Haitians Launch Grassroots Campaign for the Withdrawal of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH)
21 April 2011, Port-au-Prince: Today a grassroots campaign for the withdrawal of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, known by its French acronym MINUSTAH, is being launched at the Mozayik Camp for internally displaced people at Delmas 30. The popular education campaign will raise awareness among the population about the history of the MINUSTAH in Haiti and will organize people to call for its withdrawal.
The MINUSTAH has been continuously renewed over the last six years. Although it has failed to achieve its initial mandate, including training an adequate number of Haitians for its civilian police force, very little public debate has occurred in Haiti around its annual renewals each October. This year, the alternative media and community mobilization group Bri Kouri Nouvèl Gaye (Noise Travels, News Spreads) is undertaking a national campaign with many grassroots and civil society partners to engage the population in examining the role of MINUSTAH and demanding that it actually accomplish its goals and withdraw this year. International organizations will also support the campaign with research, advocacy and education efforts.
Although the first question for many who live outside of Haiti is ‘How will Haiti maintain peace and security without the MINUSTAH?’, Haitians living in the country have no illusions as to what impact the MINUSTAH truly has had on the ground. The UN soldiers and police do not provide security to the most vulnerable members of Haiti’s population, especially the over one million homeless earthquake survivors who have no access to decent housing and live in and around camps for the internally displaced. For more than six years, the MINUSTAH has not fulfilled the concrete aspects of its mandate and thus the case for the renewal of its mission has been renewed annually at the United Nations Security Council.
In fact, the time when Haiti was perhaps most in danger of slipping into chaos, violence and intense insecurity was also the time when the MINUSTAH was least able to respond had there been violence. In the first months after the earthquake, the international community held its breath, waiting for the violence to begin. The UN mission was extremely hard hit as its headquarters had collapsed and many high-ranking MINUSTAH officials killed. Yet riots never broke out; the chaos never happened.
Instead, the world watched as Haitians helped one another in the first days following the Quake. Even the gap between the wealthy and the extremely poor seemed to disappear as people worked together to dig through the rubble and begin to reassemble their lives. It has now been fifteen months and still there has been little violence or rioting. The reason is simple and clear: Haiti is not on the verge of a civil war. There are no armed bands or paramilitary groups waiting in the wings. The idea that Haiti is ready to blow at any moment and that a detailed, well thought-out withdrawal of the MINUSTAH mission will lead to the country descending into a bloody chaos is just not realistic.
The campaign for the withdrawal of MINUSTAH focuses on educating people about the reality of the UN Mission, including its budget, personnel and mandate. Haitian civil society will organize a public tribunal to air the grievances and concerns the population has about the mission, while at the same time developing a vision for an alternative system to protect people, and to maintain peace and security in the country.
The budget for MINUSTAH in 2011 is $865.31 million. This is five times what the UN requested to fight the cholera epidemic in Haiti. While the UN was able to find the funds to pay foreign soldiers in the peacekeeping mission, the appeal to stem the spread of cholera remains underfunded to the point that operations in the northwest have already come to a halt, and water distribution in Port-au-Prince’s IDP camps will be dwindling down to nearly nothing over the next two months. The MINUSTAH budget includes 8,940 military personnel, 1,451 UN police, 2,940 police personnel, and nearly 1,000 additional international personnel.
Beyond financial concerns, the MINUSTAH poses serious legal concerns as well. The creation of the mission happened in violation of several articles of Haiti’s constitution, and was approved by a de facto government put in place after the removal of a democratically-elected president in 2004. The mission has never been ratified by Haiti’s parliament as required by Haitian law.
Furthermore, the MINUSTAH has a Chapter 7 military component as opposed to Chapter 6. The difference is important, as Haitian economist and Executive Director of PAPDA, the Platform to Advocate for an Alternative Development, Camille Chalmers explains: “The presence of the mission deployed in Haiti under Chapter 7 of the United Nations charter is illegal, he states. This Chapter provides for the deployment of troops to maintain peace during genocides, civil war or crimes against humanity. ‘Even if between 2003 and 2004 there was a severe political crisis [in Haiti], there was neither genocide, nor crimes against humanity, nor conflict within the population,’ he recalls.” (see full statement at: http://www.papda.org/imprimer.php3?id_article=695)
Despite its illegality, the MINUSTAH has been allowed to continue without a clear mandate. Whereas peacekeeping missions are generally deployed to monitor peace agreements, or during times of grave violence (as explained by Chalmers above) Haiti was not in a state of armed conflict when the MINUSTAH mission began. In the years since, it has failed or performed poorly at the three concrete aspects of its mission, which are: training 14,000 Haitian National Police, supporting the electoral system by providing security to elections and handling logistics such as the delivery of voting materials, and providing security within the country.
Other intentions of the international community in creating the MINUSTAH have come to light through Wikileaks, including an effort to stem the populist social movement and forces against the expansion of Haiti’s market economy. It is well known that the majority of Haitians work in the agriculture sector, and that this sector has long been denied investment and priority under the neoliberal economic plans being promoted by the international community in Haiti. Haiti was also deemed a threat to peace and security in the region, largely because the extreme poverty exacerbated by those same neoliberal economic policies has produced a steady stream of economic refugees, seeking a better life in neighboring countries.
The campaign for the withdrawal of MINUSTAH will focus on these facts as well as the highly questionable actions of MINUSTAH’s soldiers over the last six years as a means to educate the population and encourage them to mobilize so that the Security Council does not renew the mandate of MINUSTAH for another year. Video footage of the massacre perpetrated by UN soldiers in Cite Soleil in 2007 will be projected in IDP camps and communities throughout Haiti and then followed with personal testimony and debate about human rights. A petition for the withdrawal of MINUSTAH, including specific short- and medium-term objectives, will be launched at the beginning of May to serve as the centerpiece of the grassroots campaign. The Bri Kouri Nouvèl Gaye team will encourage the general population to confront the facts about MINUSTAH and envision a different Haiti, a future where Haitians protect their own peace and security instead of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars to employ battalions of foreign soldiers who do not speak any language in common with the population they supposedly protect.