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Elections Haiti

The Kenyans Are Coming … or Maybe Not

What would another intervention in Haiti mean?

Words: Anne-Gaëlle Lissade
Pictures: United Nations

In October 2023, the United Nations approved a Multinational Security Support Mission (MSS) led by Kenya for Haiti, marking yet another chapter of international intervention in the country. Pending the establishment of a new government, and following a series of legal setbacks, Kenyan police should set foot in Haiti, responding to local and international cries for support under a city ruled by gangs. 

Yet, this mission comes with uneasiness — I feel a tightness in my stomach, the anxious feeling that this won’t make things better. While it could prove efficient at providing a surface level of stabilization and a veneer of calm, the new mission is shadowed by the toxicity of past interventions. The aftermaths of the UN interventions in Haiti have been followed by a long list of unintended consequences for communities at risk: infectious diseases — cholera was infamously introduced by MINUSTAH agents; human rights abuses by peacekeepers; and a disturbing legacy of sexual violence with reports of assaults on women and children. There are children born of these assaults, children who embody the complexity of their heritage and navigate a society ill-equipped to embrace their mixed lineage or support the young mothers tasked with raising them.

Although I would be grateful for an intervention, it is urgent to tease out the impact peacekeeping has had on the creation of the country’s current conditions. We need to remember to ask probing questions about the reasons that Haiti’s democratic system has failed, what happened to Haiti’s healthcare system, and engage the complex history of how a country once victorious over imperial colonizers came to have seemingly no sovereign power in our current era. 

But most important is the question: what have we learned? Could we learn from past failures to create a more successful intervention? Can the MSS break the cycle of missions and chaos?

The “Peace” Keepers

In the early 1990s, Haiti faced a significant shift in its democratic and sovereign status. The military coup led by commander-in-chief Raoul Cedras on Sept. 29, 1991, ousted the democratically elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The international response advocated for restoring democracy, and the United States under President George H.W. Bush imposed a trade embargo, exempting food and medicine, to pressure the military regime.

During his 1992 presidential campaign, Bill Clinton promised to intensify the pressure on Haiti’s military leadership. Once in office, the Clinton administration worked towards securing a United Nations Security Council resolution that would authorize international intervention in removing the military junta. This came to fruition with UNSCR 940 on July 31, 1994, which, for the first time, allowed the use of force to restore democracy to a member nation. The resolution facilitated Aristide’s government’s return and established the United Nations Mission in Haiti (UNMIH) to oversee the transition. It is interesting to note, for history’s sake, that Resolution 940 was highly influenced by regional policies. Haiti’s case was considered “unique” and a case that requires “ exceptional response,” implying that before this no such resolution to intervene in a country’s democracy would have been possible in an international environment. 

By Sept. 1994, 25,000 military personnel, supported by two aircraft carriers, arrived in Haiti. The mission successfully reinstated Aristide to power on Oct. 15, 1994, who completed his five-year term in 1996. One of his first acts in office was the dissolution of the Haitian armed forces. Ostensibly to combat the degeneration of the army and its legacy of human rights abuses, the plan left a hole in the country’s security operations — a hole that was filled with a series of UN missions. The United Nations Support Mission in Haiti (UNSMIH), the United Nations Transition Mission in Haiti (UNTMIH), and the United Nations Civilian Police Mission in Haiti (MIPONUH) all had the mandate of supporting Haiti’s police force, which was also new at this time. While the police force had historically been affiliated with upholding the goals of the political elite, this period saw the introduction of Haiti’s first independent police force. But given a crux of challenges — insufficient training, a lack of leadership, human rights abuses among new officers, and fundamentally a lack of a culture of public service among the force — it was scrambling, and failing, to provide security for seven million Haitians.

As I look at this history, I wonder, what was the long-term goal? And can we find here the seeds for the security problems we see now and the conflicts between the PNH and the gangs?

Following the 1994 intervention, Haiti’s ties with other countries, especially the United States and their Caribbean neighbors, were fundamentally altered. The intervention highlighted the complexity of Haiti’s diplomatic relations and the role of global influence in its domestic affairs. Over time, these relationships have continued to evolve, often reflecting the changing priorities of foreign aid and political support. 

Inside the country, Haiti’s path to political stability has been tumultuous. Despite the reinstatement of President Aristide, the country has navigated a series of political crises. The return to democracy was intended to be the bedrock for political stability; however, the subsequent years have been marked by ongoing challenges to democratic governance and periodic unrest. The economic impact of the UN intervention and following sanctions, particularly the embargo — which claimed 200,000 jobs and affected a million people — has had long-lasting effects that can still be felt today.  

A tumultuous decade after the 1994 intervention, and following years of political instability and a fully declining socioeconomic situation, the Security Council established The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in June 2004. Its mandate was to restore Haiti to a secure and stable environment, strengthen the governmental institutions, and promote and protect human rights.

