U.N. renews peacekeeping mission in Haiti

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon emerges from a house in Haiti where he visited with family of cholera victims.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon emerges from a house in Haiti where he visited with family of cholera victims. Associated Press

The United Nations Security Council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to renew the mandate of its peacekeeping mission in Haiti for another year, and cut the number of military personnel by half while maintaining the same 2,601 U.N. police officers.

But don’t expect the reduction— from 5,021 to 2,270 — to take place right away.

Divided about what the mission should look like because of Haiti’s long-overdue and unscheduled elections, members agreed to hold off on the reduction. Their decision came on the same day that a lawsuit accusing the global body of introducing a deadly cholera epidemic in Haiti was amended in a New York court to include another 1,000 plaintiffs.

Cholera was introduced in Haiti four years ago this month and has killed more than 8,000 and infected more than 700,000 Haitians. Despite several lawsuits and scientific studies linking it to Nepalese peacekeepers deployed after the country’s devastating January 2010 earthquake, the U.N. has refused to take responsibility for the epidemic. It has, however, launched a $2 billion, 10-year clean water and sanitation campaign in Haiti.

“We hope that the increase in the number of plaintiffs will strengthen our case and bring about more awareness to the plight of hundreds of thousands who have been impacted due to the negligence of the United Nations,” said Stanley Alpert, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs now numbering more than 2,600.

Oral arguments in a separate but related cholera lawsuit against the U.N. is scheduled to take place Oct 23 in Manhattan.

This summer, the peacekeeping mission, known by its French acronym MINUSTAH, marked 10 years in Haiti. That tenure and the cholera epidemic have not helped the body’s image in Haiti, where some continue to call for its departure.

During Tuesday’s council debate, Latin American nations, which contribute the most personnel to the mission, said despite improvement in Haiti’s security, the country remained fragile and the delayed elections could plunge it deeper into chaos.

“A drastic reduction in the number of the military contingent of MINUSTAH could hinder its ability,” to prevent a crisis, said Chilean Ambassador Cristián Barros.

Still, the United States and others argued that demand for peacekeeping missions and peacekeepers elsewhere was increasing and Haiti’s mission needed to be reduced. As a compromise, members agreed to keep the force level close to the current level until U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon submits his next report. That report isn’t due to the Security Council until March, which means that the troop level is likely to stay the same for the next six months.

Members also agreed that the Security Council could at any time make changes to the force levels if conditions in Haiti require it.

In Haiti, concerns over the elections continue even as President Michel Martelly resumes talks with the opposition. There is still no date for the ballot, or whether Haiti will have one or two elections next year when presidential elections are also due. Some observers say if the U.S. and others want to prevent a deeper crisis then there should be two elections, with the first taking place in early 2015.

Last week, before meeting with Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe in Washington, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated calls for Haitians to put aside their differences and reach a political compromise to hold elections.

“This resistance — the unwillingness to allow the people to be able to have this vote — really challenges the overall growth and development progress of the country,” Kerry said. “You need to have a fully functioning government.”