UNITED NATIONS (TBEN) — The United States and Canada — the two countries most often cited as possible leaders of an international force to help Haiti fight gangs — showed no interest on Tuesday in deploying security personnel despite renewed calls from the United Nations and Haiti for help to end worsening violence in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
US Vice Ambassador Robert Wood told the UN Security Council that “Haiti must address its ongoing insecurity challenges,” and encouraged the international community to support its efforts.
Canada’s UN Ambassador Robert Rae said the world should learn from all previous military interventions in Haiti, which failed to bring long-term stability to the country, and ensure that future solutions “must be led by Haitians and by Haitian Institutions”.
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the country’s council of ministers issued an urgent appeal on October 7 calling for “the immediate deployment of a specialized force, in sufficient quantity” to stop the crisis caused in part by the “criminal actions of armed gangs”.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued the call, but more than three months later, no country has come forward.
Helen La Lime, the UN’s special envoy to Haiti, echoed the secretary-general’s call, telling the council that “gang-related violence has reached a level not seen in years”.
The number of murders and kidnappings increased for a fourth year in a row in 2022, she said, pointing to 1,359 kidnappings, more than double the number in 2021 and averaging about four a day, and the number of murders rising by a third to 2,183, hitting all segments of society, including a former presidential candidate and director of the National Police Academy.
On the political front, La Lime said, the expiration of the terms of office of the last 10 senators in office on Jan. 9 means “there is not one elected official left in the country.”
While this represents a “profound challenge,” she said, it is also an opportunity for Haitians to look at and address the root causes of dysfunction in the country.
The UN envoy pointed to two major developments: the unanimous adoption by the Security Council in October of a resolution imposing sanctions on individuals and groups threatening peace and stability in the country, starting with a powerful gang leader, and the signing on 21 December by a large number of political, civil, religious, union and private officials of a “National Consensus Agreement for an Inclusive Transition and Transparent Elections”.
The agreement includes a calendar for installing an elected government by February 2024, including immediate steps to promote fiscal reform and increase state revenues, La Lime said. A Supreme Transitional Council has been appointed that will work with the government to make nominations to the country’s highest court, she said.
La lime said the agreement, whose supporters are growing every day, is “the most promising sign to emerge from the dialogue efforts so far”. With the UN sanctions, it provides “a clear path to the restoration of democracy and legitimacy,” she said.
But La Lime said the deployment of an international specialized force is an essential third element needed to strengthen policing, sanctions and transition.
Without an international force, she said, “the very positive effects of the political process and sanctions so far will remain fragile and vulnerable to reversal.”
Haiti’s UN ambassador Antonio Rodrigue cited continued efforts to implement the agreement, but called the current situation “an emergency” and warned that restoring security is a prerequisite for the country moving forward.
“Without security, we cannot hold fair, transparent and democratic elections, nor can we restore the normal functioning of the country’s institutions,” he warned.
Rodrigue urged the international community to heed Secretary General Guterres’s renewed call for the immediate deployment of an international force “to help us suppress the gangs and enable us to resume the process of restoring to complete the democratic order in our country.”
“This is now a necessity,” Rodrigue said. “We can’t wait and the security situation could worsen every day, exacerbating the plight of the people who are already suffering terribly.”
On the subject of suffering, UN envoy La Lime told the council that gangs have deliberately blocked access to food, water and health services during the current cholera outbreak and that nearly 5 million Haitians across the country are facing acute hunger.