U.N. leader offers options for tackling Haiti’s security crisis. Goes beyond troops

The Haiti National Police is increasingly being outmatched by rival armed gangs that have expanded their reach beyond Port-au-Prince, the capital.

José A. Iglesias


Now that Kenya has taken the lead in possibly leading a foreign intervention into Haiti, the United Nations’ secretary-general, who has been a strong advocate of “a robust” use of force against the Caribbean nation’s armed gangs, said restoring law and order will need support from the international community, a strengthened U.N. presence and movement in Haiti’s ongoing protracted political crisis.

“International action to enhance the security situation should be supported by the Security Council and be guided by the primacy of the political process, anchored in the inter-Haitian political dialogue,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a highly anticipated letter to the U.N. Security Council outlining options to help Haiti’s struggling police force combat armed gangs.

Guterres, who began pushing for the deployment of “a rapid action force” back in October, was asked by the Security Council last month to report back on how the global body could help restore security to Haiti. His Aug. 14, 2023, letter, addressed to the president of the Security Council, currently headed by U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, was obtained by the Miami Herald. It outlines “the full range of support options” along with other needs that must be addressed for a non-U.N. multinational force deployment to be effective.

For one, the mission would be under the umbrella of the Security Council, but it would not be a traditional peacekeeping mission. The country’s current situation is not conducive to a traditional peacekeeping force, Guterres said in the 14-page document.

However, disarming gangs in Haiti requires “a capable specialized multinational police force enabled by military assets, coordinated with the national police,” he said, and it should be part of a broader strategy, led by Haitian political and civil society leaders and supported by the U.N. Integrated Office in Haiti and international partners.

Stéphane Dujarric, Guterres’ spokesman, told reporters in New York on Tuesday that what the secretary-general had put forward “is really complementary to what he had said earlier on recommendations for a non-UN multinational force to support the Haitian police.”

“I think he did that back in October of last year,” Dujarric said. “Whether or not there is enough resources put forward by different Member States, groups of Member States that coalesce into a non-UN police force, I think that’ll be clear when it’s clear.”

In the letter, the secretary-general says that ideally, a lead nation for the non-U.N. multinational force into Haiti would deploy fully self-sustained and with its own integral support arrangements. It should have the ability to recapture areas currently under gang control and after doing so, would install itself and then receive logistics support from the United Nations, similar to the kind of support the U.N. is currently providing to the African military in Somalia.

Guterres refers to the force as having both police and military units, an acknowledgment of the complex nature of Haiti’s armed groups, which he said have become increasingly sophisticated as they expand and control large swaths of territories.

“Addressing the security situation in Haiti requires a range of coercive law enforcement measures, including active use of force in targeted police operations against heavily armed gangs,” he said.

Guterres’ suggestion for the security mission’s deployment into Haiti, with logistics support from the U.N., is similar to what took place in 2004. Following a bloody revolt that sent Haiti’s democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, into exile, the United States deployed military troops.

Months later, after the U.S.-led mission had reestablished a semblance of order, a U.N. Stabilization Mission, led by Brazil, arrived in Port-au-Prince. However, this time around, no one is talking about a peacekeeping mission but about a more hybrid approach in hopes of avoiding the criticism that has accompanied past foreign interventions.

Guterres’ security option comes after extensive consultations with the Haitian government and leaders in Haiti, not all of whom favor foreign intervention. But in recent months, an increasingly number of Haitians have come to accept that without assistance, the Haiti National Police will not be able to stop the escalation in kidnappings and killings that have internally displaced at least 195,000 people from their homes since 2022.

Kenya, in the coming days, is preparing to send a team to New York and Port-au-Prince to explore the idea of leading a multinational force into Haiti. The country’s government last month said it would consider leading a security mission and deploying about 1,000 police officers to help train and assist the Haiti National Police combat violent gangs.

Thomas-Greenfield, welcoming the offer, later said the U.S. would sponsor a resolution at the Security Council to support Kenya’s efforts if its government decides to go ahead with the mission.

Along with how a security mission would be carried out in Haiti, Guterres also argues for a strengthened U.N. presence in the troubled country through the U.N. Integrated Office in Haiti known as BINUH. The office, already tasked with helping Haitians find a solution to the deepening political crisis, would further work “to train and advise the Haitian national police in its efforts to deter, capture and disarm gangs, secure strategic installations and major roadways, to allow freedom of movement, and create an enabling environment for a political process leading to credible, inclusive and transparent elections, and the restoration of democratic institutions.”

The U.N. office in Haiti, for example, could provide technical support to the Haitian justice system to build and strengthen a specialized judicial task force on complex issues, including sexual violence, vetting of former gang members entering demobilization and reintegration programs and referral to judicial authorities.

“In the immediate term, the stabilization of the security environment requires significant international support not only to the national police to restore security, but also to corrections, justice, custom controls, border management and security,” Guterres said. “This needs to be matched by equally significant political will and commitment to adequate, predictable, and sustained financing to preserve institutional gains in the long term. It will be essential to scale up interventions aimed at reducing violence at community level and providing alternatives to violence, especially for youth at risk of recruitment into gangs.”

But at the core of the assistance is progress on the political front. Haiti’s political crisis, in the making for years, has deepened since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse two years ago. His still unsolved murder has plunged the country deeper into a constitutional crisis with no elected leaders in office, and has contributed to the rapid erosion of state authority, which has allowed heavily armed criminal gangs to expand their territorial control and criminal activities around illicit economies.

Today, gang violence is no longer limited to Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital, but is now spreading to the Artibonite region, just north, and other areas of the country, generating pressing humanitarian needs, the U.N. leader said. Haiti has seen a 62% increase in gang-related killings, injuries and kidnappings between the first semester of last year and the same period this year.

“The threat of gang violence, including sexual violence, extortion, killing and kidnapping, now affects all communes in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, obstructing the freedom of movement of residents and hindering access to essential goods and services,” Guterres said. “The capital is encircled by gangs and effectively cut off by road from the northern, southern and eastern parts of the country.”

But for the deployment of any force to be successful it will need not just the support of the United Nations, but also member countries, which Guterres suggests should pay for the multinational force through assessed member contributions to the U.N. Additional assistance for the Haitian police should continue to come through bilateral donor assistance, he said.

While the letter doesn’t provide a start or end date for a multinational force, Guterres said that Haiti will need not just “strong bilateral support” for its police, but also “substantial and sustained international support” to address its myriad of other issues including the operational capability of the national police.

It will also need the country to get its political and governance act together.

“Without a meaningful reform of the political system, Haiti will continue to face these cycles of crises and instability emanating from weak political representation and disenfranchisement, a polarized political climate, and fragile and politicized state institutions,” Guterres said.

This story was originally published August 15, 2023, 6:09 PM.

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Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.

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