In a ceremony complete with trumpets, dancing, and a speech delivered by Haitian President Jovenel Moise, the blue flag of the United Nations, which has flown over Port-au-Prince for the last thirteen years, was lowered on the sixth of October. Amid hurricane and earthquake, during riots and presidential elections, the flag of the United Nations flew over Haiti throughout the nation’s trials and triumphs of the last thirteen years. To some, the flag serves as a symbol of stability and hope for the future, but to many Haitians, it is a reminder of disease and abuse.
The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) was deployed in 2004 to steady Haiti after a coup d’état drove then-president Jean-Bertrand Aristide out of power. The mission stabilized a nation prone to disaster and strengthened Haiti’s political processes. However, the worthy progress which UN peacekeepers made in many areas is overshadowed by scandal. Countless Haitian people see the departure of peacekeepers as a blessing, blaming the peacekeepers for bringing cholera to Haiti, a disease which has killed over 9000 Haitians since 2010. Further, despite the UN’s zero tolerance policy on sexual abuse, an investigation carried out by the Associated Press indicates the UN peacekeepers in Haiti have been responsible for close to 2000 instances of sexual abuse throughout MINUSTAH. Having endured such scandal and suffering, many Haitians are happy to see peacekeepers depart, but wish the UN would leave the country entirely.
The UN has maintained almost a continual presence in Haiti since 1993. When MINUSTAH was deployed to the Caribbean country in 2004, it was given a three-pronged mandate: to secure the environment in order to allow political processes to take place and ensure rule of law and public safety; to assist political processes and safeguard the Transitional Government; and finally, to promote and protect human rights. As its mission concludes, the UN boasts of the good brought to Haiti by MINUSTAH. Touted among its successes, MINUSTAH established the National Police Academy in 2012, doubling the number of police officers and allowing for police presence in every commune in the country. As a result, public safety has improved. Kidnappings have gone down by over 95% in the last ten years, rates of homicide are among the lowest, and the Haitian National Police are again in control of neighborhoods which were once dominated by gangs. Most notably, despite initial issues with fraud and violence leading up to the presidential elections in 2016, Haiti legitimately elected and inaugurated President Jovenel Moise this year, and the country seems to be in capable hands.
However, despite achievement in regards to the first two parts of its mandate, the UN itself has struggled with the third. While governmental stability, public safety and fair political processes are of an enormous benefit to the small, struggling nation, such accomplishments are continually eclipsed by a lack of respect for human rights on the part of some UN peacekeepers. In particular, thousands of sexual abuse accusations have justifiably tarnished the legacy of MINUSTAH. However, the UN has yet to deal adequately with those peacekeepers accused. Of particular distress, sources indicate that Sri Lankan peacekeepers who carried out a three-year child sex ring in Haiti still hold positions in the Sri Lankan military.
On the matter of the cholera epidemic, the UN’s response again has been less than adequate. Haiti is receiving little aid in its battle against cholera, a devastating disease brought by infected Nepalese peacekeepers and caused by poor sanitation among UN employees. While former Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon set up a trust fund to raise monies for battling cholera and providing cures for those affected, the fund is voluntary and now close to empty. Until the UN aptly deals with the scars it has left upon Haiti, MINUSTAH’s reputation, particularly within Haiti, will be focused on the harm it caused, rather than the progress it brought.
The lowering of the UN flag served as the ceremonial end of MINUSTAH, after 13 years of promoting peace and stability in the Caribbean country. However, the end of MINUSTAH does not mean the end of the United Nations’ involvement in Haiti. When the UN Security Council voted to end MINUSTAH, it simultaneously approved a new mission: The United Nations Mission for Justice Support (MINUJUSTH). The new mission is meant to build upon the work which its predecessor carried out and ensure stability endures. It is much smaller than MINUSTAH and is composed mainly of police and civilians.
Despite human rights abuses and public backlash, MINUSTAH achieved important progress in numerous areas for Haiti. MINUJUSTH has a secure foundation upon which to build in its goal of promoting justice and ensuring stability in Haiti. As a fresh mission, with a mandate separate from that of MINUSTAH, hopefully MINUJUSTH will also be able to detach its legacy from that of its predecessor, setting a solid example of respect for human rights in Haiti.