U.N. to end its 13-year peacekeeping mission in Haiti

U.N. peacekeepers in Cite Soleil, Haiti, in 2009. (UN Photo/Logan Abassi)

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on Thursday to end its 13-year-long peacekeeping mission in Haiti, replacing it with a new mission focused on justice, human rights and police development.

The 15-member council acknowledged the successful completion of Haiti’s presidential election, along with the inauguration of its new President Jovenel Moïse, as a “milestone towards stabilization” in the Caribbean country.

“What we now need is a newly configured mission which is focused on the rule of law and human rights in Haiti,” British U.N. ambassador Matthew Rycroft said on his way into the meeting, reported the Wire.

“Peacekeepers do fantastic work but they are very expensive and they should be used only when needed,” Rycroft said. “We strongly support the ending of this mission turning it into something else. And I think we’ll see the same thing elsewhere.”

Haiti is the only country in the Americas with an active U.N. peacekeeping mission, although the impoverished Caribbean country has not had an armed conflict in years.

There are 2,342 U.N. troops in Haiti, who will withdraw over the coming six months. The U.N. mission will be replaced by a new force whose functions will “be focused mainly on strengthening the rule of law and police,” Haiti’s Ambassador Denis Régis said, according to Haiti Libre.

The new mission will be established for an initial six months, from Oct. 16, 2017, to April 15, 2018, under the training and guidance of seven United Nations police units. It will be a police force of about 1,000 personnel.

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The end of Haiti’s peacekeeping mission comes amid pressure by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration to review the organization’s 16 missions worldwide. Al Jazeera reported that missions in Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sudan’s Darfur region are also set to end.

Mission was a “nightmare” for many

U.N. peacekeepers were initially deployed to Haiti in 2004 when a rebellion led to the ousting and exile of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

The mission was dogged by controversy from its beginning. Peacekeepers introduced cholera to the island in 2010 by dumping infected sewage into a river, prompting an outbreak that has since killed at least 9,500 people and infected hundreds of thousands more.

The U.N. apologized last year and promised to compensate affected Haitians, but has yet to raise the proposed $400 million for the effort. Only $2.6 million in funds have so far been collected.

The mission has also come under fire for allegations of widespread sexual abuse. A recent Associated Press investigation of U.N. missions during the past 12 years found that a sex ring, operated by Sri Lankan soldiers who were posted there from 2004 to 2007, exploited at least nine children in Haiti. None of the peacekeepers has been jailed for the alleged crimes.

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Worldwide, the investigation revealed nearly 2,000 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers and other personnel.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley referred to the sexual abuse investigation in her brief remarks to the Security Council on Thursday.

“While this is seen as a success, unfortunately it’s a nightmare for many in Haiti who will never be able to forget, and live with brutal scars,” Haley said about the U.N.’s presence in Haiti.

“We must acknowledge the abandoned children, 12 to 15 years old, who lived every day with hunger. They were lured by peacekeepers with cookies and snacks. The high price of this food was sexual abuse,” she said.

The New York Times noted that Haley did not address the cholera outbreak, nor how the U.N. plans to raise the funds to compensate survivors.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com