Haiti and the UN Multinational Security Support Mission
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(05 October 2023) — Can the UN succeed in Haiti after failures of the past? Can Haiti be stabilized from within or without or a combination of both? These are valid questions being asked by Haitians on the ground in Haiti and in the diaspora. There is a great deal of optimism that this time might be different. United Nations intervention with the cooperation and collaboration of the Haitian security establishment and the political factions in Haiti who genuinely want peace, stability, and economic prosperity.
Interestingly, no matter which side of the political divide Haitians position themselves, they agree on the desperate need for peace, security, and economic prosperity. While all hope for the same outcome, there are wide disagreements on how to achieve this long sought after resolution of the Haitian crisis. There are some who object to outside intervention, including by the United Nations. However, most believe that given the current state of instability and human security deprivation the only option is insertion of a UN security stabilization force.
Security Council authority and responsibility
Lest we forget, the UN Security Council is empowered by the UN Charter to act on behalf of all 193 UN member states. There are no ands, ifs, or buts! As a sovereign member state of the UN, Haiti agreed under Article 24 of the UN Charter to confer the primary responsibility to act on the members’ behalf for the maintenance of international peace and security and agreed to abide by the decisions of the UN Security Council. I am not suggesting that the Security Council has unfettered authority to impose its will on the Haitian people, but to act responsibly in the interests of the international community. The Charter provisions governing Security Council actions are very clear. We often call for the Security Council to act responsibly and when they do, they must adhere to the provisions of the UN Charter. The Haitian government asked for UN intervention.
Those who oppose UN intervention, including some members of the Haitian diaspora, have yet to offer a plausible explanation as to how Haiti can stabilize from within. They are very aware of the chaos and the uncontrolled mayhem imposed by criminal gangs on Haitian society; the chokehold the gangs have over the country; the level of impunity the gangs enjoy; the political chaos of which they are culpable; the suffering of the Haitian masses; and they are fully aware of the incapacity of the Haitian National Police to deal effectively with the lawlessness which plagues the country. So, what can the opposition offer as a solution to the crisis if not the UN option?
Politically, I support the view that interim prime minister Ariel Henry must step aside and be replaced by a transitional team that represents the main political factions and the private sector. The timing of his exit is a question to be decided by mutual consent between him and the political groups. A realistic timetable should be established, considering putting an administrative structure in place to interface with the UN stabilization force, return stability to Haiti, and a framework established for free and fair elections in the country. No one can realistically believe the people of Haiti can participate in a free and fair election under the prevailing conditions. No one would be satisfied with the outcome and Haiti would continue to reel from one crisis to the next. Nothing will have changed, and Haitian naysayers will blame the UN stabilization force for the country’s political factions’ own self-inflicted failures. They have done it before. Maybe this time will be different.
What did the Security Council decide?
What are the terms of reference for the UN stabilization force? What powers were granted by the UN Security Council, and what has the Kenyan government agreed to in leading the force?
I commend the Kenyan government for agreeing to lead the UN force and committing several members of the country’s security forces to the mission. Putting its security personnel at risk to help rescue Haiti is a political gamble by any government. I also commend those Caribbean Community states that have agreed to contribute security personnel commensurate with their limited capacities.
On October 2, 2023, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2699 (2023) (SRES 2699) by a 13 to 2 vote, China and Russia abstaining, setting out in detail all aspects of the Multinational Security Support (MSS) mission. The MSS mission approved is for one year renewable by vote by the Council. The core mandate of the MSS mission is provided here.
According to SRES 2699, the MSS mission must conduct its operations “in strict compliance with international law, including international human rights law, as applicable, to support the efforts of the Haitian National Police (HNP) to re-establish security in Haiti and build security conditions conducive to holding free and fair elections.” Specifically, the MSS mission’s core responsibility is two-fold:
- Providing operational support to the HNP, including building its capacity through the planning and conducting of joint security support operations.
- Providing support to the HNP for the provision of security for critical infrastructure sites and transit locations such as the airport, ports, schools, hospitals, and key intersections.
