by Wawa and Kristen Chege
Before we arrived in Haiti, our impression of the United Nations (UN) was of collaboration, protection and support. Now when we reflect on the UN presence in Haiti, their name means something very different for us: abuse of power, cholera and lack of accountability.
It is difficult to point to any real successes achieved by the armed peacekeeping force, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), in the eight years of their existence. Yet since 2004 the UN Security Council has consistently and unanimously approved the renewal of the MINUSTAH mandate, reaffirming their commitment to “restore a secure and stable environment . . . as well as to promote and protect human rights.” What security is needed? Whose human rights will be protected?
Out of the 22 countries in the Caribbean, Haiti ranked fifth from last in homicide rates in 2011. Yet in other countries such as Somalia, Syria, and Colombia, where conflict undermines both national and international security, there is no armed peacekeeping force.
Asked about the general perception of MINUSTAH, Rosy Auguste of the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH) says, “Haitians are very skeptical of MINUSTAH because on the one hand, they stand for peace, but on the other hand they are committing human rights violations.” In the last year alone, there have been several examples of abuses of authority within MINUSTAH including the torture of three Haitians in Cite Soliel by Brazilian troops on December 13, the kidnapping and rape of a minor by two Pakistani soldiers on January 20, and the beating of students in Lycée Capois de Limonade on January 31.
Antonal Mortime of the Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (POHDH), when asked to describe the option of legal recourse against MINUSTAH, says, “It’s not easy. We have a Haitian proverb, ‘a wooden door does not fight with a metal door,’” meaning that recourse against MINUSTAH has many layers. Less than five cases out of 758 allegations of misconduct in the past five years have been brought to court. For an international peace-keeping mission, MINUSTAH’s track record of human rights abuse leaves many questions unanswered.
According to Mortime, the amount of funds being wasted by MINUSTAH adds insult to injury. He points out, “MINUSTAH spends their money on expensive cars and big guns, but what Haitians need are more schools, hospitals, roads, better farming equipment and a stronger justice system. Haiti can be peaceful, but not with the use of arms.” MINUSTAH has already cost more than $1.95 billion in the two years following the 2010 earthquake and is projected to cost at least $500 million annually in the coming years.
Haiti is now under the leadership of a stable government with its executive, legislative and judicial branches secured. This government must be given the opportunity to lead its own people without the influence of a foreign military body. Mortime estimates that seven out of ten Haitians want MINUSTAH to leave Haiti, up 20 percent after the introduction of cholera by MINUSTAH forces last year.
The hunger riots that ravaged much of Port-au-Prince in 2008 were an indicator that a military response like MINUSTAH was doing little to address the real causes of insecurity, including unclear land rights, shortage of affordable housing, joblessness, inundation of foreign food aid and continual questions surrounding Haitian sovereignty. These root causes must be addressed in order for true security to be found.
Wawa and Kristen Chege are policy analysts and advocacy coordinators for Mennonite Central Committee, based in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
A housing crisis
Haiti was facing a housing crisis well before the 2010 earthquake struck. In 2009 a UN-Habitat report estimated that Haiti was experiencing a housing shortage of at least 300,000 homes. The earthquake exacerbated an ongoing crisis when more than 2 million people were displaced from their homes.
While the official count of people displaced by the earthquake stands at 369,000, tens of thousands of others inhabit unsafe buildings that were damaged by the earthquake and countless others were forcibly evicted from camps by the government and land-owners.
In order to advocate for an end to the housing crisis camp residents have organized a coalition known as the Force for Reflection and Action on Housing. They are calling on the Haitian government to end forced evictions until: public or affordable housing is made available; specific land is designated for housing; one centralized government housing institution is organized to coordinate and implement a public housing plan; and adequate funding is allocated in order to realize this plan.
The U.S. and other governments can support the efforts of camp residents by encouraging the Haitian government to provide funding assistance and prioritize a permanent housing plan.
Go to undertentshaiti.com for more information.
Adral and Marie Sylvain used their own finances and a small grant to build this shelter for themselves and their children.