The United Nations Security Council approved Monday a one-year deployment of a multinational armed force to Haiti to be led by Kenya, nearly a year after the crisis-ridden country appealed to the international community for help to put down the violent gangs that have taken over larger parts of the country.
The vote on Res. 2699 came four days shy of one year since the Haitian government first requested an international military intervention on Oct. 6, 2022. Thirteen of the nations on the 15-member council voted for it, while two countries, China and the Russian Federation, abstained.
The vote is a significant victory for the Biden administration, which after failing to get Canada to take a leadership role in the effort over the course of a year of diplomatic efforts, succeeded in securing the approval of the security council. It is also a win for U.N. Secretary General-Secretary General António Guterres who, recognizing past issues with peacekeeping operations in Haiti, proposed deploying a non-U.N. multinational force under a Security Council mandate and visited the Caribbean in July to lobby reluctant leaders for their support.
The Multinational Security Support Mission will not technically be a U.N. mission, meaning member countries are not obligated to contribute toward its cost. According to the resolution, the force would be funded by voluntary contributions from countries, and authorization would initially be for a year, with a review after nine months.
Senior U.S. administration officials say the U.S. is committed to the mission’s success and will work with other countries to identify sufficient equipment, personnel and resources. They have declined to say publicly how much the mission is expected to cost, other than the U.S. plans to provide an initial $200 million in funding. Half of that will come from the Defense Department.
“Many of us have stepped up to do as much as we can bilaterally,” a senior administration official said Monday ahead of the vote. “But Haiti needs a more ambitious, holistic and concerted effort from partners all over the world and for new partners to step forward to help in this critical moment in Haiti’s history.”
The U.N. resolution was authored by the U.S. and Ecuador with input from Kenya, which in late July said it would consider deploying 1,000 of its police officers to Haiti for the operation.
This is the first time since the U.N. deployed a stabilization mission to Haiti in 2004 that the Security Council has approved a foreign intervention in the Caribbean country, which has seen an escalation in armed gang violence and kidnappings since the July 7, 2021, assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Then a strong earthquake hit shortly after.
Both events, U.S. officials said, “erased decades of progress in rebuilding stability and governance in Haiti.”
The U.S. pushed for the resolution behind the scenes for months, with President Joe Biden calling for its swift passage in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September. U.S. officials were concerned that China and Russia would veto it up until the moment of the vote. Late Friday, after a draft of the resolution circulated among members of the Security Council, China asked for stronger language, requiring member countries to do more to halt the illicit trafficking of arms into Haiti. A deal was finally reached with Washington over the weekend.
The approval of the mission is not only “a significant milestone,” U.S. officials said, it builds on the work of the council’s decision last October to set up a sanctions program to punish Haitians helping fuel the widespread gang violence and destabilizing the country.
The Security Council has two more meetings scheduled on Haiti: One on the Oct. 19th to adopt additional sanctions, and another on Oct. 23 for a regular briefing and consultations on the work of the U.N. Integrated Office in Haiti. Guterres is seeking additional support for the office so that it can assist the mission by helping Haiti address some of the root causes of its instability: a dysfunctional judiciary, overcrowded prisons, corruption and a weak police force.
Monday’s vote is only the first step, the U.S. official said, recognizing that much work remains including hashing out rules of engagement, how forces will communicate and how they will work with the Haitian police.
The mission, which is now expected to include military troops as well as police, will involve securing key government installations in Haiti such as the seaport and airport, but also support to Haiti’s ill-equipped and underfunded police force on operations “to counter gangs and improve security conditions” in the volatile country.
The security mission would also work to help build the capacity of Haiti’s police, which according to Guterres is dealing with a “staggering loss” of officers. In the first half of this year, nearly 800 cops left the force, which continues to struggle to maintain security gains after taking back neighborhoods from gang control. The U.N. political office in Haiti has said while the force has a payroll of less than 15,000 officers, there are only 3,300 cops actually on duty at any time throughout the country of 12 million people.
Monday’s vote came after weeks of consultations and heavy behind-the-scenes lobbying by the U.S., which has grown increasingly worried about a mass exodus of Haitians and a complete takeover of the country by gangs, which now control at least 80% of the capital.
There were questions about the nature of the mission and its duration in Haiti, which hasn’t had national elections since 2016, when Moïse came to power, and today finds itself in a constitutional crisis with no parliament or elected leaders.
“The exit strategy goes through elections,” Brian Nichols, assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, said ahead of the vote as the U.S. appealed to countries to pledge support for the mission.
Other countries also raised concerns about the lack of a political agreement to move toward elections in Haiti. The U.N. resolution stresses that “addressing the root causes of instability in Haiti requires political solutions,” and emphasizes “the urgent need to encourage wider participation and forge the broadest possible consensus in the political process” to schedule elections once the gangs are dealt with.
Ahead of the security council’s vote, the U.S. State Department stressed that the multinational mission is not a substitute for the political dialogue needed to move toward elections.
“This additional security support for Haiti goes hand in hand with the work that Prime Minister [Ariel] Henry is leading to forge a national consensus on a political path forward,” Victoria Nuland, acting deputy secretary of state, said in a press conference on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last month.
The U.S. has repeatedly said that Henry, a neurosurgeon who was handpicked by Moïse ahead of his death to be his seventh prime minister and lead Haiti to long overdue elections, would not run for office — and neither would any members of his cabinet.
U.S. officials said that while several countries have expressed support for fielding the mission, many said strong U.N. Security Council backing was necessary first.The Miami Herald has identified at least a dozen countries that have pledged to support the mission with personnel, equipment or funding. They include Italy, Spain, Mongolia, Senegal, Belize, Suriname, Guatemala and Peru. The Caribbean nations of Jamaica, The Bahamas, and Antigua and Barbuda had previously announced their intent to take part in the mission.
During discussions in New York, Blinken appealed to the international community to pledge support and said the administration is working on securing $100 million from Congress to help finance the mission. U.S. officials say they plan to intensify their efforts after the vote to get more contributions from other countries.
There are still many unanswered questions about the international intervention, including the ability of the U.S. to get countries to finance the mission with voluntary contributions when they have so far struggled to raise $28 million for a Haitian police fund, and the mission’s ability to succeed against ruthless gangs.
Critics have raised questions about Kenya’s ability to take on gangs and the force’s effectiveness given the country’s poor human-rights record in the past. The resolution says that all personnel deployed for the mission must be vetted and any allegations of human-rights abused must be quickly investigated.
Member states participating in the security mission will also be asked to adopt appropriate wastewater management and other environmental controls to guard against the introduction and spread of water-borne diseases like cholera, which was introduced during the last U.N. intervention by Nepalese peacekeepers.
“People are right to be skeptical because other emissions have failed before,” Kenya’s foreign minister, Alfred Mutua told the BBC in an interview before the vote. “But those are U.N. peacekeeping missions. This is a different mission.”
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