UN Peacekeepers Only Add to Haiti's Problems


Last week, authorities confirmed that five Uruguayan peacekeepers who are part of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) raped an 18-year-old Haitian boy. 

This violence sent Haitians into protests demanding the withdrawal of MINUSTAH. However, a complete and sudden withdrawal would only exasperate Haiti’s human rights problems by opening the door for political opponents to violently oppress dissidents. The UN needs to stay to stabilize the country, and to prevent further abuses the UN needs to rewrite MINUSTAH's mandate. To make the mandate more specific, it must stipulate the following three positions: 1) the use of physical force only to protect civilians; 2) a standing claims commission; and 3) the training of a civilian armed forces based on human rights principles to stabilize the country against any conflicts.

MINUSTAH does not have a concrete mandate because they have no peacekeeping agreement to enforce. Normally, peacekeeping missions are sent to countries to enforce peacekeeping agreements, which spell out their regulations. However, MINUSTAH was deployed to consolidate a coup, not to enforce a treaty.

The lack of a peace agreement enables MINUSTAH to claim that anything falls within their mandate. This prevents the UN from having legal ground to argue against the use of illegal force. Member states can, therefore, push their own agendas. For example, the U.S. has used MINUSTAH to block democratically-elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from gaining power and neutralize his followers. This mismanagement has resulted in the deaths and injuries of innocent civilians, but MINUSTAH cannot be held accountable. The commander in charge of MINUSTAH claims these attacks are necessary to stabilize and secure Haiti. 

If the UN limits the use of force to only protecting civilians, member countries cannot falsely claim to use force to further MINUSTAH’s mandate. Right now, the mandate loosely says that MINUSTAH’s duty is to secure and stabilize the environment but does not specify to what extent or how. The wording leaves room for member countries to classify their own enemies as threats to Haiti’s security. Limiting the use of force to only protecting civilians will provide regulations on whom MINUSTAH can attack. 

However, in order for the rules to work, MINUSTAH needs a court system to try suspects, which it currently lacks. A Standing Claims Commission would allow Haitians to file complaints. Right now they cannot do so, and MINUSTAH peacekeepers often get away with major crimes like negligently dumping their excrement into the river that caused a cholera epidemic that killed at least 6,000 Haitians. 

Both a concrete mandate and a Standing Claims Commission work in tandem to regulate MINUSTAH’s behavior to prevent human rights abuses, but these provisions do not solve the people’s demand for MINUSTAH to leave. Only training a civilian armed forces in human rights principles to stabilize the country in the event of a violent outbreak will allow MINUSTAH to withdrawal while keeping Haitian civilians safe. Haiti can then receive the independence it rightfully deserves. Until then, a concrete mandate and Standing Claims Commission will decrease the horrific problem of human rights abuses that MINUSTAH currently commits. Perhaps the UN will learn from MINUSTAH’s mistakes, and the next UN peacekeeping mission will not have such a despicable human rights track record.

Photo Credit: mdot