Reforming Haiti’s Security Sector
Reforming Haiti’s Security Sector
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 28 / Latin America & Caribbean 2 minutes

Reforming Haiti’s Security Sector

Operations led by the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSTAH) largely disbanded armed gangs in the slums of Haiti’s cities in early 2007, but security and stability are far from consolidated.

Executive Summary

Operations led by the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSTAH) largely disbanded armed gangs in the slums of Haiti’s cities in early 2007, but security and stability are far from consolidated. The failure to provide an immediate, visible peace dividend once the gangs’ hold was broken was a lost opportunity the still fragile country could ill afford. Now new threats are appearing. Serious crime persists, especially kidnapping and drug trafficking, and in the absence of a sufficiently large and fully operational police force and functioning justice and penitentiary systems, it threatens to undermine political progress. This was evidenced by the fall of Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis’s government following April 2008 protests and riots against high living costs. Security sector reform (SSR) is essential to stabilisation but has been plagued by serious institutional weaknesses.

The new prime minister, Michèle Pierre-Louis, who was confirmed by parliament only in August and inaugurated in September, and President René Préval need to act immediately and decisively, with MINUS­TAH and donor help, to conclude police and justice reform. These challenges are all the more urgent, as they come at a time when Haiti is struggling with severe hurricane devastation, and quick disbursement of international emergency and recovery assistance is of crucial importance for the new government.

The process to create a modestly sized 14,000-strong Haitian National Police (HNP) by 2011 – a pivotal element of SSR – must be speeded up. The vetting of the approximately 9,000 active duty HNP officers has been much too slow and insufficiently transparent to address concerns that individuals responsible for human rights violations and corruption remain in the force. Administrative difficulties have limited recruitment and training. The intake of qualified personnel, with special emphasis on more female cadets, has to be increased or the 2011 goal will be impossible to reach. A graduate-level police academy is needed in which commanders can acquire specific skills, including riot and border control, intelligence gathering and analysis, forensics and expertise in fighting drug trafficking. Building a professional HNP is the best way to preempt dangerous, politically motivated pressures to reconstitute the notorious army.

Strengthening the justice sector, including the dysfunctional penitentiary system, is another key part of SSR. Haiti still lacks the basic capacity to detain, prosecute and sentence offenders, especially those responsible for serious crimes. To strengthen the rule of law, it is crucial that the new government speed implementation of the justice legislation parliament passed in late 2007, conclude vetting of the members of the Superior Judicial Council and establish special chambers to bring cases of serious crime to trial. Haitian authorities, with donor help, must also swiftly improve correction facilities, which remain in awful shape, vulnerable to prison breaks and filled with suspects who have never seen a judge.

Likewise, border control and economic development along the border with the Dominican Republic (D.R.) is vital to security and the economy. The new government should define a strategy and reach out to recently re-elected Dominican President Leonel Fernández with the aim of concluding agreements on border development and security. These should cover migration, economic and environmental issues, as well as transborder organised crime and law enforcement. Without such a strategy and improved cooperation between the neighbours, Haiti’s Border Development Commission and MINUSTAH’s expanded role along the frontier will be empty shells. Finally, the government and donors need to put in place comprehensive violence reduction programs that recognise the linkages between severe poverty, social deprivation and crime, particularly in the rural communities, where 70 per cent of Haitians live, and the high density urban neighbourhoods.

Port-au-Prince/Brussels, 18 September 2008

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