Haiti’s chaos can become a regional security issue. U.N. hears opposing views on fixing it

When it comes to the deteriorating situation in Haiti, there is no dispute among members of the United Nations Security Council: Gangs are increasingly running the capital. An increasing number of Haitians are fleeing to escape an alarming rise in kidnappings and homicides and nearly half of the population is facing deepening hunger.

But how the international community should respond is where they differ. On Thursday, as diplomats met to discuss the situation in Haiti and the future presence of U.N. operations in the volatile country, the central question was whether the United Nations Integrated Office, known by its French acronym, BINUH, should be renewed and if so, what should it look like going forward.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is recommending a 12-month extension when the mandate expires on July 15, and a beefed-up mission. The specialized political mission, Guterres said, should be strengthened and its responsibilities expanded to help Haiti get out of its current crisis. Among other changes, he is proposing that the mission scale up its police advisory role to help the Haiti National Police. His recommendations are based on an assessment of the mission, whose usefulness has been questioned by China and others on the council, as well as some Haitians.

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Helen La Lime, Guterres’ special representative in Haiti and head of the small political mission, told council members that amid the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Haiti, gangs have tightened their grip on large swaths of the country, and kidnappings and homicides have risen 36% and 17%, respectively, compared with the last five months of 2021.

“The horrific violence that unfurled over the suburbs of Cité Soleil, Croix-des-Bouquets and Tabarre in late April and early May, during which women and girls were particularly exposed to sexual violence, is but an example of the state of terror in which Haiti’s political and economic heart is plunged,” she said. “The pervasive and deepening sense of insecurity, exacerbated by the HNP’s seeming inability to address the situation and the manifest impunity with which criminal acts are being committed, is dangerously fraying the rule of law in the country.”

La Lime also noted that to date the multiple initiatives and proposals to get Haitians to agree on a way out of the crisis have “yielded few concrete results.” The country’s political forces remain deadlocked in a protracted stalemate, she said. This has made the formation of a new Provisional Electoral Council “frustratingly still a distant prospect,” La Lime added, while noting that “it is highly unlikely that elections which would usher a return to democratic governance will take place this year.”

That reality led the United States’ ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, to reiterate: “It is long past time for Haiti’s stakeholders to set aside their differences, and to finally put Haiti and Haitians first.”

The time, Thomas-Greenfield said, is long past for Haiti’s various competing coalitions to find their way to consensus, and the interim government of Haiti must start the technical work needed to enable free and fair elections when conditions permit.

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But the thorny issue on the council remains the future of the U.N. operations, and how to address Haiti’s raging crime problem.

Haiti Foreign Minister Jean Victor Géneus told the council that what the country needs is more international support for its beleaguered security forces, not foreign forces coming to boot them out of their role.

“We do not want the international community or foreign forces to replace the Haitian National Police and to come in and to do our work for us,” he said. “What the Haitian government does want is to see the renewal and the capacity of BINUH bolstered to provide effective training for the Haitian National Police.”

Géneus acknowledged that the security situation in Haiti has worsened and that kidnappings “have become commonplace and even foreign diplomats and members of the United Nations are not spared.”

“The Haitian National Police is the force the government has to respond to this phenomenon, but it cannot go it alone in current circumstances. Despite the courage and the determination they have shown so far within their limited means,” he said. “The difficulties faced by the Haitian administration to acquire armored vehicles and lethal weapons continue to put the Haitian National Police at a disadvantage vis-a-vis the gangs who are able to acquire such weapons through smuggling.

“It is urgent for the Haitian National Police to receive in the coming days, not in the coming weeks or the coming months, robust support from our partners and the international community so that we can put an immediate end to this very unacceptable situation,” Géneus added.

However, the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, begged to differ. Ambassador José Blanco Conde, its representative, told the council that Haiti has no institutional mechanism to deal with its security crisis and a new peacekeeping mission was the only answer.

“Although one of [the last peacekeeping mission’s] goals was to guarantee the restructuring of the police force, the Secretary-General’s report indicates that this is still an unresolved issue,” Blanco said. “It is clear that the Haitian National Police has not yet developed the capacity to maintain order and to control the many armed gangs that terrorize the population.”

He reminded council members that three years ago, the Dominican Republic, which isn’t a member of the council but is Haiti’s closest neighbor, had warned of the negative consequences of scaling back the United Nations peacekeeping mission.

“Today, we are reaping the results of that disastrous decision,” added Blanco. “Immediate peacekeeping is the only way to fight the violence and chaos because there is a threat of a major bloodbath caused by a potential intensification of clashes between criminal gangs and possible crowds of people raiding properties in search of food.”

Other ambassadors acknowledged that the situation is dire in Haiti, and that the country needs to hold elections to return to constitutional order. Ambassador Ronaldo Costa Filho, Brazil’s permanent representative to the U.N., said his nation, which will assume the presidency of the council next month, had hoped to organize a visit to Haiti next month ahead of the vote.

“But security conditions in Haiti and BINUH’s insufficient resources to guarantee the safety of the mission may just postpone the idea,” he said.

He added: “Let me be clear, there is an urgent need to change our approach before the situation spirals out of control and becomes a possible threat to regional security.”