When a 15-member delegation of the U.N. Security Council arrives in Haiti Monday for an on-the-ground look at the situation two years after a massive earthquake, it will find a nation at fever pitch over carnival, but lukewarm or even hostile on the topic of United Nations peacekeepers.
A recent allegation of rape involving Pakistani soldiers and three young Haitian boys in the city of Gonaives has triggered renewed protests and demands from Haitian senators that U.N. soldiers lose immunity and be tried in a Haitian court.
Efforts to replace the 10,581-strong peacekeeping force with a new Haitian army also persist. And anger over a deadly cholera epidemic , which originated near a U.N. camp and has sickened more than a half million people and killed about 7,000, continues.
“The image of their forces has deteriorated,” said Daly Valet, a political analyst and editor of Le Matin newspaper in Port-au-Prince.
At the same time, the delegation led by the United States will find a post-quake nation whose huge problems continue to exceed the limits of the U.N.'s mandate.
Political infighting and deepening polarization and debate have paralyzed the country in recent months, making for a potentially volatile situation.
“The recent two-year anniversary of the tragic earthquake makes this a good time for the council to go there and assess progress and encourage Haitian leaders and U.N. officials to take further positive steps,” said Kurtis Cooper, a spokesman for the U.S. mission. “Clearly many challenges lay ahead, especially how to create economic opportunities for the Haitian people. And it is now time for President [Michel] Martelly and the Haitian government to convert their good ideas into actions.”
Valerie Amos, U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, told The Miami Herald that it is important for the Haitian people to see that the international community remains concerned about what happens in the country, where a half-million people remain in tents. “We need to remember that Haiti is a country that still has significant humanitarian needs,” Amos said. “The Council members actually seeing what has been achieved for themselves will continue to make the case for donor support to get the resources for the government.''
But the council faces a formidable task. The U.N. peacekeeping mission, known by its French acronym MINUSTAH, is facing growing resentment over its handling of the cholera epidemic and rape allegations even as it reduces its troop numbers to pre-quake levels.
Last week Haitian senators demanded that the immunity granted to U.N. peacekeepers — under an agreement Haiti signed when U.N. troops came in after a 2004 uprising forced former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide into exile — be lifted. Prime Minister Garry Conille has directed his minister of justice to issue a formal request to the U.N.'s legal affairs office.
The U.S. and other nations have said they deplore the rape allegations, and note that they are currently under investigation.
“I am not sure they can go forward without telling the country the rapist will be held accountable,” said Valet. He said his hope is that the delegation's visit concludes with a definitive date on “when the U.N. forces will leave the country for good.”
Cooper, of the U.S. mission, wouldn't define the objectives of the four-day trip, but sources in New York and Haiti say they expect the Security Council to use the visit to redefine the mission's direction.
Council members will visit the cities of Miragoane, Leogane and Cap-Haitien. They also will travel to Caracol, the site of a new industrial park in northeast Haiti that the United States and Inter-American Development Bank are constructing, as well as pay visits to parliament, the camps and the police academy.
Reforming Haiti's police is a key part of the agreement between Haiti and the United Nations, and there is growing concern over a push by Martelly to recreate the Haitian army, said one U.N. official. Political groups in Haiti have complained to the global body that they fear a new army could potentially be used to repress dissent. “It simply is not needed. We see no outside threat to warrant an army,” said the official who asked not to be named because he's not a member of the Security Council.
Michel Forst, the U.N.'s independent human rights expert, agreed. After visiting Haiti last week, Forst told Haitian-American leaders in Miami there are other options Haiti can consider to establish security such as increasing and strengthening the Haitian National Police so it can take over security responsibilities.
“To me the Haitian Police is a cornerstone of the rule of law,” said Forst, who noted that a lack of decision by Haiti's government to fire 200 bad cops is hampering efforts to not only reform the HNP but also to send a clear message to the population on the rule of law.
“They know the guys who should be dismissed. High-ranking officers should be dismissed, some close to the director general of the police, but no decision has been taken so far,” he said. How can young police officers, Forst asks, “refuse to receive, say $10 or $20 to pass drugs or information, when they know that the big boss receives thousands or millions of dollars?”
The U.N. must also address the issue of impunity, said Forst, especially when it concerns the rape allegations involving soldiers from several nations.
“Something has to change in the mentality, the communications of MINUSTAH to the question of impunity,” Forst said. “Immunity doesn't mean impunity.”
But even with all of the U.N.'s problems in Haiti, Forst said, he doesn't believe it is time for peacekeepers to pack up and leave.
“Yes you have strong voices from senators who want to make noise. You have the same from members of the government saying, ‘It's time for the U.N. to leave the country.' But when you speak to them, they know pretty well that . . . the level of insecurity will increase dramatically in Haiti,” he said.
While the Haitian people might not like MINUSTAH, he said, “They know that it provides at least a level of security.”