International Crisis Group on “Is it time for MINUSTAH to leave Haiti?” at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington, DC, 25 July 2013.

Mark Schneider on Haiti

In this presentation Crisis Group Senior Vice President Mark L. Schneider addresses the underlying causes of the current political crisis in Haiti and the ongoing challenges to the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSTAH). The presentation summarises the still valid recommendations in Crisis Group’s two most recent reports on the island nation, “Governing Haiti: Time for National Consensus”, 4 February 2013, and “Towards a Post-MINUSTAH Haiti: Making an Effective Transition”, 2 August 2012. Schneider notes that the political polarisation within the country’s elites continues to stall long-delayed elections and much-needed reforms. In October 2013, the UN Security Council will consider the required extension of the MINUSTAH mandate and may question the lack of progress on establishing firm benchmarks for a transition targeted at the handover in 2016 from President Martelly to his successor.

I want to express my appreciation to Carl Meacham as director of the CSIS Americas Program for inviting me to discuss Haiti and the question “Is it time for MINUSTAH to leave Haiti”. I also want to commend Carl and CSIS for bringing security and stability issues in Haiti to the attention of Washington policymakers once again.

Polarisation, a generations-in-the-making deficit of confidence in government, exclusion from decision-making of the vast majority of the population and an absence of political consensus among elites continue to block institutional progress and to keep Haiti lurching from crisis to crisis.

The next crisis on the Haitian horizon has been visible for more a year. Ten of the country’s 30 Senators were to be elected in November 2011 but that election was never held. There also is a dispute as to whether the terms of another 10 are to end in January of 2014 or 2015. The Senate has passed a resolution saying the Constitutional mandate for six years means they stay in office till January 2015. A fair reading of the Constitution says the same. Others, apparently including some at the palace, argue that a 2008 law requires that their terms end this coming January.

President Martelly should not be tempted by those advisors to declare the Parliament not functioning in January in order to rule by decree. That is a red-line for donors and diplomats and they have told the President bluntly not to cross it. If he does, the result could be an instant suspension of bilateral and multilateral aid and a fiscal crisis to add to Haiti’s political crisis. If that occurs, no one may be able to stop Haiti’s descent once again toward permanent failed state status and Martelly will have condemned himself to a failed presidency.

The electoral dispute is compounded by the delay in elections for mayors and communal, municipal and departmental assemblies, leading to unconstitutional appointments of local officials by the President. And with the failure to name members of the Constitutional Court created a year ago in amendments to Haiti’s 1987 constitution, there is no arbiter for disputes between the executive and legislative branches of government.

President Martelly pledged a year ago to the international community to hold these long-delayed elections by the end of 2013. The polarised environment blocked the required Permanent Electoral Council.  Only the intervention of civil society in the form of a group of religious leaders achieved last year’s Christmas eve political agreement for a Transitional Electoral Council just for these partial legislative and local elections. That council finally sent its proposed electoral law to the palace on July 1 for formal submission to the Parliament. It is now July 25.

President Martelly still has not submitted that draft to the Parliament, a ministerial act which does not require his approval of the content of the draft. If there are questionable provisions—and some of the provisions clearly go well beyond what is required to hold these elections--he should send any recommendations for changes to the Parliament either with or after sending with the draft. But the delay is inexcusable.

To hold the first round of elections by the end of 2013, with the full support of MINUSTAH, will take a minimum of four to six months after the law is adopted.

One of the crucial elements in solving these disputes remains Haitians from across the political spectrum deciding that the country’s security, stability and prosperity is more important than their own narrow political or personal interests. Leaders in Haiti talk about dialogue—but they allow political disputes to be argued out emotionally in the press and thus close the doors to compromise before they are ever open.  For that reason, Crisis Group called earlier this year for the continued work of the “religions for peace” coalition to facilitate dialogue aimed at a national governability pact, similar to the consensus on key public policy issues that have recently been achieved in Mexico and earlier in Peru, Chile and Guatemala. And that coalition should be asked to rev up again to help Haiti’s political leaders act like leaders.

Not quite a year ago, Crisis Group published the report on the table “Toward a Post-MINUSTAH Haiti: Making an Effective Transition” and called on the UN to take three fundamental actions: develop with the Haitian government a fully transparent five year transition strategy defining a shift to Haitian responsibility for security and stability; second, adopt a narrower focus by MINUSTAH during this period focused on helping to strengthen institutions responsible for the rule of law and governance, including elections, and third; that MINUSTAH demonstrate its own commitment to international values by establishing a comprehensive human rights vetting and orientation for its peacekeepers and implement fully the recommendations of the UN own Independent Group of Experts on cholera.

