September 16, 2019

Situation in Haiti

Specialized: United Nations Security Council

Topic: Situation in Haiti

Haiti’s unique geography and political history have contributed to recurring natural disasters and bouts of social unrest. Haiti occupies the western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola and is prone to earthquakes and tropical storms. In 1804, after a 12-year battle against France, formerly enslaved people founded Haiti, the only state ever established by a successful slave revolt. In 1825, however, France forced Haiti to pay it the equivalent of tens of billions of today’s U.S. dollars. Haiti finished paying off the debt in 1947 but continued to suffer its negative effects for many decades thereafter. Hobbled by debt, foreign intervention, and natural disasters, Haiti entered the 21st century with extensive problems with poverty, corruption, and infrastructure.

After President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was ousted in a coup d’état in 2004, political violence spread across Haiti and, in response, the United Nations Security Council established the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). The Security Council expanded MINUSTAH in the wake of a devastating, 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010. The earthquake killed an estimated 220,000 people and left even more homeless. MINUSTAH peacekeepers caused a cholera epidemic later in 2010, worsening the humanitarian crisis and relations with the local population. The Security Council replaced MINUSTAH with a smaller peacekeeping mission (MINUJUSTH) from 2017 to 2019 followed by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), a special political mission to advise state institutions.

As United Nations peacekeeping forces left Haiti in 2019, the country experienced severe economic challenges, including hyperinflation, fuel shortages, and rising poverty rates. In addition, President Jovenel Moïse faced allegations of corruption and protests demanding his resignation. In July 2021, President Moïse was assassinated at his residence, further destabilizing the country. As of September 2023, Haiti has not yet held elections for president or its legislature. Acting President Ariel Henry serves without a mandate, and the last legislators departed office in January 2023. In the absence of elected leadership, Haiti is on the brink of state failure. Armed gangs control vast swaths of the country, including an estimated 80 percent of the capital Port-au-Prince. The gangs are in a violent conflict with each other and what remains of government forces. Civilians are frequently caught in the crossfire, subjected to sexual violence, and ransomed to fund gang activities. The United Nations estimates gangs have killed at least 2,000 people and kidnapped more than 1,000 in the first half of 2023. Nearly five million people lack regular access to food, and the cholera epidemic has reemerged.

The surge in gang violence has compounded Haiti’s numerous existing challenges and driven many humanitarian workers out of the country. Centuries of damaging foreign intervention in Haiti looms over international proposals to address the violence and political instability. Acting President Henry, nonetheless, requested a specialized force in a letter to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in October 2022. In July 2023, the Security Council extended BINUH’s mandate for one year and called on Secretary-General Guterres to present options to address the situation in Haiti. The Secretary-General said Haiti’s current context is not conducive to peacekeeping and requested that the Security Council support deploying a non-United Nations multinational force to help the Haitian National Police to combat gang violence and stabilize the country. The United States indicated it is willing to introduce a Security Council resolution to authorize such a force. Kenya has offered to lead the force, though observers have raised concerns over Kenya’s history of police abuse. The Bahamas and Jamaica have also pledged to contribute to the force, and Antigua and Barbuda indicated it was considering contributing as well. The Security Council must decide how to address Haiti’s violence, political instability, and humanitarian crisis, including whether to authorize foreign intervention.

Useful Links:

UNSC Resolution 2692

Haiti’s harrowing humanitarian crisis remains at the top of the United Nations’ agenda

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