Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Crimes, Conflict, and Cholera: MINUSTAH – Stabilising the Status Quo

Haiti Support Group
Nov 16, 2011

On July 28, 2011, an eighteen year-old Haitian youth was gangraped in the small southern town of Port-Salut by Uruguayan soldiers belonging to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). The assault was filmed on a cell phone. The president of Uruguay, José Mujica apologized, calling it an “isolated incident.” Not quite. On August 18, 2010, a sixteen-year old boy was found hanged in a MINUSTAH compound in the northern city of Cap- Haïtien. Despite eye-witness accounts and medical evidence suggesting he was murdered, MINUSTAH officials insisted he had committed suicide.

Far from being aberrations, the suborning, sexual exploitation and rape of Haitians by MINUSTAH forces have actually become the norm. In one instance, in November 2007, 11 Sri Lankan soldiers were sent home for involvement in the systematic sexual abuse of young women and minors. To many Haitians, increasing numbers of whom have taken to the streets to protest, a UN force deployed in one of the world’s poorest states at an annual cost of more than $850m, is increasingly behaving like a victorious army in conquered territory, viewing the Haitians they are mandated to protect as spoils of war.

All allegations against UN troops are, effectively, “case closed.” Not that there was ever, in any such “incident,” an actual case to answer. Under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) governing their deployment, MINUSTAH personnel are totally immune to prosecution in Haiti, even for crimes committed outside their official capacity. The seven-year presence of MINUSTAH is in fact punctuated with such egregious human rights abuses, making it clear that, far from keeping the peace in Haiti, MINUSTAH is simply one of its principal violators.

MINUSTAH was first deployed on June 1, 2004, three months after the ouster of the democratically-elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. From the outset, the status of the UN force has been of very dubious constitutionality: its presence was “consented to” by a USimposed de facto regime. But if its legitimacy is, at the very least, shaky, its purpose could not be clearer. The ostensible justification for MINUSTAH is to protect Haitians from themselves – the line being that, were heavily-armed troops in full battle-gear and armoured personnel carriers not patrolling the streets, Haiti would degenerate into a bloodbath – that criminal gangs would rule the streets.

Yet it soon became clear that MINUSTAH’s overriding mission was not peace but politics, that it’s broad brush definition of “bandits” and armed groups known as “chimères,” included anyone suspected of being sympathetic to Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas party. That meant predominantly the poor, and, in particular, the poorest of the poor living in neighbourhoods like Bel Air, Martissant and Cité Soleil. In essence, MINUSTAH was not in Haiti to protect Haitians but to protect the socio-economic status quo, a status quo already reinforced by the ouster of the elected government.

In a cable dated October 1, 2008 published by Wikileaks, then US Ambassador, Janet Sanderson, made all this very clear. MINUSTAH’s prime function was to suppress “populist and anti-market economy political forces” she asserted. Some international human rights organizations have estimated that three to four thousand “bandits” – including hundreds of women and children – were “neutralised” by the de facto regime that succeeded President Aristide in partnership with MINUSTAH.

On more than one occasion, but most notoriously in the July 2005 assault on Cité Soleil, MINUSTAH deployed armour and helicopter gunships in punitive raids against the occupants of flimsy shacks – the ultimate, quite literally, in overkill. Such operations are not cheap, but Ambassador Sanderson regarded it as a snip: “a financial and regional security bargain for the USG [United States Government].”

Lame Okipasyon: Opposition Grows

Little wonder, then, that popular opposition to what Haitians term lame okipasyon (the occupying army) is becoming increasingly vocal. In October 2010, the outbreak of cholera provided massive impetus to that opposition. Local people immediately suspected that the source of the outbreak was a Nepalese MINUSTAH compound on the banks of the Artibonite river.

As the disease spread, reaching the capital and crossing the border into the Dominican Republic, so did the anger at the UN’s refusal to mount a serious investigation into the source of the outbreak. At one protest in Cap-Haïtien in November 2010, MINUSTAH troops fired on protestors, killing three and wounding scores. A year on, two scientific studies have provided incontrovertible evidence that the Nepalese soldiers were the source of the outbreak. The UN, however, still refuses to accept responsibility, let alone liability.

Be that as it may, the renewal of the MINUSTAH mandate was a foregone conclusion. With all those “reconstruction” contracts to protect, and new assembly plants in the Free Trade Zones to police, Washington and its allies will need MINUSTAH for a good while yet.

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