Aid to impoverished countries can often have unintended consequences. The “unintended consequences of UN peacekeepers’ presence in Haiti, however, have become symbols of the lack of accountability for injustices committed by UN personnel. Victims of a cholera epidemic brought to Haiti by the UN have been fighting five years for compensation, water and sanitation infrastructure, and an official apology from the UN. Meanwhile, sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel has gone vastly under-reported and silenced. How the UN deals with these issues will have serious consequences for its image and authority going forward.
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Taking the ‘Unintended Consequences’ of Peacekeeping Seriously – How Haiti Has the Potential to Revolutionize World Politics, Again
Nicolas Lemay-Hebert, MUNPlanet
February 26, 2016
Haiti has long been described a perennial ‘failed state,’ a ‘basket case’ of the Western Hemisphere, where all good development initiatives ‘go to die.’ Obviously, this semantic severely underplays the international factors in the Haitian failed statebuilding process; but this is to a certain extent beyond the point here. Most commentators tend to forget – or are not interested to know – that Haiti was the first black republic to gain independence through a bloody uprising against the French plantation owners. The Haitian Revolution started in August 1791 – that is right in the middle of the upheavals of the French Revolution that started two years before in 1789 and seven years after the Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolutionary War. The Haitian Revolution would play a crucial role in future emancipation movements in the Americas and beyond, proving that it was possible to stand against slavery and European colonial powers. The repercussions for this crime of lèse-majesté would be terrible: Haiti had to ‘buy’its independence from France in 1804, a debt that is equivalent to 17 billion Euros in today’s money, and which Haiti finally managed to finish paying in the 1950s.Now, Haiti is once again in a position to transform and shape world politics. However, this time, it is not through voluntary leadership of a leader like Toussaint L’Ouverture, or through the collective exasperation vis-à-vis the exceptionally brutal slave regime in Haiti. This time, it is through the unfortunate consequences of the intrusion of cholera in Haiti by UN Peacekeepers in 2010. The epidemic that started in Mirebalais in the Artibonite region has had terrible repercussions for Haitians: killing more than 9,000 people and sickening over 745,000 since, making it the ‘Haitian 9-11’ (to use an analogy that speaks to most Westerners). It is also widely recognised that the origin of the outbreak lies in the Nepalese camp in Mirebalais. The camp had inadequate toilet or sanitation facilities, and raw faecal waste flowed from that camp into a nearby tributary (Meille River) that feeds into the Artibonite River. The strain of cholera identified in Haiti is a rare one typically found in the same area of Nepal from which a contingent of UN peacekeeping troops had recently been deployed. This ‘unintended consequence’ of the external presence in Haiti puts to the forefront the various issues of individual and collective accountability for all undesirable impacts of peacekeeping, including sexual abuse and exploitation, and of course, mortality resulting from an illness that was not endemic to the country for over a century. This crisis has the potential to drastically reshape peacekeeping practices, shifting the emphasis from the mandate of peacekeeping missions and what is achievable (see: Brahimi Report), to the evaluation of all consequences of peacekeeping practices, positive as well as negative ones. That is, if the UN is ready to engage seriously with this agenda, moving beyond mere rhetoric about “minimizing the impact on the local and regional environment by the deployment of a peace operation” (UN 2015, 78) to seriously tackle the consequences of existing peacekeeping practices.
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