Image credit: The Globe
The United Nations is contemplating a complete withdrawal of blue helmets "in the near future," said the U.N deputy general secretary for operations, Herve Ladsous, during his visit in Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince earlier this week.
Speaking to reporters, Mr Ladsous said that the current security conditions of Haiti do not require the military component of the peacekeeping mission known by its french acronym MINUSTAH.
But he added: "If military tasks are to cease, given that they are no longer imposed in the current context of security in Haiti, there is instead a lot of work to do in terms of police, the rule of law, not forgetting human right and the status of women."
Since June 2004, Haiti has been under a U.N mandated military occupation, under the hospice of a peacekeeping mission.
Following the overthrow of the democratically elected President, Jean Bertrand Aristide, in early 2004, the interim government that followed, requested help from the United Nations, to assist the small Haitian Police in their hard work of keeping the country from plunging into further widespread chaos that skyrocketed in the wake of the coup against Aristide.
A troop of nearly 6.000 soldiers from various countries in South and Latin America, under the command of the Brazilian unit, was deployed.
The international community, mainly Canada, France and the United States, was overtly against the government of Jean Bertrand Aristide and played leading efforts for his deposing. Including financing the opposition on the ground. An opposition that was led by Guy Phillipe, who was recently arrested and extradited to the United States on drug trafficking and money laundering charges, just three days before he was due to be sworn in as Senator following his election win.
A perfect example that perhaps highlights the most how much the international community wanted Aristide to go, is when in January 2004, the U.N Security Council denied Aristide's request for the world body to send a peacekeeping mission to Haiti, that would have allowed him to finish his remaining year in office, but approved that same mission immediately after Aristide was forced into exile in February of that same year.
Although the rate of violent crimes hiked up considerably in the months and years after the exile of Aristide, and the country was bitterly divided, Haiti did not plunge into a civil war. Even if that meant intense pressure from the international community to violently suppress dissidents in some of the poorest and most dangerous slums in Haiti, such as Cite Soleil, Martissant and Bel Air, where a great majority of Jean Bertrand Aristide's supporters lived. Innumerable families have lost hundreds of innocent young men and women to the rifles' bullets and tank artilleries of the MINUSTAH.
There are numerous documented instances of MINUSTAH forces opening fire on civilians. One of such was on December 22, 2006: An ordered raid in the impoverished slums of Cite Soleil that began at 5 in the morning while most residents where asleep. The troop entered as they sprayed bullets indiscriminately in every direction. Many human rights organizations have qualified that raid as a massacre due to the number of civilian casualties that resulted from it. Some 20 innocents citizens lost their lives and more than 30 others were critically injured that bloody dawn; including a 16 and a 5 year old boy as well as a pregnant woman and her unborn child, after she was shot in the abdomen while laying in her bed. No punitive actions were ever taken against the soldiers involved in these murders or any other crimes, as peacekeepers are immune from prosecution in Haitian court under the agreement that the Haitian government penned with the U.N before deployment.
That massacre came a year after In 2005, UN troops went on a rampage in Cité Soleil, killing as many as 23 people, including children, according to witnesses. After the raid, the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders reported: "On that day, we treated 27 people for gunshot wounds. Of them, around 20 were women under the age of 18."
After two years of a long interim transition and endless violent protests, Haiti in 2006, finally elected a democratic President: Rene Garcia Preval, a beloved former president, who had also served as Prime minister during Jean Bertrand Aristide's first term.
Under President Preval, Haiti started to make many progress; the country was at last peaceful, and that allowed the Preval administration to focus on more important economic issues. The economy had showed some small signs of recovery, tourists, and foreign investments were slowly returning to the politically troubled island nation. It was during that time which Preval signed Haiti's most important bi-lateral trade agreement in centuries, -Petrocaribe- with Venezuela.