In this context, the Security Council, while having the responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security and granting authority for the MSS mission in Haiti, did not unilaterally decide on the terms and conditions of the UN mission without in-depth consultations, including with the Kenyan government. The UN Secretary-General was required to negotiate with the Kenyan Government and agree on the terms and conditions of Kenya’s participation in the mission. The level of consultations with troop contributing countries was raised significantly with adoption by the Security Council of SRES 1353 (2001), which I drafted as chairman of the Security Council Working Group on Peacekeeping Operations, during my second year serving Jamaica on the Security Council. SRES 1353 and subsequent work by the Working Group under my chairmanship changed the dynamics between the UN and troop contributing countries.
Replacing Ariel Henry
Those who believe Haiti can solve its own problems, call for the immediate removal of interim prime minister Ariel Henry and replacing him with a transition team. That, they claim would allow the people of Haiti to solve its own problems. They say Henry is an illegitimate prime minister and that he is corrupt. I won’t address the issues of corruption or the legitimacy of Henry’s assumption of the position of prime minister. I will remind, however, that right or wrong, elected or otherwise, Henry stepped in to take control of the country at a time when the assassination of the country’s president, Jovenel Moise, thrust the government and country into deeper crisis. I describe the situation as deeper crisis because under Moise’s presidency the gangs had grown in influence and notoriety, and massacres of innocent Haitians, rape and human rights violations by these gangs were already a plague on the country. Many of those calling now for Henry’s removal as the solution had given Moise a pass on charges of widespread corruption and his affiliation with marauding gangs. While it is imperative to replace Henry with a legitimate government, his replacement is only one step in the process.
Diaspora engagement precedent
While there is no unanimity within the Haitian diaspora, many support the insertion of the UN stabilization force. In response to the UN resolution, Representative Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, a Haitian American congresswoman who cochairs the House Haiti caucus, speaking with MSNBC, on October 3, reflected the popular sentiment among the diaspora community. In expressing support for the UN mission, she said, “This security mission is very much needed right now. We are hoping to see the Haitian people finally get some type of relief from the terrorists they have been facing. This authorization is truly a win for the Haitian people.” She added, “It is hopeful that they know that help is on the way.”
Rep. Cherfilus-McCormick was firm in her support for the self-determination of the Haitian people in the process. She said, “We need to respect their self-determination and giving them the help, they need.” She also noted that “This security mission is one of the first getting input from the Haitian diaspora to determine what safeguards are in place to protect the Haitian people from human rights abuses by looking at how to preclude and prevent abuse by the MSS mission.
She insisted that it is the consensus of the political and private sector, as well as the diaspora, that Henry must go now, and that the government must be turned over to a transition team which does not include Henry. Rep. Cherfilus-McCormick is also calling for an international tribunal to hold the Haitian oligarchs and others accountable for supporting the gangs in Haiti and for abuses of the Haitian people.
Success of the UN MSS mission will be greatly affected by the cooperation it receives from the political factions in Haiti, and it is the responsibility of the diaspora to hold those factions to account. There must be an exit strategy for Henry; and there must be an exit strategy for the MSS mission. Henry must move quickly in collaboration with the political and private sector groups to establish a transition team with the power to govern and transition Haiti through free and fair elections. The transition team must guarantee a political solution.
Exit strategy for the UN mission must include a stabilized society in which human security is guaranteed. It must leave the Haitian National Police fully capacitated to keep Haitians safe. It must create a stabilized society in which free and fair elections can be held across Haiti to make it possible for a lasting political solution to Haiti’s crisis.
An exit strategy must also include major inputs from CARICOM and others, including the competent UN bodies and agencies to rebuild Haitian governance institutions and setting Haiti on the path to political and economic stability. The Haitian diaspora with an abundance of expertise and resources has a major role to play and must be fully integrated into the solutions for a future Haiti.
The Kenyan Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Martin Kimani, told the Security Council that, “With this action, the Security Council has ignited a beacon of hope for the beleaguered Haitian people.” I agree.
© Curtis A. Ward