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UN can't leave Haiti until rule of law is established

Any exit strategy for the UN presence in Haiti has to be built on the country doubling the size of its police, ending impunity in its courts, and forging the rule of law as a foundation for economic growth and political stability.

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Verona Louis sits outside her tent at a camp for people displaced by the 2010 earthquake in Cite Soleil, Port-au-Prince Haiti, Sept. 12. Op-ed contributor Mark Schneider says: 'Early departure of the UN mission would leave a security vacuum ripe for exploitation by armed gangs, but it is unclear how long the Haitian public, donors, and troop-contributing countries will put up with its continued presence.'

Dieu Nalio Chery/AP

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UN Security Council delegations and staff are meeting next week to continue fashioning a long-term exit strategy for the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), even as political discord is shaking the earthquake-prone island once again. Early departure of the UN mission would leave a security vacuum ripe for exploitation by armed gangs, but it is unclear how long the Haitian public, donors, and troop-contributing countries will put up with its continued presence.

Any exit strategy has to be built on Haiti doubling the size of its police, ending impunity in its courts, and forging the rule of law as a foundation for economic growth and political stability.

MINUSTAH was formed in 2004 to keep a polarized Haiti from violent implosion, and then shared in the tragic loss of life during the country’s catastrophic 2010 earthquake. It has been blamed for a cholera epidemic that has caused more than 7,000 deaths and sickened 500,000, and some of its troops are accused of sexual abuses. Its massive presence after eight years has irritated a proud nation.

Nevertheless, when I recently met with government and business leaders and their adversaries, everyone acknowledged one simple fact: Haiti’s limited police force – in numbers and capacity – cannot protect its citizens without UN backing. Until Haiti builds a stronger, more capable law-enforcement structure – and one hopefully is in the making – the resulting vacuum would almost inevitably lead to spoilers seeking to secure their goals through gun barrels rather than ballot boxes.

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