UN’s Secretary-General supports Haiti’s military request

The head of the United Nations threw his weight Sunday behind Haiti’s request for the immediate deployment of military troops to help the country take back control of its ports from powerful gangs and provide aid as Haitians confront a deadly cholera outbreak.

Among Secretary-General António Guterres’ proposals in a letter to the Security Council: the quick deployment of a rapid-action armed force to Haiti, made up of military personnel from one or more foreign nations, to help the Haitian National Police get fuel and water flowing in the country again.

Since mid-September, a powerful coalition of heavily armed gangs, led by a former cop, has been blocking access to Haiti’s main fuel terminal, seaports and roads. The blockade has led to a severe shortage of fuel and drinking water just as the country confirms a resurgence in cholera.

On Sunday, a government official confirmed to the Miami Herald the deaths of at least 16 prisoners since Monday inside the National Penitentiary from the deadly waterborne disease, which causes life-threatening vomiting and diarrhea.

The blockade of the Varreux fuel terminal “has brought critical services required to prevent the rapid spread of the disease to a stand-still, including the distribution of potable water,” Stephane Dujarric, Guterres’ spokesman, said in a statement Sunday. “Again, the most vulnerable sectors of the Haitian population are those hit the hardest. The priority must be to save lives.”

Dujarric said Guterres sent a letter to the Security Council on Sunday offering several security options for Haiti and urging the international community and member states “to consider as a matter of urgency the request by the Haitian government for the immediate deployment of an international specialized armed force to address the humanitarian crisis, including securing the free movement of water, fuel, food and medical supplies from main ports and airports to communities and health care facilities.”

In the 11-page letter, obtained by the Miami Herald, Guterres notes that a return of the United Nations peacekeeping force “was not the preferred option of the authorities” in Haiti.

Instead, he proposes that the Security Council consider authorizing a rapid action response force in the short-term to provide immediate assistance to the Haitian National Police to take back control from the armed gangs. The Security Council is scheduled to meet on the situation in Haiti on Oct. 21, where it is expected to take up a US resolution establishing a framework for sanctioning Haiti’s gang leaders and those who support them with money, weapons and ammunition.

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A police officer throws water on a burning vehicle in the parking lot of the police headquarters during a protest to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry in the Petion-Ville area of ​​Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. Odelyn Joseph AP

According to the Guterres letter, the rapid-action armed force would be made up of military personnel from one or more member countries, and could be deployed immediately to Haiti to help the police.

The force would join the Haitian National Police to remove the threat posed by armed gangs and provide immediate protection to the country’s gang-controlled seaports and roads. The force would provide support to the Haitian National Police primarily in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area to help officers secure the free movement of water, fuel, food and medical supplies from main ports and airports to communities and health care facilities.

“Such a force would bring the HNP much-needed respite through complementary operational capacity and enable them to re-assess needs and assign overstretched resources to normal public security priorities,” the secretary-general wrote.

With a population of around 11.5 million people, Haiti barely has 13,000 active police officers, and only a third is believed to be operational at any given time. Several gang-controlled areas, including Martissant and Cité Soleil, do not have operational police stations.

Guterres said the UN may also deploy additional assistance to help support a ceasefire or humanitarian arrangements and ensure coordination of these efforts with the international force.

“The deployment of the force would be gradually phased out as the HNP regained state control of critical infrastructure targeted by gangs and began to restore general security and freedom of movement,” he said.

At that point, Guterres added, other options could be considered to enhance the support to the Haitian National Police longer term:

UN members could establish an international police task force to help the Haitian police design and conduct operations against armed gangs, although the Haitian National Police would be the only force on the front lines of policing and anti-gang operations. The international task force would also vet police personnel receiving tactical training; advise on systems and practices, as well as the effective use, maintenance and control of equipment, including weapons and ammunition; and train police in anti-gang strategies as well as community-oriented policing to regain public trust.

“Such a task force would be composed of police advisers from a small group of Member States with relevant expertise in anti-gang operations and community-oriented policing,” he said. “Members of the task force would not be involved in frontline operations themselves.”

UN members could establish a special force to support the Haitian National Police deal with the gangs, including a joint strike force operating around the country. For that option to succeed, the secretary general noted, the special force would require political and social support for its deployment and a meaningful agreement between the government and the opposition on a political way forward for Haiti.

“The Special Force would be composed of well-equipped special police units provided by a group of Member States, with one of them serving as the lead country in terms of the command and the direction of operations,” the letter said. The force’s compliance on human rights issues and other matters would be monitored by the UN Integrated Office in Haiti.

Under this option, support could also be given to the Haitian National Police to secure land and border crossing points, and to reopen police stations. If member states opt not to financially support this option, contributions could come from United Nations operations. However, that would effectively turn the measure into a peacekeeping operation, which the current government has said it does not want.

“Successive United Nations peacekeeping operations deployed since 2005 made significant progress in containing the control of the gangs over communities and in restoring state authority in areas affected over decades by gang violence,” Guterres said in the letter. “However, the transition from peacekeeping was predicated on the assumption that the institutional capacities of the [Haiti National Police] would continue to be strengthened and to operate within an environment of relative political stability to be able to maintain the security gains achieved throughout the years. The same assumption stands for the current situation.”

Guterres warned that any action to contain the gangs will only have a temporary effect “unless framed within the context of parallel, sincere Haitian and international efforts to address the root causes of the gang phenomenon, which are the result of poor fiscal governance and corruption abetted by political and economic interests which have little interest in building a well-managed state where the rule of law prevails.

Unclear is who will pay for the forces or advisers. Guterres also suggests that the Security Council could strengthen the police component inside the UN Integrated Office in Port-au-Prince, known as BINUH, to help the Haitian National Police expand its numbers and training.

The Security Council could also call upon member states to urgently provide equipment and training to Haiti’s police, improving the force’s ability to contain criminal groups currently in control of key locations, with a focus on areas in Port-au-Prince, Guterres said.

“I strongly encourage Member States to enhance their provision of security assistance to Haiti, notably the provision of the wherewithal for the HNP to conduct operations,” Guterres said, calling on countries to also donate to a $28 million police “basket fund” set up by Canada and the UN

Since last month, Haiti has been hit by widespread protests, ignited by the government’s decision to reduce $400 million in fuel subsidies by raising the cost of fuel at the pump and cracking down on $600 million in uncollected customs revenues. The reforms have led to widespread demonstrations, calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry and instances of violence across the country, some of it supported by political and economic elements opposed to the reforms.

The gang’s fuel blockade has led hospitals to shut down for lack of fuel, and the inability to treat water just as cholera reappears.

On Friday, Henry announced that he had been authorized by his counsel of ministers to appeal for the international community to send Haiti an armed force to help the nation deal with the gang problem.

On Saturday, the Biden administration acknowledged the Haitian government’s request and said it is considering, along with other international partners, how best to provide additional support. The US has authorized the temporary departure of embassy employees and their families in Port-au-Prince, citing the disruption to sanitation and the availability of medical supplies, potable water and food due to fuel shortages.

Haiti’s request for outside support to help create a “humanitarian corridor” remains sensitive in the country, where critics of the prime minister are accusing him of requesting outside help to remain in power.

This story was originally published October 9, 2022 7:43 PM.

Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.

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