Online Program Enrolling Now - Seton Hall - United Nations Institute for Training and Research
Online Program Enrolling Now - Seton Hall - United Nations Institute for Training and Research

BLUE SMOKE: A monthly column, from PassBlue and UNA–UK, spotlighting senior appointments at the UN

Judging the UN in Haiti: ‘We Let the Haitians Down’


A closing ceremony of Minustah on Aug. 31, 2017, with Brazilian peacekeepers and the head of the Minustah mission, Sandra Honoré, who held the post since May 2013. LOGAN ABASSI/MINUSTAH

The population it serves can misunderstand a United Nations peacekeeping mandate. In the host country, with people’s lives, infrastructure and administrative systems often rendered dysfunctional by conflict, the population expects peacekeepers to restore order, build roads and other essentials, provide work, render justice and make life like it was before if not better. They don’t expect peacekeepers to do harm.

Likewise it is difficult to assess a peacekeeping mission’s impact when it leaves: how far back in history and how forward in time should one look to understand the role that UN peacekeepers played while on the ground. It depends upon who you ask and when.

In the case of the UN mission in Haiti, known as Minustah, which closed after 13 years in October, recent media headlines indicate that it may have done more harm than good, due to errors and mishaps. The mission mandate was to “ensure a safe and stable environment in which constitutional and political progress in Haiti could take place.”

Largely, it did that. Or, as UN Secretary-General António Guterres tweeted modestly, “Haiti has made important political progress with the support of MINUSTAH….”

Guterres elaborated in his final 19-page report to the Security Council and in an op-ed on Nov. 1 in the Miami Herald. “The Haitian people enjoy a considerable degree of security and greater stability,” he wrote. “Political violence has significantly diminished and immediate threats from armed gangs . . . have been significantly reduced. Support for [presidential] elections has contributed to three peaceful handovers. . . . All three branches of power are now largely functioning.”

The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations listed mission achievements:

  • 15,000 police trained
  • Police to population radio doubled since 2004
  • Haitian police in all 140 municipalities
  • A 95 percent decrease in kidnappings over 10 years
  • The homicide rate lowest in 4 years
  • Haitian National Police control neighborhoods once controlled by gangs

But the cost and the collateral damage to Haitians by peacekeeper-imported cholera, peacekeeper sexual abuse and peacekeeper-inflicted casualties during the mission’s seizing control of the Cité Soleil neighborhood from urban gangs has left a bitter taste, which journalists, Haitians and Haiti-watchers chronicle as the mission ends. (A new, smaller mission, Minujusth, focused on strengthening justice systems and the national police force, is underway.)

The New Yorker ran a particularly damning piece — “A New Chapter for the Disastrous UN Mission in Haiti,” by the Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat, which has been widely circulated over social media. Other recent headlines include: “Les bébés Minustah en Haiti. La partie immergée d’un iceberg exploitation et abus sequels!” (; “UN Mission Leaves Haiti With Success and Serious Controversy” (Haitian Times, Brooklyn); and “Haitian People Celebrate the Definitive Exit of Minustah”(Caribe Nuestro). A documentary, “It Stays With You: Use of Force by UN Peacekeepers in Haiti,” released in June 2017, covers the impact on the local community of peacekeepers’ raids on Cité Soleil.

An Oct. 24, 2017 Newsweek article, “The United Nations Infected Haitians With Cholera. Now They Are Abandoning the Islanders to Their Fate,” cited an open wound. Cholera — which has killed some 10,000 Haitians since it was introduced in 2010 by infected Nepalese peacekeepers — continues to challenge the UN.

Former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s “new approach” to establish a victims’ fund, announced late last year, has not drawn the money the UN had hoped for: $40.5 million from Minustah’s leftover funding to the cholera campaign, with the Security Council’s permanent-five members (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) unwilling to transfer the leftover funds for various reasons, some of them technical, according to the UN. About $2.6 million has been donated by certain countries to the victims’ fund, but the money is already spent. Moreover, victims’ lawyers have been unsuccessful in US federal courts in forcing the UN to pay for anything.

Other international actors have stepped in, contributing more than $685 million to combat cholera in Haiti, according to Guterres. He has announced a “new partnership” between the UN and Haiti, and reiterated the “moral responsibility” the UN bears for the cholera crisis as well as the admission that the UN “simply did not do enough at the onset of the crisis and should have responded to the victims more effectively and more quickly.”

For UN officials and staff members past and present around the world — those who served in Haiti and those who did not — mention of Haiti can carry gusts of shame and loss: many staff members, spouses and children died in the 2010 earthquake, along with tens of thousands of Haitians. Haiti also captivated UN workers with its peoples’ resilience and joyfulness.