A year from the end of Rene Preval's five-years term's presidency however, Haiti, in 2010 was struck by a catastrophic earthquake that had destroyed its capital city, killed over 200.000, made an equal number of injured and had rendered over 1.5 million homeless. The United Nations also lost many personnel in that tragedy, when its headquarters collapsed.
As part of its relief efforts on the ground following the earthquake, the United Nations approved the deployment of additional troops to Haiti, this time, not from Latin and South american countries, but, asian; specifically Nepal.
Nepal at the time was going through a cholera outbreak, and, the United Nations did not provide any treatments to the troops before being sent to Haiti, despite the concerns of a possible epidemic due to contaminated water that were raised after the earthquake. Within two months of the nepalese disembarking in the country, many hospitals and clinics in the Artibonite region were being swamped by cases of diarrhea illness; and further tests confirmed that these patients were infected with the cholera bacteria.
Haiti never had a cholera outbreak in its recorded history, so the news triggered panic and confusion in the populace and in the government, as everyone was afraid of what was to come. Haiti's lack of sanitation and access to safe drinking water combined with the crowded conditions of hundreds of thousands quake victims living in camps, facilitated the spread of the disease even more rapidly. Within 4 months over 5.000 cases were being reported around the country and hundreds of deaths.
In October 2010, the World Health Organization advised Haitian officials that they should be prepared for a worst-case scenario. On November 10, Haiti's ministry of public health declared the outbreak "a matter of national security."
No one knew for sure the source of the deadly illness, until November 15, 2010, when a young Haitian working inside a U.N base in Cap-Haitian died of cholera. Violent protests broke out in Cap Haitian following the death of the young man and rumors that the outbreak was caused by UN soldiers from Nepal started to spread like wildfire. 5 people died during the riots, including 1 UN personnel.
The United Nations immediately came out strongly against the rumors accusing its Nepalese soldiers of bringing the deadly epidemic to Haiti.
The suspected source of the bacteria was the Artibonite River -Haiti's longest- where a U.N nepalese base, regularly emptied out its raw sewage.
The next day, 27 of October, reporter Jonathan M. Katz of the Associated Press visited the base and found gross inconsistencies between the statement and the base's actual conditions. Katz also happened upon UN military police taking samples of ground water to test for cholera, despite UN assertions that it was not concerned about a possible link between its soldiers and the disease. Neighbors told the reporter that waste from the base often spilled into the river. Later that day, a crew from Al Jazeera English including reporter Sebastian Walker filmed the soldiers trying to excavate a leaking pipe; the video was posted online the next day and, citing AP's report, drew increased awareness to the base. MINUSTAH spokesmen later contended that the samples taken from the base proved negative for cholera. However, an AP investigation showed that the tests were improperly done at a laboratory in the Dominican Republic with no experience of testing for cholera.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said its tests of "DNA fingerprinting" showed various samples of cholera from Haitian patients were identified as Vibrio cholerae serogroup O1, serotype Ogawa, a strain found in South Asia
For months following the revelation, the United Nations vehemently argued against an independent investigation into what would become the deadliest cholera outbreak in history. As the U.N continued to deny the role of it peacekeepers however, more irrefutable evidence linking the cholera strain in Haiti to the one in Nepal were being published by scientists and medical institutions around the world.
In the midst of its silent occupation, the global institution which had made itself famous by promoting human rights and health practices among other worldly issues, through its negligent sanitary practices, introduced a deadly epidemic to one of the poorest countries in the world, that would claimed the lives of over 10.000, sickened more than 1.2 million; while refusing to assume any responsibility. The United Nations contended that the reports of the CDC, Yale, Harvard medical school, as well as the UN own independent investigation among others, pointing the source of the epidemic to its Nepalese base, to be: inconclusive.
After years of utter denial and mounting pressure from international human rights organizations, medical and legal institutions as well as national governments, the United Nations finally accepted responsibility for introducing cholera in Haiti, but, declined to admit to any legal wrongdoing, and claimed immunity from the lawsuits in US courts seeking compensation to victims.
