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October 18, 2019

Justice for Haiti


October 18, 2019

The UN has ended its 15-year long peacekeeping presence in Haiti. Ostensibly sent to reinforce security, build rule of law and promote human rights, UN peacekeepers leave a more problematic legacy, marred by human rights violations. Notably, this week's drawdown comes nine years after peacekeepers sparked one of the deadliest cholera epidemics of modern times in the country.

The organisation's ongoing failure to remedy these harms – not only from cholera, but also peacekeeper sexual abuse and other violence towards civilians – has deeply undermined its legitimacy in Haiti. It also risks crippling the UN's proposed new 30-member political mission, due to begin tomorrow and charged with promoting political stability and good governance in the context of a growing political stalemate and human rights crisis in Haiti.

In June 2004, for the first time in history, the UN deployed a peacekeeping mission under Chapter VII of the UN Charter – authorising the use of force – without an active conflict or peace agreement to enforce, by declaring the political and humanitarian crisis in Haiti a threat to international peace and security. Since its arrival, following a coup that forced out former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has been considered by many Haitians to be an affront to sovereignty.

MINUSTAH's credibility was further eroded by its peacekeepers' implication in human rights violations. Early in its mission, in a raid targeting criminal gangs, MINUSTAH peacekeepers fired over 22,000 bullets into the thin-walled houses of Haiti's Cite Soleil neighbourhood, killing more than 20 women and children. Neither MINUSTAH nor the Haitian police investigated the event. Moreover, despite a "zero tolerance" policy, MINUSTAH personnel engaged in widespread sexual exploitation and abuse of women and children, with perpetrators generally returning home without prosecution or accountability. In 2015, Haiti had one of the highest rates of sexual abuse and exploitation of any peacekeeping mission in the world.

Perhaps most damningly, the UN took more than five years to publicly admit a role in Haiti's devastating cholera epidemic, which has claimed over 10,000 lives and infected more than 800,000 people since 2010, despite numerous scientific studies from 2011 onwards establishing that the disease was introduced as a result of reckless disposal of human waste from a MINUSTAH base. By its own admission, this response left "a blemish on the reputation of UN peacekeeping and the organisation worldwide".

It is no coincidence that MINUSTAH, and its smaller successor force, the UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH), had limited success in promoting rule of law, and remained a point of controversy.

Excerpted from: 'As the UN leaves Haiti, its victims still wait for justice'.

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