In Haiti, the UN is a violator of Human Rights

Originally published in the Harvard International Review

All across the globe, sky-blue hats are a symbol of international cooperation and hope. These hats are the iconic blue protective helmets worn by United Nations (UN) peacekeepers while on duty. They are especially prevalent in rural, developing, and conflict-ridden regions. Particularly, UN peacekeepers have been a fixture in Haiti for the last 15 years until recently. On October 15, 2019, the familiar sea of blue hats left, leaving many questions. But, most importantly, peacekeepers have, perhaps, ironically left behind a legacy of human rights abuses.

In 2010, the UN’s failure to ensure the hygiene of its peacekeeping force resulted in bringing the fatal disease, cholera, to Haiti. Tens of thousands of deaths followed but with little response by the UN. Ultimately, it took the UN six years to deliver a deliberately ambiguous apology, and their plan of implementing sanitation infrastructure has yet to be fulfilled. However, the bigger problems lie in the broken trust of the Haitian people who feel a betrayal of the hope which the blue hats once promised.

The Lead Up

In January of 2010, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, killing approximately 100,000 people. The real figures are estimated to be much higher with some suggesting over 300,000 deaths. The damages from the natural disaster were calculated to be approximately US$8 billion. As a small developing nation with many scattered villages, the effects of the earthquake were catastrophic. As a result, the country became in desperate need of disaster relief and additional external support to keep it afloat.

The United Nations at this point had been maintaining a presence in Haiti since 2004 as part of the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti. Although, it is more commonly referred to as MINUSTAH, based on the acronym of its French name, Mission des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en Haïti. The initial goal of MINUSTAH was to help stabilise the country after a period of anarchy and provide a greater sense of order. The UN extended their mission deadline in light of the 2010 earthquake and their role shifted from essentially law enforcement to a focus on disaster relief. This disaster relief would be even more desperately needed as cholera would strike just months later.

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