Briefing / Latin America & Caribbean 2 minutes

Keeping Haiti Safe: Police Reform

Kidnapping, urban gangs and unresolved killings form a trifecta of challenges to citizen safety that the four month-old Martelly administation must confront by speedily completing reforms to professionalise the Haitian National Police(HNP).

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I. Overview

Haiti’s porous land and sea borders remain susceptible to drug trafficking, smuggling and other illegal activities that weaken the rule of law and deprive the state of vital revenue. Post-quake insecurity underscores continued vulnerability to violent crime and political instability. Overcrowded urban slums, plagued by deep poverty, limited economic opportunities and the weakness of government institutions, particularly the Haitian National Police (HNP), breed armed groups and remain a source of broader instability. If the Martelly administration is to guarantee citizen safety successfully, it must remove tainted officers and expand the HNP’s institutional and operational capacity across the country by completing a reform that incorporates community policing and violence reduction programs.

The recent elections were only a first step toward determining the future of the country’s reconstruction and development. The real work now requires the political leadership – executive and legislative alike – to make meaningful efforts to address fundamental needs. Key to this is identification of common ground with the political opposition, grass roots communities and business elites, in order to reinforce a national consensus for transforming Haiti that prioritises jobs-based decentralisation, equal protection under the law and community security.

President Michel Martelly declared Haiti open for business in his 14 May inaugural address, but a functioning, professional HNP is a prerequisite to move the country forward. Police reform has made significant strides but is far from complete after nearly five years. HNP deficiencies, along with the desire of Martelly supporters to restore the army and nationalistic opposition to the continued presence of the UN peacekeepers (MINUSTAH), contribute to proposals for creating a second armed force. Serious questions surround that problematic notion. If it is pursued, there must be wide consultation with civil society, including grassroots and community-based organisations, and particularly with victims of the old army’s abuses. But first it is paramount to continue strengthening the HNP, by:

  • completing recruitment, including of women, training and full deployment;
  • building police integrity by expediting the vetting process for all active duty officers and staff, including creating an appeals structure, so as to rid the force of those who do not meet standards because of human rights violations or criminal activity and to certify those who do, and by taking immediate action to suspend and if appropriate prosecute officers found to be involved in any serious crimes;
  • revising the reform plan to focus on clearly defined areas for improving the quality of security the HNP provides and building community confidence, such as the training and strengthening of specialised units, crime investigation, border patrol and community policing, while UN police (UNPOL) more actively mentor those efforts;
  • adopting an organic law for the state secretariat for public security that clarifies its role and those of the other executive branch bodies with responsibilities for the HNP; and
  • linking police reform with the reconstruction efforts currently coordinated by the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), by deploying better trained police to the provinces as economic decentralisation proceeds.

Port-au-Prince/Brussels, 8 September 2011

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