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Could a Kenya-Led Force Increase Security in Haiti?

Photo of Haitian National Police Kenya has said it would consider leading a new multinational police force in Haiti. Haitian police are pictured in April paying tribute to three officers who were killed in a gang ambush in the neighborhood of Thomassin, near Port-au-Prince. // Photo: Haitian National Police.

A spokesman on July 31 said that U.N. Secretary General António Guterres welcomed Kenya’s statement that it would “positively consider” leading a multinational police force in Haiti to help the Caribbean nation improve its security and stem gang violence. Kenya’s foreign ministry said it was willing to send 1,000 police officers to Haiti. Since then, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed support for its authorization, and the Bahamian government committed 150 personnel to support the effort. What impact could a Kenya-led force have in addressing Haiti’s security problems? What might the multinational police force look like, and who is likely to participate?

Monique Clesca, journalist, former U.N. official, and a member of the Commission to Search for a Haitian Solution to the Crisis and the Monitoring Bureau of the Montana Accord: “As the latest Haiti crisis that started with the July 2018 riots with youths demanding social justice and worsened after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, Haitians have shown, through massive protests and numerous positions by political leaders and civil society organizations, that they want far more than short-term, cosmetic solutions. They have consistently demanded sustainable answers, particularly in governance. It’s important to understand that Haiti’s security problems derive from, and are intimately linked to, the state’s criminality—the current governance system—characterized by massive corruption and association with dubious economic sectors and gangs that control most of the capital. Haiti’s criminally controlled leaders, with the support of the United States, Canada, France, the European Union and the United Nations, have terrorized their own population, weakened Haitian institutions, led the country’s precipitous economic collapse and shown their disdain for Haitians by not providing social services including security. As such, addressing Haiti’s security problems cannot be the job of a Kenya-led force, or for that matter, a United Nations or Caricom-led force. Haiti does not need a foreign military intervention. Worse, in addition to the overall failure and collective trauma of past interventions—despite their temporary successes—Kenya will be judged as an African country doing the job of the West, with the backdrop of the calamitous human rights record of Kenya’s police against the country’s own population. Granted, the Haitian National Police needs assistance to subdue the gangs and re-establish security. But a Kenyan or other foreign-led force would only serve to prop up Ariel Henry’s failed government. And what will happen when they leave? Haiti urgently needs the United States and its partners to stop supporting a corrupt government and to pressure it to reach a political accord with opposition and civil society, including the Montana Accord leaders, to have a transition that can address the catastrophic humanitarian situation, the calamitous security situation and lead elections to move the country to a functional, stable and sustainable democratic state—that serves its people by fulfilling their basic human rights and follows the rule of law.”

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International: “The announcement of the potential deployment of Kenyan law enforcement officers to lead a multinational police force in Haiti raises several human rights concerns. Amnesty International’s recent reports have documented police use of unnecessary and excessive force against protesters in Kenya, leading to numerous deaths and injuries, including of children. Moreover, past multinational operations in Haiti have been marred by severe problems, such as a cholera epidemic and sexual exploitation and abuse, with little accountability for the victims. Any deployment of peacekeeping forces or technical security assistance must incorporate robust mechanisms to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse, including of children, safeguard the rights of local populations and ensure effective accountability and recourse for victims of abuses. Amnesty International strongly urges decision-makers to conduct a comprehensive review of the human rights record of any security forces that could potentially be deployed and the implications of deploying them before proceeding with this mission. In addition, any consideration regarding the possible deployment of stabilization support should also go through a meaningful consultation with Haitian civil society and support a Haitian-led solution for long-term stability in the country. Finally, solidarity should not be focused only on this mission. A responsible and humane response to the thousands of Haitians looking for safety needs to be put in place in the Americas. The same governments that call for solidarity for Haitians are implementing mass deportations and other racist migrant policies and practices. No Haitian seeking asylum should be sent back to the country or to anywhere they would be at risk of serious human rights violations.” 

Peter Hakim, member of the Advisor board and president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue: “The government of Kenya should be widely applauded for its offer to lead an international effort to help restore public security in Haiti, a country now besieged by violent gangs that control more than 80 percent of the nation’s capital and upwards of 50 percent of its overall territory. By taking on this task, which the United States and several other major nations have been unwilling to do, Kenya has generated a measure of hope for a turnaround in Haiti’s accelerating decline. But it has also shined a bright light on the difficulties confronting Haiti—not only in controlling gang activity, but what it will take to halt the nation’s destruction, reconstitute its governing institutions, recharge its economy and rebuild the confidence of its citizens. U.S. officials estimate that $200 million to $400 million would be needed to support 1,000 Kenyan police for a year in Haiti, but it could well take two or three times that number to defeat the gangs. And the time frame will almost surely be longer than a single year. Maintaining security will require a far better trained, equipped and paid Haitian police force. The long delay in assisting Haiti now calls for a thoroughgoing reconstruction of the nation’s most vital institutions, starting with the government itself, and including private businesses of all shapes and sizes, schools and universities, hospitals and other medical facilities, and religious centers. It will be up to the United States and other high-income countries to provide the needed support. Kenya cannot help on this score.” 

