A U.N. stabilizing mission to Haiti, which includes more than 12,000 peacekeepers, could draw down soon, and that raises concerns for Haiti’s newly elected president, who said Haitian forces were not ready to fill the void.
Addressing the United Nations for the first time, Haitian President Michel Martelly told the General Assembly last week that Haiti still needs the mission to continue in its full strength to stabilize the country and aid its recovery. He made that plea despite the unpopularity of the peacekeepers among many Haitians.
Although welcomed at first, Martelly said, these stabilizing missions ultimately “run out of breath” because of “overblown” expectations in the host country and a failure of the mission to evolve as situations change on the ground.
“And that’s a pity, because nothing is more irresponsible and dangerous than to let these missions leave without an effective national alternative,” he added.
The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, known by its French acronym MINUSTAH, dispatched peacekeepers to the nation in 2004 to respond to violent unrest following the exile of then president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
MINUSTAH originally authorized a peacekeeping force of about 9,000 troops but increased to more than 12,000 following the earthquake, which killed over 200,000 people and displaced 2.3 million, according to U.N. figures.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced last week that he would recommend to the Security Council a one-year renewal of the mission, but with a reduction in forces to the pre-earthquake level.
Much of the work has involved policing the impoverished nation of nearly 10 million people. Over the past seven years, many Haitians have complained that the troops behave more like an occupying force. Peacekeepers have been entangled in scandals involving prostitution with under-aged girls and the alleged rape in July of an 18-year-old man.
And as the nation buried its dead following the earthquake, evidence emerged that peacekeepers from Nepal were the likely source of a cholera outbreak that killed about 6,000 Haitians.
“Clearly I am aware that unacceptable mistakes have stained the mission’s prestige, but the trees should not hide the forest,” Martelly stated.
As a candidate, Martelly said he would expedite the removal of the peacekeepers. And as the Miami Herald reported, Haitian elected officials share that sentiment. Prior to Martelly’s address to the General Assembly, Haiti’s Senate passed a resolution calling for an end to MINUSTAH over the next three years.
Despite their eagerness to see the mission wind down, however, Haitian officials realize their national police force could not yet replace the peacekeepers.
According to a statement from the secretary general’s office, Ban discussed his recommendation to reduce the military component of MINUSTAH with Martelly early last week. He told the Haitian president that his plan called for a gradual withdrawal, to be worked out in close collaboration with the Haitian government.