The aftermaths of the UN interventions in Haiti have been followed by a long list of unintended consequences for communities at risk,

On Jan. 12, 2010, Haiti took another hit — this time it was nature. A 7.3 Magnitude earthquake struck, claiming approximately 300,000 lives, causing about $8 billion in damages, and leaving around 1.3 million people homeless. The already fragile healthcare system infrastructure completely crumbled, with more than 50 hospitals and healthcare centers unusable from the damages. Nine months later, in October 2010, the government of Haiti declared a cholera epidemic, one that ended up being the worst of the 21st century.  Over 800,000 cases were reported, and about 10,000 people died. For the first couple of years, it was debated how this strain came about, with all the evidence pointing towards a Nepalese peacekeeping base contaminating the Artibonite River, one of the primary water sources of the region, with their waste.

After six years of denial and silence, the United Nations finally formally apologized for its role in the cholera epidemic in Haiti in 2016. With this came a $400 million assistance program called “A New Approach to Cholera in Haiti.” This aid was meant to cover Haiti’s healthcare, sanitation, and water issues. UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon called for moral responsibility, encouraging funding from other UN member states to ensure the success of this new approach. By 2017, the funding call proved unsuccessful, and the General Assembly then asked for a reallocation of $40 million of the unspent MINUSTAH funds to go toward cholera. By June 2020, $20.7 of the requested $40 million was raised for Haiti’s cholera response, and 50.4 % of these funds were used, leaving Haitian people on their own to heal their communities as best as possible. 

Cholera, however, was not the only fetor matter left by the MINUSTAH agents. Multiple cases of sexual assault were reported against MINUSTAH agents to the United Nations. Those allegations range from transactional relations to harassment, rape, and exploitation of children. The aftermath of those assaults was not only psychological, but also generated a “timinustah” — little MINUSTAH or PKFC ( Peacekeeper fathered children) children. There has been little support for these survivors. In March 2021, a local court in Jacmel delivered a landmark ruling, ordering a MINUSTAH peacekeeper to pay 350,000 Haitian gourdes ($3,590) in monthly child support to the mother of one such child. No money was ever received. 

In April 2017, the Security Council decided that MINUSTAH would close on Oct. 15, 2017, transitioning to a smaller follow-up mission to support the Haitian government’s efforts to strengthen rule-of-law institutions, further develop the Haitian National Police, and engage in human rights monitoring, reporting, and analysis​​.

MINUSTAH’s legacy is complex. It reflects the difficulties of international peacekeeping missions in countries with deep-rooted political and social challenges. The mission’s end in 2017 marked a significant transition for Haiti as it still struggles to recover from the aftermath of the MINUSTAH intervention in itself, as well as the problems the peacekeepers came to help solve. 

Lesson Plan

The Kenyan arrival — or anyone at this point — should be met with justifiable concerns based on what we know about the repercussions of past missions. What is to be learned? Can what feels like a failed experiment bring actual results? In September 2018, the UN Security Council drafted a resolution calling for and investing in improved peacekeeping performance. Was that the missing element for a success story for the United Nations? 

The MSS is, or, given that it’s now in limbo, perhaps we should say was, set to operate outside of the peacekeeping framework. It is considered an ad-hoc coalition to support the PNH in reestablishing security in Haiti and preparing for free and fair elections. Is the support to the PNH enough? What will the implications of this mission look like in ten years? There is an urgent need for transparency, for a public development plan. Trust needs to be re-established. The seemingly endless sequence of interventions seems tied up in a Sisyphean cycle of trying to clean up messes from the interventions that came before. 

The responsibility for the success of this mission can’t in fairness rely only on the international community — the Haitian government holds the primary role in protecting the Haitian people from inside and outside threats in whatever form they appear. The Haitian government should keep the best interest for all Haitians as their primary goal when signing international agreements. The Haitian government is responsible for collaborating closely with the intervening mission, ensuring that the objectives and operations of the mission are transparent and accountable to the Haitian people. The government could benefit from reviewing the terms of accountability in international agreements with the UN and other international bodies and  insisting that local laws and rules are respected by foreign groups. They also must include protective measures for vulnerable communities such as anonymous reporting lines for sexual violence, and better public information campaigns about sexual health and rights. 

By doing so, the government could leverage this partnership to fortify national security forces and reinforce the democratic processes, moving towards a future where stability and governance are self-sustained. With its unique position outside the traditional peacekeeping framework, this mission may serve as a blueprint, breaking the endless cycle of chaos and interventions, by providing sustainable tools adapted to the country’s needs, and long-term stability goals rather than interim Security solutions. At least one can hope.

Anne-Gaëlle Lissade

Anne-Gaëlle Lissade served as the chargé d'affaires A.I. at the Haitian Embassy in London. Her work is a unique blend of diplomatic expertise and cultural advocacy, fueled by her extensive academic background with two master's degrees in Human Rights and Global Development. If she's not actively discussing Haiti's future, you'll find her in the kitchen, passionately bringing Haiti to life through her cooking.

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