After 13 years and more than $7 billion spent, the United Nations Security Council voted today to extend the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) mandate for a final six months. By October 2017 the last of the 2,000 plus foreign troops are scheduled to depart Haiti – already down from a high of nearly 9,000 in 2010. But far from representing a complete withdrawal of the controversial mission, the Security Council also approved a successor mission – MINUJUSTH – composed of some 1,000 UN police officers that will stay on with a focus on strengthening the Haitian national police and the country’s justice system.
In an op-ed published in the Miami Herald yesterday, Lauren Carasik, a law professor and human rights expert, outlines the inherent contradictions with this new UN mission, and its focus on increasing access to justice in Haiti:
Nowhere is the United Nations’ lack of accountability more glaring than in Haiti. The U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is responsible for causing a cholera epidemic that has killed thousands and for crimes, including sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA), that have largely gone unpunished.
Against the backdrop of its transgressions in Haiti, the U.N. is voting this week on withdrawing MINUSTAH, a move long demanded by many who deeply resent the harm inflicted by those sent to protect them. The U.N.’s new secretary-general, António Guterres, favors winding down the force in six months and replacing it with a leaner successor mission that will focus on rule of law and police development. Yet Guterres failed to reflect on how the U.N. can purport to strengthen Haiti’s institutions when its own conduct fails to satisfy bedrock principles of democracy, or whether the $346 million annual budget would be better spent repairing the organization’s tarnished cholera legacy instead.
But in its resolution approving the gradual withdrawal of MINUSTAH, cholera is barely mentioned. The resolution simply welcomes the UN’s “New Approach to Cholera in Haiti,” which is currently just 2% funded. As Carasik writes, “despite the anemic reception to his fundraising efforts, the Secretary-General is tabling a move to assess mandatory contributions in the face of stiff resistance from certain member states.” And reports indicate that certain member states also pushed to weaken the cholera-related language in the UNSC resolution. From a report in What's In Blue:
[T]here were some differences over how much to focus on the humanitarian situation, human rights and peacebuilding and on the Secretary-General’s new approach regarding cholera. It seems that France and the US pushed for a shorter and more streamlined text, and had reservations about including proposed language on cholera, while Brazil and other Latin American countries felt it was important to reflect some of the observations on human rights and humanitarian challenges and the importance of peacebuilding contained in the Secretary-General’s report.
While there was no discussion of cholera at the UNSC today, the US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley did address the ongoing scandal around sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) at the hands of UN troops. This followed numerousmediareports over the last few month documenting far greater levels of SEA than the UN has ever acknowledged. The Miami Herald’s Jacqueline Charles reports on Haley’s comments:
“While this is seen as a success, unfortunately it’s a nightmare for many in Haiti who will never be able to forget, and live with brutal scars,” Haley said about the U.N.’s presence in Haiti before reading from an Associated Press investigation published this week about sexual abuse. “We must acknowledge the abandoned children, 12 to 15 years old, who lived every day with hunger. They were lured by peacekeepers with cookies and snacks. The high price of this food was sexual abuse.”
Yet the resolution simply reiterates a pledge to enforce the UN’s “zero tolerance” policy on SEA and “urges” troop contributing countries to hold its troops accountable. But this lip service to accountability has proven woefully inadequate in the past. As independent human rights investigator Mark Snyder wrote in a report published on this blog last month, the UN’s efforts to combat SEA in Haiti “have failed to interrupt a persistent cycle of exploitation and abuse followed by U.N. statements of regret and reform, and then additional incidents of SEA.”
If the U.N. wants to advance its mission of promoting justice and human rights, it must right its wrongs. No money spent on U.N. work to advance the rule of law in Haiti will have its intended impact unless the organization models the accountability that is necessary to re-establish its credibility. Given the current global uncertainties, the U.N.’s legitimacy is more important than ever.