PassBlue asked former senior leaders of the UN and Minustah as well as partners and close observers to share their thoughts on the peacekeeping operation’s job in Haiti in brief essays. Here they are:

An abrupt end to Minustah

Over more than two centuries since Haiti became the world’s first post-colonial black republic, Haitians have been suffering. Punitive colonialism crippled the economy; natural disasters of apocalyptic dimensions — hurricanes and earthquakes — have torn apart the terrain. Moments of democratic government ended with cruel and phenomenally corrupt dictators, military interventions, two failed presidencies under a mercurial priest with a cult following and, for numerous periods, no governance at all.

The active involvement of the UN in Haiti — the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation — began with election monitoring in 1990. In 2004, after a period of political turbulence, Minustah arrived, and in one form or another it remained for 13 years.

In April 2017, after the installation of a newly elected Haitian government, the UN Security Council voted to end the peacekeeping mission, but it is continuing a UN police presence to support Haiti as it recreates its own security forces and builds up its rule of law. In a controversial move, President Jovenel Moïse told the UN General Assembly in September that a new national army would be formed, in addition to a police force. “The UN has held our hands through very difficult steps, but we cannot indefinitely depend on them for the country’s security and stability,” his spokesman said.

It hasn’t always gone well for the UN or for Haiti. In the 1990s, UN staff arrived speaking neither French nor Creole, the two national languages, slowing mission operations. In 2010, the UN’s widely respected chief of mission, Hedi Annabi, and members of his team were killed in the earthquake that took the lives of tens of thousands of Haitians. Then came a virulent strain of cholera, brought by peacekeeping troops from Nepal, where it is endemic.

The last UN troops left in October, and the new UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (Minujusth) is to be installed by April 2018. The ending of Minustah was partly a response to pressure from the Trump administration, which is seeking to save money by reducing or closing peacekeeping operations around the world, a major campaign of US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley. Now the Security Council, which sent the UN into Haiti on a large scale, has abruptly ended its all-encompassing mission. Only the years ahead will show what the long-term results of UN intervention have been and whether Haiti can take effective charge of its future — or whether the UN will someday see the need to return. — BARBARA CROSSETTE

Barbara Crossette is a senior consulting editor for PassBlue and the UN correspondent for The Nation. She was the New York Times’ UN bureau chief from 1994-2001.

What did the UN attain in Haiti?

In 2004, the UN, once again, was back in Haiti. Thirteen years later, as it leaves, it is worth asking: what was achieved? What did the UN do right, what did it do wrong? I remember well the sense of urgency in 2004. Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the president at the time, had just been exfiltrated from the country, in what his supporters considered a coup engineered by Western powers. Troops from the US, Canada, France and Chile had deployed in Port-au-Prince, the capital, and the respective countries were impatiently waiting for the UN to relieve them.

Because of the circumstances of its deployment, the UN has been accused of being an agent of regime change. I disagree. The mission brought together key Latin American countries, led by Brazil and Chile, which had no part in a regime-change agenda. And under the remarkable leadership of a Chilean diplomat [Juan Gabriel Valdés], it managed to organize elections. The result was contested, but for the first time in many years, one could hope that the deep divides between the bourgeoisie and the poor could be overcome.

Under the leadership of a Guatemalan diplomat, Edmond Mulet, and a Brazilian general, Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz, the UN mission fought the criminal gangs that are both a support system in the absence of a functioning state and a hindrance to its consolidation. Then the earthquake struck. It would have been an immense tragedy in any country. It was a body blow for such a fragile state. Haiti has not yet fully recovered from it, and the mission lost some of its best and brightest, among them my deputy at the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Hedi Annabi.

The UN took much too long to come clean on the cholera epidemic and admit its share of moral responsibility. It has since made strenuous efforts to address the dismal state of health and sanitation in Haiti, a reflection of its abject poverty, itself a product of a dysfunctional political system. With the end of the UN mission, the future of Haiti is again fully with the Haitians, one of the most creative, industrious and courageous people in the Western Hemisphere. Let’s hope that this time, a continued partnership with the UN will consolidate the progress already made and overcome the fractious politics that have repeatedly hurt Haiti. — JEAN-MARIE GUÉHENNO

Jean-Marie Guéhenno was UN under secretary-general for peacekeeping operations from 2000 to 2009. He is now chief executive officer of the International Crisis Group and a distinguished fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Success in holding elections

Minustah was established in Haiti in 2004, during the middle of social violence and the absence of legitimate authorities. The last months of the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his departure in 2003, triggered, on the one hand, a resistance attempt by his supporters, many of them armed and organized with bands living in the poorest parts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, as well as a search for revenge on the part of those who opposed Aristide and had the economic and social power to eliminate any vestige of his government and its supporters. Newly constituted, the UN mission had to face not only this picture of violence and revenge, but also frequent confrontations between members of the old army and the newly established national police.

