Haiti called for security support. Who answered?

07 March 2024 - 07:13 By Sarah Morland, Harold Isaac and Michelle Nichols
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A police officer patrols near the police headquarters as Haiti continues in a state of emergency, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti March 6, 2024.
A police officer patrols near the police headquarters as Haiti continues in a state of emergency, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti March 6, 2024.
Image: REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol

More than a year ago Haiti's government formally requested a multinational force be deployed to help its police restore control of the capital Port-au-Prince, as powerful alliances of heavily armed gangs expanded their influence.

Progress has lagged, but as Prime Minister Ariel Henry travelled to Kenya last week to sign a deal expected to secure Kenya's leadership, fighting escalated dramatically as armed men broke thousands of inmates out of overpopulated prisons, authorities declared a state of emergency and thousands of displaced people fled makeshift camps in the capital.

The United Nations estimates hundreds of thousands have been displaced and thousands killed in the overall conflict, with widespread reports of rape, torture and ransom kidnappings.


Henry first called in October 2022 for a rapid international force to help national police fight gangs which were quickly growing their influence and military arsenals around Port-au-Prince, driving a devastating humanitarian crisis.

A year later the United Nations passed a resolution approving the force and setting out a framework, stipulating the mission would not be UN-led, though the agency would offer oversight, set up a dedicated trust fund and receive formal commitments from countries volunteering their support.

Countries have been slow to offer support, with some raising doubts over the legitimacy of Henry's unelected government amid widespread protests. Many, both in Haitian communities and abroad, are wary of international interventions after previous UN missions left behind a devastating cholera epidemic and sex abuse scandals, for which reparations were never made.

Kenya offered to lead the force last year, but a court ruled it needed a reciprocal agreement from Haiti. Henry travelled to Nairobi to sign this agreement while fighting escalated in his country.

He landed in Puerto Rico on Tuesday, after media reports said the Dominican Republic prevented him from entering Haiti from its airspace.


The UN last month said five countries had formally pledged troops to the force, Benin being the largest known contributor with 1,500 personnel. Chad, Bangladesh and Barbados also made formal pledges, it said without giving more details, as well as the Bahamas, which had previously said it would send 150 people.

Kenya has pledged to lead the force with 1,000 police officers. Late last year, politicians in Kenya's parliament reported plans to contribute from Burundi and Senegal.

Meanwhile in the Caribbean, Belizean media said the country had pledged 50 soldiers and Antigua and Barbuda's prime minister has pledged an unspecified number of soldiers. Media reported Suriname also would offer personnel.

Under the U.N.'s resolution to deploy the force, states must formally notify its secretary-general. There is no deadline. The widely criticised 2004-17 UN MINUSTAH mission to Haiti was given an initial mandate of up 6,700 troops.

Researchers at the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based NGO, said Kenyan assessments indicated the mission should have up to 5,000 personnel and cost some $240 million per year.


The US is the largest known financial backer, having pledged up to $200 million. The US has said Guyana has also pledged funds, without saying how much.

Canada later followed this with a pledge of around $59 million, and France with some $3 million and a further $924,000 for French and Creole-language training for the mission.

However, as of March 5, a UN spokesperson said only $78 million had been formally pledged and less that $11 million deposited in its dedicated trust fund, from Canada and France. No new contributions were made since the state of emergency.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres has repeatedly called for more countries to offer funds and urged more support from French-speaking nations.

Both France and the US were recipients of a debt Haiti paid during more than a century over claims of property, including slaves, lost during the Haitian revolution.

Combined with loans taken to meet payments, a New York Times investigation estimated the “debt” cost Haiti billions of dollars, crippling development. It is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.


Several dozen more countries have made unspecified commitments of support, notably Spain and nearby Jamaica. The Miami Herald has reported commitments from Mongolia, Guatemala, Italy and Peru, and El Salvador said they had offered a “study mission” to share technical expertise learnt from the Central American country's own security crackdown.

It was unclear whether this mission took place.

The neighbouring Dominican Republic, while calling for deployment, has been clear it will not participate in the force and its president has said he would not allow Haitian refugee camps on its territory.

The country, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, has deported tens of thousands in the past year, and does not allow infants of Haitian migrants born in the country to have Dominican nationality.


The UN has authorised the so-called Multinational Security Support Mission to “take all necessary measures” against alleged gang members while collaborating with Haitian police to secure routes for humanitarian aid and ensure stringent measures to prevent further rights abuses.

Sinisa Vukovic, a senior conflict lecturer at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, said that while the UN mandate clearly allowed for use of force against perpetrators of violence towards civilians, it was unclear what limits donor countries would impose on their troops.

Vukovic pointed to acts linked to MINUSTAH peacekeepers that resulted in the deaths and injuries of dozens of civilians, justified at the time as self-defence, but he said this suggested the mission had not been fully prepared to counter violence while keeping civilians safe.

“The real question is: What will be different this time?” Vukovic asked. “It is obvious that this will be a patched-together mission, shaped and conditioned by the political will of contributing countries.”


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