U.N. approves sending international force to Haiti to help quell gang violence

U.N. approves sending international force to Haiti to help quell gang violence

This article was published by CBS News. Click here for the full article.

United Nations — The U.N. Security Council voted Monday to approve sending a multinational force to Haiti with the goal of combatting extreme gang violence that has spiraled in recent years.

With 13 votes in favor, the Security Council approved sending a one-year, non-U.N. force that will be led by Kenya, which has committed to sending 1,000 security personnel. The force is expected to include personnel from Jamaica, Barbados and several other nations. The mission was authorized under the “use of force” provision of the U.N. Charter.

Both Russia and China abstained, allowing the measure to pass.

Although it is not a U.N. peacekeeping mission, the U.N. Security Council resolution gave its “blessing” to the mission, according to Sérgio França Danese, Brazil’s U.N. ambassador who currently holds the rotating presidency of the council.

Haiti Grapples With Surge In Gang Violence
Fires burn on streets in the Cite Soleil area on September 13, 2023 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. GILES CLARKE/GETTY IMAGES

What will the force be responsible for?

The U.N. has been trying for some time to send forces to Haiti to as civilians face hunger and gang violence that has cut off water and gas supplies, left thousands dead and driven an increasing number of Haitians to flee to the U.S.

The new international force — dubbed the Multinational Security Support Mission or “MSS” — is being sent at the request of the Haitian government and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. It will be tasked with protecting hospitals, schools, airports, ports and traffic intersections in conjunction with the Haitian National Police.A senior Biden administration official told reporters on a call Monday that the Kenyan forces will not supplant the Haitian police, but “support and strengthen its ability to provide security for the Haitians over the long term.”The vote was “an expression of solidarity with people in distress,” Haitian Foreign Minister Jean Victor Geneus told the Security Council. “It is a glimmer of hope for people who have been suffering the consequences of a difficult political, socioeconomic, security and humanitarian situation for too long.”

Resident evacuate the Carrefour Feuilles commune in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on August 15, 2023, as gang violence continues to plague the Haitian capital.RICHARD PIERRIN/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

What role will the U.S. have?

The Biden administration has been clear that it will not commit to “boots on the ground,” but it is seeking $100 million from Congress to support the mission. It’s expected that the Pentagon will also provide another $100 million of support — including intelligence, airlifts, communications and medical funds — to support training for the Haitian National Police.

These funds would be in addition to the $500 million that the U.S. already provides in development and humanitarian assistance to Haiti.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, in a statement issued Monday, called the U.N. vote “an important milestone in bringing much-needed help to the people of Haiti who have suffered for far too long at the hands of violent criminals.”

He thanked the nations that committed forces to the mission and said it was “now crucial that we focus on making progress in mobilizing the international support necessary to deploy this mission swiftly, effectively, and safely. The people of Haiti deserve to feel safe enough to leave their homes, restore their livelihoods, and go to the polls to democratically elect a government that represents their interests.”

“Haitians are leaving the country because of fear… because of intimidation and being terrorized,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters in a call late Monday, adding that it was the Biden administration’s hope that the mission “works to provide stability, it works to provide security [so] that fewer Haitians will feel the need to leave the country.”

Knowing that past missions to help Haiti have been ill-fated, including an international peacekeeping force that brought cholera, Monday’s resolution provides a mechanism for oversight to prevent abuses and sexual exploitation.

Smoke is seen in the Turgeau commune of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, during gang-related violence on April 24, 2023.RICHARD PIERRIN/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

How effective will the force be at quelling violence?

Those who know Haiti’s history remained skeptical after the Security Council vote.

A senior Biden administration official told reporters on a call Monday that the Kenyan force of roughly 1,000 officers will not supplant the Haitian National Police, but “support and strengthen its ability to provide security for the Haitians over the long term.”

But the official expressed doubt as to whether sending forces alone would be enough, saying such action would be “insufficient without progress on the political side.”

Amy Wilentz, author of “The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier” and a professor at the University of California, Irvine, told CBS News the mission was “unlikely to be a success.”

“First, it’s too small,” Wilentz said. “There are an estimated 20,000 active gang members in Port-au-Prince, and they are heavily armed. So in combat, the Kenyans will be outmanned and perhaps outgunned.”

Wilentz also noted the Kenyan police “have a quite poor human rights record in Kenya. In Haiti, they don’t know the turf, don’t speak the language.”

Wilentz noted that the international force will be contending with the aftermath of twin crises — the assassination of former Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in 2021 and the devastating 2010 earthquake erased decades of progress in rebuilding stability in Haiti.

Haitian journalist and broadcaster Michele Montas, who ran Radio Haiti Inter with her husband Jean Dominique for 30 years until he was assassinated, was positive about some aspects of the mission.

“In the terrible war that the gangs are waging against the population, the force might give some temporary breathing space to people who have been fleeing their neighborhoods for months as the gangs are gaining more and more territory,” Montas told CBS News. But she added that, “without a real change and a responsible transitional government, the violence might be temporarily reduced, lives would be saved, major critical infrastructures might be functional again, but it can only be, in the long run, another failure.”

China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun said that while Beijing “appreciates Kenya’s willingness” to lead the mission, “without a legitimate, effective, and responsible government in place, any external support can hardly have any lasting effects.”

“If the council had taken this step at an earlier time, the security situation in Haiti might not have deteriorated to what it is today,” Zhang said.