blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
The United Nations has had a permanent presence in Haiti since 1993, when the Security Council mandated the first of several successive peace-keeping missions to the country. Mandates and mission names have changed over the years as political violence, natural catastrophes and organized crime altered the context and priorities of these missions. The current UN presence, MINUSTAH – Mission des Nations Unies pour la Stabilisation en Haiti, was established in 2004. The mission, whose headquarters have collapsed during the January 12 quake, has civilian, police and military components with a maximum mandated strength of 9,151 personnel which is presently being provided by 115 nations. The newest addition to this mix is a contingent of 140 police officers of the Formed Police Unit of Rwanda, which announced its deployment in March after pledging $100,000 towards post-quake reconstruction.
Government institutions and ministries have been destroyed, 45% of police stations and a large percentage of the already under-resourced police force, the Haitian National Police (HNP), have been lost. The country requires international assistance in policing the streets of major cities, especially if elections planned for year-end are to go ahead despite the devastation and institutional vacuum since the earthquake. Some of Haiti’s overcrowded prisons were damaged during the disaster and several thousands of violent and dangerous criminals managed to escape and go into hiding in the slums and shantytowns of Port-au-Prince. There, recent reports have it, they have begun to terrorize neighborhoods, assassinate police officers and threaten fragile social stability. Pressed to find and re-incarcerate the most notorious individuals, heavily-armed MINUSTAH patrols operate in those slums which are designated red zones and where competing well-armed and violent gangs are suspected of providing shelter to fugitives. These patrols, which I witnessed myself while working in the slum of Bel-Air in early March, add to the feeling of mistrust of the UN presence among the population. This sense of suspicion and apprehension has been metastasizing over years of suspicious if not outright atrocious conduct and human rights abuses by national police and international peace-keepers during the years of political chaos and politicized gang violence that engulfed the country in the 1990’s and 2000’s. Isolated cases of looting and rioting after the earthquake, heavily over-reported in Western media, have been met with extrajudicial killings of suspected looters by the HNP. No wonder then, that there is a strong and sensible rift between the civilian population and the institutions that are supposed to provide security.
In this context, the responses to Rwandan involvement range from indifference to incredulity. Post-earthquake Haiti has been heavily militarized and the extent to which deployment of international forces has been prioritized over the provision of relief supplies was much criticized. There has been talk about occupation and the presence of Rwandan police has been taken as evidence that the GOR is acting as a Pentagon proxy (similar accusations have been made towards Rwandan peace-keepers in Sudan). Several opinion pieces have called into question the Rwandan deployment, alluding to Rwanda’s history and recent reports of grenade explosions and pre-election political violence coming out of the East African country. While the Haitian police certainly need assistance, many a commentator is calling for more medical supplies and less guns. And some wonder why and how a country which is seemingly facing problems of its own can afford to deploy some of its best units (holding at least a Bachelor’s degree, having a driving license and at least five years of experience and, reportedly, being FBI-trained in interrogation techniques) to serve on this mission.
Ultimately, however, one thing can be agreed on: Stability is a precondition for reconstruction and development. And a strong national police force free of corruption, collusion and impunity is needed urgently. For the time being and while the HNP remains too small and weak it requires the international commitment and support of which Rwanda’s assistance is but one example.
I welcome perspectives from my friends in Rwanda! What do you think about the GOR’s decision to deploy police forces abroad? What about the cost of deployment relative to the amount pledged for reconstruction? Do you think Rwanda is strong enough to participate in these missions? Should there be other priorities or, as a Rwandan, is this something to push for and be proud of?
 The Boston Globe, April 11, 2010; NPR.org April 11, 2010
 International Crisis Group, February 2008; Brasschecktv.com/page/513.html
 The New Yorker: Neighbor’s Keeper, February 8, 2010
 Haiti911.com, March 11, 2010; San Francisco Bay View, March 12, 2010