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Haiti, a nation plagued with political unrest for the last decade, is saying goodbye to a controversial UN peacekeeping mission despite concerns that the police and justice system are still not adequate enough to provide security for its people. The UN flag was lowered at its headquarters in the capital city of Port-au-Prince during a ceremony attended by President Jovenel Moise, who publicly thanked the organization for helping to provide stability over the last 13 years. United Nations peacekeepers are expected to leave within the next few days as the mission comes to an official end on October 15th. The mission has been praised for its contributions to restore peace and order during the severe political turmoil and a tragic natural disaster in 2010.
Haiti is considered to be the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and while the mission has been credited with helping to bring political and economic stability, it has also been at the centre of much controversy over the years. Many Haitians do not view the UN mission in good light considering the fact that UN peacekeepers were responsible for a deadly cholera epidemic in 2010. The outbreak started after UN peacekeepers from Nepal contaminated the country’s largest river with waste from their base, killing over 9,500 people, according to the Associated Press. Protests erupted across the nation as Haitians demanded to see justice for all cholera victims. It wasn’t until August 2016 that the UN finally acknowledged that it was responsible for the outbreak, promising to invest $400 million dollars into a fund that would fight cholera as well as to partially compensate the victims. However, earlier this year, it was revealed by the New York Times that the fund only received about a few million dollars and was nearly empty.
In addition to the cholera outbreak, several UN peacekeepers have been involved in sexual abuse allegations. In April 2017, the Associated Press obtained and released a UN report regarding the sexual exploitation of 9 children in Haiti from 2004 to 2007 by at least 134 UN peacekeepers. One of the victims, Maria Kalichi, was 17 at the time when she was raped by a peacekeeper and became pregnant as a result. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Kalichi said “I want justice by finding the person who did this. I want to hear what he has to say to me… I am walking around the streets feeling destitute because of the UN.” The leaked UN report also stated that at least 229 women said they traded sex for money and goods such as food and medicine.
The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) began in 2004 during a violent rebellion that swept the island and forced the President at the time, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, out of power and into exile. As crime and murder rates rapidly climbed, MINUSTAH deployed 6,700 UN peacekeeping troops and approximately 1,600 UN police. By 2010, MINUSTAH seemed to have achieved its goals as violence had significantly declined and the country was experiencing economic growth for the first in a long time. Unfortunately, a devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit the nation that same year, killing over 220,000 people according to Al Jazeera. The disaster destroyed vast areas of crop in the capital city and significantly deteriorated the already fragile Haitian economy. As a result, the UN added more peacekeepers and police officers to support the country’s efforts to rebuild.
Immediately following the end of MINUSTAH, a new mission will commence made up of 1,300 international and 350 local civilian officers who will continue to help reform the nation. According to the Associated Press, the new UN mission will consist of seven police units that can respond to major incidents as well as several officers deployed throughout the country to advise and assist Haitian authorities. Although the previous UN mission in Haiti was irresponsible and an abuse of power, perhaps the new UN mission can help rebuild their reputation and truly provide support for those in need. It will be difficult for many Haitians to trust the peacekeepers after what has happened, therefore, Haitian authorities will play a key role in monitoring the peacekeeper’s work and ensuring that any acts of verbal or sexual violence will not be tolerated.