The United Nations and Haiti

It seems evident that these UN missions and other initiatives to support Haiti have lacked a vision of state-building as a basic premise to articulate society, the economic system, and the governmental structure.


Source: Diálogo Americas.

Originally published in Spanish in Diario Libre.

For almost thirty years, the international community has been involved in Haiti, albeit the results have been far from satisfactory. This began in October 1994, when a military intervention led by the United States, with a mandate from the UN Security Council, restored President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. Aristide had been overthrown by a military coup on September 30, 1991, just seven months after entering office as the first democratically elected president in Haitian political history. The coup itself occurred just four months after the Organization of American States (OAS) adopted Resolution 1080, which established the basis for the collective defense of democracy when there was an abrupt interruption in the democratic process of any country in the region.

Against this backdrop, Haitian political life experienced a precarious normalization with the election of René Préval the following year and the peaceful transfer of power on February 7, 1996. At the end of Préval’s term, Aristide was reelected and returned to power in February 2001, although the opposition parties boycotted the election. This time his presidency lasted three years instead of four, as political and military forces overthrew him again on February 29, 2004.

On April 30, 2004, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1542 (2004), which established the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH, by its French acronym), replacing the Multinational Interim Force (MIF) authorized by the Security Council immediately after Aristide’s overthrow. MINUSTAH, initially created for a period of nine months, had both a civilian and military component. This reflected the UN’s intention to assist the Haitian government in the normalization of government institutions and the consolidation of a police force to increase order and security. The Armed Forces had been dismantled following Aristide’s return to power in 1994, creating significant security problems that persist to this day.

MINUSTAH’s mandate was renewed several times and the mission remained in Haiti until October 17, 2017. It was then replaced by the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH, by its French acronym), created by the Security Council through Resolution 2350 (2017) on April 13, 2017. This mission’s general mandate was to support the Haitian government in developing the rule of law in the country by supporting the National Police, the judiciary, prisons, and the protection of human rights.

During this time, Haiti was struck by a devastating earthquake in January 2010 as well as other natural disasters, further deteriorating the precarious living conditions of the Haitian people. These events shifted international aid toward humanitarian assistance rather than addressing the long-standing structural problems affecting the nation.

MINUJUSTH concluded its operations on October 15, 2019, and was replaced the following day by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH, by its French acronym), created by the UN Security Council through Resolution 2476 (2019) on June 25, 2019. BINUH’s mandate focuses on promoting political stability, good governance, preserving and fostering a peaceful and stable environment, promoting human rights, and supporting national dialogue among different sectors of Haitian society. This mission, originally conceived to last twelve months, has been successively extended until July 15, 2023, through Resolution 2645 (2022) on July 15, 2022.

Despite the United Nations’ successive missions in Haiti, the Haitian crisis deepens. The country’s political system has become disoriented and more unstable, and the conflict has become practically unmanageable. On July 7, 2021, President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, further exacerbating the political and institutional crisis in the country. This also led to the proliferation of criminal gangs that are gaining increasingly broad control of the territory and making further weakening the state.

It would be presumptuous to give advice on what to do in a crisis of this magnitude after so many failed attempts to resolve it. However, it seems evident that these UN missions and other initiatives to support Haiti have lacked a vision of state-building as a basic premise to articulate society, the economic system, and the governmental structure. In his report to French President Jacques Chirac in 2004, Regis Debray pointed out that Haiti was the country with the most NGOs per square kilometer in the world. This indicates that a tremendous amount of international aid resources has been diluted in projects contributing little or nothing to the (re)construction of state institutions in key areas such as security, fiscal and customs administration, economic planning, environmental management, public works, education, public health, and the justice system. In other words, what Haiti needs is more state, not less.

Thinking afresh about these issues could be useful in the difficult task of assisting the Haitian people in their search for order, stability, and governance. This was the objective expressed in the resolution that created BINUH. Promoting dialogue among all social sectors can be very promising if carried out with a strategic, incremental, and sustained vision over time, particularly with the support of national or international actors who have the capacity to convene. This dialogue could be the starting point for gradually piecing together the Haitian state and its system of government. Of course, the ultimate responsibility for the country’s destiny lies with the Haitian people themselves. Without an active and conscious commitment from Haiti’s political, business, ecclesiastical, and social leaders, there will be no possibility of steering Haiti toward stability, governance, and development, regardless of international support.

Flavio Darío Espinal is a former Ambassador of the Dominican Republic to the United States of America and the Organization of American States (OAS), in which he also held the positions of Chair of the Permanent Council, Chair of the Committee on Legal and Political Issues, and Chair of the Committee on Hemispherical Security. He is also currently serving on Global Americans’ International advisory council, works as a managing partner of FDE Legal, and writes a regular column in Diario Libre.

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