The United Nations’ Security Council is welcoming a call by Secretary-General António Guterres to move to a new type of U.N. presence in Haiti by withdrawing peacekeepers after nearly 13 years and scaling back its $346-million-a-year stabilization mission to focus more on police, human rights and justice.
“Haiti is turning the corner after several months of uncertainty and deferrals of electoral timelines,” France’s Deputy Permanent Representative Alexis Lamek said, voicing a point of view shared by most member states who met Tuesday in New York to discuss Guterres’ recommendations. “Right now it has solid and fully democratic institutions, ones that can effectively tackle the challenges that people experience daily.”
Haiti’s peacekeeping mission is set to expire on April 15, and Security Council members must decide whether to extend its mandate another six months. Guterres, in a 37-page report, is recommending that it be extended one final time and then closed by Oct. 15. He’s also recommending that a smaller, refocused mission replace the current operation.
The members didn’t vote Tuesday but France — like other council members — agreed that the United Nations still has work to do in Haiti, where the last U.N. withdrawal quickly led to the politicization and collapse of the Haitian National Police and the return of peacekeepers in 2004 after an armed revolt that led to the ouster of its democratically-elected president.
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“It is important that the HNP remains a professional institution, one independent from the political sphere,” Lamek said. “The Haitian National Police should also be the sole backbone of the security system in Haiti.”
Lamek’s warning comes as some Haitian lawmakers push to replace the peacekeepers with their own homegrown army, and as new President Jovenel Moïse and Prime Minister Jack Guy Lafontant seek to shake up the Haitian National Police. Several sources have told the Miami Herald, the new administration is seeking to remove more than a dozen high-ranking police officers and replace them with close supporters. Among those targeted for replacement, the sources said: the head of the judicial police who led the operation that nabbed accused drug trafficker Guy Philippe.
Philippe, who was elected to the Haitian Senate in a November runoff, had eluded U.S. law enforcement for 11 years until his Jan. 5 arrest outside a Port-au-Prince radio station four days before he was to be sworn into office. He was extradited to Miami the day of his arrest and awaits trial inside a federal detention center.
Last week, the head of Philippe’s political party, Jeantel Joseph, was sworn in as the head of public security.
Security Council members and Sandra Honoré, the U.N.’s special representative and head of the U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), acknowledged that political challenges remain an impediment to progress. A professionalized and strong Haitian National Police force capable of taking charge of the security of Haiti’s 11 million citizens, they said, is key to the country’s stability.
“The preservation, by the government, of the apolitical character of the police force will be particularly critical to the credibility of the institution and its ability to serve all Haitian citizens,” Honoré said in her opening remarks. “I have called on the government to continue prioritizing the further professionalization and the provision of financial and material resources to the HNP, despite its stated intention to reconstitute a national defense force.”
Guterres’ report to the Security Council notes that focused international support, including from the U.N., will be needed to make sure the Haitian police force can be effective. The force still has less than 15,000 officers and operates with just a budget of $132.5 million.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who presided as president of Tuesday’s meeting, said the United States welcomes a more focused, police-only mission.
“Thanks to the recent elections in Haiti, the political context is right for this mission, and the Haitian authorities are working hard to improve their capabilities,” she said in her remarks. “The government of Haiti must focus on strengthening its judicial system and human rights institutions to help ensure long-term stability. It bears the primary responsibility for following through on this.”
Denis Regis, Haiti’s permanent representative, called Guterres’ report on the challenges facing the police and also Haiti’s humanitarian, human rights and judicial challenges “objective, well-corroborated and balanced.”
Haiti, he said, supported “a staggered” and complete withdrawal of the 2,370 peacekeepers by Oct. 15, and a successive, smaller mission.
Acknowledging the shortcomings, Regis said Haiti has been hampered by the effects of dwindling development aid, urgent food security problems and a worsening health situation, illustrated by the reemergence of a cholera epidemic.
“However, there are harbingers of hope,” he said, citing the election of Moïse after “a taxing and complex electoral process.”