In his mandated report on MINUSTAH, the United Nations Secretary General for the first time outlines the creation of a timetable for withdrawal of MINUSTAH personnel from Haiti. UNSG Ban Ki-moon writes:

The plan foresees a narrowing of the Mission’s activities to a core set of mandated tasks that are achievable within a reasonable time frame (envisioned to be a period of between four and five years for planning purposes) aimed at consolidating stabilization gains to a point beyond which the presence of a large peacekeeping operation will no longer be required. The Mission will work with the Government, civil society, the United Nations country team and international partners to agree on a transition compact that will set out a limited number of stabilization benchmarks that will serve as key indicators of progress in the stabilization process.

Calling for a concrete timetable for progressive withdrawal of the foreign contingents is a small, but important first step.   Last year’s authorization of MINUSTAH [PDF] lacked any details on withdrawal and instead mandated that, “future adjustments to its force configuration should be based on the overall security situation on the ground.” Ban Ki-moon is now recommending creating a “transition compact” with the Haitian government that would have specific benchmarks on the road to withdrawal. The main benchmark for reducing the number of MINUSTAH personnel would be sufficient strengthening of the Haitian National Police, while other “benchmarks will evaluate the maturity of key rule of law oversight and accountability mechanisms.”

These benchmarks have yet to be drawn up, however, and so the plan could be overly optimistic in terms of its drawdown timetable. Growth and reform of the police has been a key benchmark for MINUSTAH’s mission completion all along, yet eight years after MINUSTAH began, “the country’s still limited police force cannot guarantee the security needed to protect citizens, enforce the law and underpin political stability,” according to the International Crisis Group. (It is notable that the UNSG’s four-five year timeline is compatible with the five-year extension called for by the International Crisis Group, which it recommends in order to, as it puts it, ensure “a third peaceful handover of democratic power …at the end of the Martelly presidency,” and “the completion of the second five-year police development plan.”)

Another key benchmark for MINUSTAH is the Haitian government’s ability to organize “transparent, fair and credible elections.” Unfortunately, if past history is any guide, MINUSTAH’s involvement in elections has far from guaranteed “fair and credible elections”. On the contrary, MINUSTAH officials praised Haiti’s 2010 elections – which were marred by the exclusion of several political parties, including the most popular, Fanmi Lavalas; deadly violence; polling place disruptions; and numerous logistical problems – as "going well” and “peaceful."Even worse, MINUSTAH’s direct involvement in overturning the 2010 presidential election results, without any statistical evidence, only added to the lack of credible elections.

The creation of a timetable for withdrawal comes after pressure both from within Haiti and from troop-contributing countries to end MINUSTAH’s nearly decade long occupation. Last summer, a group of prominent activists and intellectuals from all of the Latin American countries contributing troops to MINUSTAH asked their governments to support a rapid withdrawal of all foreign troops from Haiti.  In June, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which supplies over a quarter of MINUSTAH personnel, debated the future of MINUSTAH. The nations agreed to form a working group “for the purposes of elaborating a scheme on the strategy, form, conditions, stages, and timeline of a Plan of Reduction of Contingents of the Military Component of the Mission.” Meanwhile, Haitian legislators have become increasingly outspoken against MINUSTAH, perhaps reflecting the fact that surveys have shown a vast majority of Haitians support the rapid withdrawal of MINUSTAH troops.

Less Troops, More Focus on Police

As part of the consolidation of MINUSTAH personnel, the UNSG recommends that the “military component will gradually hand over responsibility for security to formed police units and, ultimately, to the national police.” To begin with, MINUSTAH military personnel concentrate their presence in five “security hubs”, while police units would take over in the departments that the military moved out of.

In the report, Ban Ki-moon recommends continuing the gradual drawdown of MINUSTAH personnel, which began last year. Last year, the Security Council authorized a reduction in the number of troops, reversing the large increase seen in the aftermath of the earthquake. This year, Ban Ki-moon suggests going further, reducing troops by 1,070 from 7,340 to 6,270 and by reducing police by 640 from 3,241 to 2,601. The total reduction is equal to about 16 percent of the total force and brings MINUSTAH to its lowest authorized size since 2005.

Still No Accountability for Abuses and Cholera

The steps recommended by Ban Ki-moon are positive, albeit small, yet there is still no movement from MINUSTAH to address the numerous alleged abuses that have been committed under their watch.  As we have written about extensively, there have been a number of cases of sexual abuse and exploitation by MINUSTAH personnel. But notably absent from the Secretary General’s report was any mention of these cases, despite the fact that since 2010 there have been 10 internal UN investigations into sexual exploitation, abuse, or other serious crimes committed by MINUSTAH personnel.

The 20 page report also fails to make any mention of the UN’s role in introducing cholera to Haiti, despite a growing consensus among the scientific community that has linked the UN base in Mirebalais to the introduction of the pathogen. As of September 6, a total of 7,558 deaths and over 590,000 cases have been reported, though this is likely an underestimate. A shift in UN resources from troops, police, armored vehicles and other military and security aspects of the Mission, to cholera mitigation and prevention, could go a long way toward controlling and eventually eliminating the epidemic. As the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted – and as the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and others have campaigned for – it is estimated that MINUSTAH’s budget for one year is all that would be needed to modernize Haiti’s water and sanitation system. As the UNSG report itself notes, the need is urgent: “The integration of efforts to combat cholera into the national health system is experiencing significant challenges, in part caused by delays in the decentralization of response efforts and structural weaknesses within the health system.”

Next Step: A UN Security Council Resolution on the Renewal of MINUSTAH’s Mandate

The main purpose of the UN Secretary General’s report is to guide the internal discussion around the UN Security Council’s decision to renew the one-year mandate of MINUSTAH.  The decision is made official via a U.N. Security Council Resolution which will normally be voted on shortly before the expiration of MINUSTAH’s mandate on October 15.  It will be interesting to see whether the resolution, which generally includes a long list of concerns and recommendations, will incorporate the UNSG ‘s recommendations and, for the first time, establish a firm timeline for withdrawal along with specific benchmarks linked to the reduction of troop levels.  If benchmarks are elaborated, will they take into account calls for greater accountability and transparency around MINUSTAH actions?  And will the resolution flag critical issues omitted from the Secretary General report, such as measures to address the cholera situation and human rights abuses perpetrated by MINUSTAH personnel?  Stay tuned…