Richard Gowan, United Nations director at the International Crisis Group: “Kenya’s offer to lead an international police support mission to Haiti–with 1,000 of its own police officers in the lead–could end months of confusion in the U.N. Security Council about how to assist the troubled Caribbean nation. But while a number of Caribbean and African nations appear willing to send personnel to back the Kenyans, the mission is by no means risk-free. Heavily armed gangs control significant parts of Port-au-Prince. The dangers they present, in addition to the lack of a credible government to work with in Haiti, have deterred other countries, notably Canada, from volunteering to lead a deployment. The mission will most likely be a standalone operation with a U.N. Security Council mandate, but not under direct U.N. control (a similar set-up to the NATO mission in Kosovo). Recalling allegations that previous U.N. peacekeepers introduced cholera to Haiti, officials at U.N. headquarters are quite happy with this arrangement. A big question for any peace operation is how sustainable it will be over time. Putting Haiti’s police on a sound footing will not be a quick process. It remains to be seen whether Kenya will want to lead an open-ended mission, or whether the United Nations and the United States—which traditionally leads on Haiti in the Security Council—will have to look for alternative personnel contributors to take the Kenyans’ place in the years ahead.” 

Martha Doggett, former head of the Americas Division in the U.N. Department of Political Affairs and formerly with the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Haiti : “The secretary-general’s welcome was necessarily cautious, as numerous steps must precede Kenyan deployment alongside the Haitian National Police. Among these is the Kenyans’ mid-August assessment mission; approval processes within Kenya; commitments by other nations to field police; definition of a mandate and authorization of the multinational force by the Security Council (where the approval of China and Russia is uncertain); arrangements for financing, logistical support, intelligence-sharing and crucially, accountability mechanisms for this ‘coalition of the willing.’ Also needed is elaboration of a full offering of complementary activities, without which gang activity cannot be eradicated. This includes violence reduction at the community level, prison and justice sector reform, job opportunities for demobilized gang members and efforts to promote reconciliation. The Kenya-led force can and must succeed. It must concentrate on its core mandate while coordinating closely with the United Nations and bilateral partners. Kenya demonstrated to the Security Council on Aug. 3 that it is aware of the need for ‘interlocking initiatives … anchored in strong partnerships.’ Kenya singled out Caricom, which is taking the lead in pursuit of a political settlement. Also mentioned was the need to ‘develop a coordinated package that learns from the past,’ listing eight complementary activities, many of which are already underway by the United Nations and bilateral actors. Liberating Port-au-Prince neighborhoods from gang control is a crucial step on Haiti’s road to recovery, but robust policing alone is not enough. U.N. missions have been deployed alongside troops fielded by other actors (Afghanistan, Kosovo) but Haiti’s unique history, complexity and challenges call for a new level of creativity, flexibility and synergy. Underpinning it all must be strict adherence to standards for human rights and civilian policing.” 

James Morrell, executive director of the Haiti Democracy Project: “Kenya and The Bahamas are much to be commended for stepping up to the plate. Where is the great United States? Why do we keep trying to slough off this job onto others? On the last checking of the map, the United States was still the only big country near Haiti. Kenya is not nearby, and the Bahamas is not big. It would be a rare good use of U.S. forces. Meanwhile, maladroit commentaries by front-line U.S. officials could sink this boat before it lands. Barbara Feinstein, deputy assistant secretary of state for Caribbean affairs, said the foreign personnel would go ‘to secure critical infrastructure sites and thereby allow the Haitian national police to increase their focus on battling gangs.’ Any suggestion that the foreigners would shirk the fight would sink the morale of the police even further. Linda Thomas-Greenfield at the United Nations, when asked whether Russia would veto the mission, correctly noted that Russia had just approved the political mission, BINUH, but she omitted any positive formulation such as ‘the United States welcomes this move’ that would signal meaningful negotiations over the full mission. Without such negotiations, Russia could well oppose it. The force must be augmented several times above 1,250 to be able to turn the tide. A foreign force too small to fight would be worse than none at all. In the fight the police would be in the lead, but a foreign contingent must be right behind them, as was the practice when the United Nations was there. The Haiti Democracy Project witnessed one such scrape, in Cité Soleil in 2006, as a two-layer police-U.N. contingent cleared a voting center of invaders. The Pakistani commander of the U.N. squad explained, ‘The Haitian police did it all. But they knew we were there.'” 


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