Finally in 2016, some 6 year after the illness was inadvertently introduced in the impoverished island, the United Nations then Secretary General, Ban Ki moon, a couple months before leaving office, apologized to the Haitian people for the role of the organization in the cholera outbreak. And some two weeks later, he announced that the U.N would put together a $200 million package to compensate victims and to help Haiti build its potable water system.
Aside killing hundreds of civilians during many of its raids, and being responsible for the deadliest epidemic in the Caribbean, many blue helmets of the UN over the years committed countless sexual abuses in Haiti.
In 2007, more than 100 soldiers from Sri Lanka were deported under charges of sexual abuses of under-age girls.
In 2011, a profoundly shocking online video of four military men, later revealed to be from the Uruguayan contingent; seemingly in the act of raping a teenage boy surfaced. Two had the victim pinned down on a mattress, with his hands twisted high up his back so that he could not move, as the two others sexually assaulted him. A constant chorus of laughter from the alleged perpetrators could be heard in the background. A medical report later confirmed that the 18 years old boy had injuries consistent with a sexual assault. All four soldiers involved in the rape were released from Uruguayan jail less than year later.
The short video was like adding fuel to the fire. Massive protests broke out across Haiti for weeks, demanding the UN to leave the country. Protesters also put pressure on the Haitian government to revised its agreement with the United Nations so that soldiers could be tried under haitian laws.
In March 2011, two Pakistanis UN soldiers were jailed for raping a 14 year old Haitian boy. The soldiers were found guilty by a Pakistani military tribunal in Haiti and were sent back home to serve their terms.
There are also countless reports of peacekeepers trading food and other basic items for sex with young boys and girls.
Every single aspect of the United Nations dubious 13 years peacekeeping mission in Haiti, has miserably failed. Even though they would have you believe otherwise.
Some $10 billion have been spent on this force over the years, for what? Commerce is not booming as a result; neither are the roads, schools and government institutions been built or rebuilt. How many people have been alleviated from poverty as a result of such massive investments over more than a dozen years? Peacekeeping you tell me? Okay.
The MINUSTAH takes as credit, a stronger and more professional Haitian police; and that is why they're leaving they said. While they may have trained additional troops, Haiti's police force however was already about 4.000 strong, today it is around 10.000. That's an average of a laughable 462 police trained every year in the past 13 years.
The MINUSTAH is leaving not because of a job well done, but because the new US administration, under President Donald Trump has called for reevaluation of the United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world due to budget cuts, and the one in Haiti was given utmost priority.
The presence of the MINUSTAH in Haiti was never about peacekeeping. Haiti was neither at war with itself nor with any other countries. The deployment of UN soldiers 13 years ago in Haiti was a carefully crafted policy by international actors, to remove the controversial former theologian catholic priest turned president, Jean Bertrand Aristide who was getting more and more radical; and who turned to drug traffickers to finance his government, as international aides were cut off.
From the onset, MINUSTAH lacked the political integrity, therefore the trust of the Haitian people, which were imperative for it to do a successful job -if it had one- in Haiti.
And following the Earthquake in 2010, the UN mission should have been redesigned to work hand-in-hand with humanitarians, helped with the reconstruction of efforts by diverging a significant portion of its annual budget towards infrastructures rebuilding.
MINUSTAH instead continued to used Haiti as the perfect sized laboratory, with all the necessary geo and political landscapes to test out new military tools and tactics. Brazil which had been leading the MINUSTAH since its installation, had been accused of such, as the South American giant sought a seat at the United Nations Security Council.
Haitian political leaders are also equally culpable for every misfortunes that the Haitian people have suffered at the hands of this military force, for they have allowed its deployment in the first place.
As Haiti prepares to close a chapter that is as long as its 14 years war of independence, history will tell if Haitian leaders will allow another military force to occupy Haiti.
Unbroken Agony: Haiti, From Revolution To The Kidnapping Of A President, by Robinson, Randall
In : Security