Despite the criticisms that one hears in Haiti, we said then, and I would argue now as well, that MINUSTAH remains an essential contributor to security and stability in Haiti. The pace of the transition in downsizing its military component between now and the end of the Martelly presidency and the handoff to the next administration has to be conditioned by the realities on the ground.

So where are we with respect to MINUSTAH?

  • The Security Council did mandate the design of a transition plan linked to MINUSTAH’s own consolidation, but that process has only just now begun;
  • The resolution extending MINUSTAH also highlighted the crucial importance of security, the rule of law and governance. A working group between MINUSTAH and the Prime Minister’s office is supposed to establish transparent benchmarks in each of these areas. Regular and shared monitoring of progress toward those benchmarks also is essential.
  • Looking at the security challenge, major crime in Haiti—including homicide rates--are relatively low in contrast with those in some countries such as Honduras, or El Salvador, but the situation is far from satisfactory. Haiti has 6179 military troops and 2630 police in the UN MINUSTAH peacekeeping force. Yet, the Secretary General in March issued a report to the UN Security Council that said, the overall security situation (was) “relatively stable, although it was marked by an increase in civil unrest and major crimes.” His report went on to note an “upward trend in homicides” citing as a “major factor” the recurrence of gang clashes, and again, I want to quote “some of which appear to be instigated by political actors.”
  • For the first six months of the year, it appears that homicides are up significantly over the comparable period in 2012, kidnappings about on a par, and rapes also still at an unacceptably high level. All crimes, including robberies, etc., apparently show a slight decline.
  • MINUSTAH is most engaged in the development of the Haitian National police and here there is both good and bad news. The current 10,000 police have been vetted and slowly are improving their performance in corralling gangs, but much more is needed. To get to the goal of 15,000 trained and competent police by 2016 including filling the critical specialties from forensics to coast guard to border patrol, a much better job has to be done on recruiting for the police academy, and funding their salaries, equipment and infrastructure when they graduate. Last year only about 240 students graduated after the seven month course and more than 1000 have to graduate in each promotion to meet the 2016 goals. Recruiting has to be one year-round and one class should enter immediately after the previous has graduated.
  • MINUSTAH, other donors and the government need to quickly come together in a conclave to cope with the disappointing numbers from last year—where attrition actually was near equal to the academy graduates--take stock of the challenge and shake hands on an agreed roadmap going forward—including with enough money in Haiti’s own police budget line to cover its share of the costs—and donors need to do the same.
  • MINUSTAH also needs to be as active in helping Haiti rebuild its courts and justice system—including prisons—as it has been with the police. Anyone who has visited courts in Haiti often have difficulties in finding judges or prosecutors working—partly because many have their own private practices as well to which they give much more attention. The new High Judicial Council (CSPJ) finally is starting to set standards for judges and needs more help from MINUSTAH—coordinating other donors—in helping the CSPJ function. After a year, it has not yet earned professional or public credibility.
  • In the area of justice, one also hears about a proposal to raze the national penitentiary in downtown Port-au-Prince this year but with little visible planning about what to do with the 4000 current prisoners—some hard-core, some convicted, some neither of the above. However, unless there are other newly constructed jails, appropriate, staffed, and ready to accommodate those prisoners, tearing down the old prison needs to wait a while.
  • Finally, not enough has been done by MINUSTAH to respond to legitimate local anger at instances of egregious conduct by small numbers of MINUSTAH peacekeepers. As a result, the still irreplaceable role played by MINUSTAH tends to be overlooked in the heat of public anger. For instance, several key recommendations of the cholera Independent Panel of Experts submitted to the Secretary General have yet to be implemented and there still is an inadequate process for assuring human rights vetting of peacekeepers by troop contributing countries and when abuses occur, for communicating back to Haiti what kind of legal process has taken place.

Let me conclude by reminding all of us that Haiti is still coping with the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. We not only are talking about the 240,000 displaced still in camps around Port-au-Prince but also about the loss of lives of an even greater number of Haitians killed or severely injured in the disaster and the gutting of always weak national ministries, courts, and other institutions.

Haiti has the highest levels of infant (52/1000), child (70/1000) and maternal mortality (350/100,000 live births) in the Americas, the lowest levels of literacy and educational achievement, and a poster child for environmental exploitation. Next week Haitians will celebrate the “Carnival of Flowers” with the slogan, “One Haitian, one tree.” If they really want to see progress on the environment, health, education, jobs, and security, they should add, this year, “and one election.”

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