UN Security Council Resolution 1542, which established Minustah, gave the mission a wide mandate that included not only matters of security and protection of civilians and disarmament of the armed bands and other groups, but also coordinating the work of the different UN agencies in the field and supporting the provisional government with a large list of tasks. The most important ones were support in developing the national police, support in strengthening the judicial system and promoting a political dialogue to enable the elections of a president and Congress in a period of two years.

The work with the provisional government was highly satisfactory. The country advanced in institutional reconstruction and the provisional government met its obligation in maintaining neutrality in organizing the presidential elections. These elections were imposed against the will of small but powerful minorities who conspired to stop them and keep the status quo. Minustah and the provisional government defended the principle that the only way to eradicate armed violence was to establish full instituional legitimacy. Only a government legitimately elected by the Haitians could accomplish the process of disarming the criminal groups. The election of René Préval as president and his work in coordination with Minustah in calming society confirmed that the first stage of the mission had successfully moved in the right direction. — JUAN GABRIEL VALDÉS [Translated by Waldo Mendiluza]

Juan Gabriel Valdés headed Minustah from 2004 to 2006 and is now ambassador of Chile to the US.  

We let the Haitians down

During my tenure on two occasions as head of Minustah, from 2006 to 2007 and from 2010 to 2011, the UN built a tangible partnership with the people of Haiti, helping them to stabilize the country; assist in the response, recovery and reconstruction after the 2010 earthquake; conduct peaceful national and legislative elections and democratic transitions of power; and, among many other tasks, build a credible, respected national police force.

Our work brought together different sectors of the Haitian community and Minustah to implement community violence-reduction programs, conduct human-rights monitoring and carry out civil-military projects and urgent infrastructure repairs as well as development programs, including building the capacities of independent media.

We had many challenges, particularly in the rule of law pillar where, unfortunately, despite various efforts, much work remains to be done. Similarly, the scars from sexual exploitation and abuse remain. Excuses and explanations abound; the same for the presence of cholera in the country. The reality is that we let the Haitians and the international community down. The staff of Minustah paid a high price: almost 40 peacekeepers lost their lives in attacks and ambushes by armed gangs, and 102 military and civilian staff — including Hedi Annabi, the head and the deputy of the mission — died on the day of the earthquake. When tragedies struck, we grieved together with the Haitian people.

But we certainly had good moments, including when our hosts would win an international soccer match or celebrate carnival. We fell in love with the country and the richness of its history, the vibrancy of its culture and traditions and the beauty of its scenery. Many staff members fell in love with and married Haitians, some choosing to stay and others following their spouses to their countries of origin. Minustah is now part of Haiti’s history. However, it will be for the Haitians themselves to interpret that history. — EDMOND MULET

Edmond Mulet was the special representative of the UN secretary-general for Haiti and the head of the Haitian mission from 2006-7 and from 2010-2011. He now heads the UN Joint Investigative Mechanism on chemical weapons use in Syria.

A patient at the cholera treatment center in Saint-Michel-de-l’Attalaye, Haiti, during a visit by UN dignitaries, Nov. 4, 2017. At least 10,000 people have died from the disease since it was inadvertently introduced into Haiti by UN peacekeepers in 2010. LOGAN ABASSI/MINUSTAH

Rescuing Cité Soleil from gangs

It was the very beginning of 2007. The number of kidnappings were rampant in Haiti, mainly in Port-au-Prince, and the street gangs were imposing almost absolute control over the whole Cité Soleil neighborhood. Criminals used weapons aggressively, shooting daily hundreds of rounds against UN troops.

The mission, Minustah, was established on June 1, 2004. The first two years had been dedicated to re-establishing control in Bel Air, the capital’s central area. In 2006, the mission had been trying to bring under control Cité Militaire, another zone in the capital overrun with gang activity. As a consequence, the criminals fled those areas and concentrated in Cité Soleil. The year 2007 was naturally the time for Cité Soleil to be dealt with. Criminal groups and almost all the criminals were concentrated there. They used to attack the UN patrols along the streets practically daily, shooting from dominant points over some houses and small buildings.

Cité Soleil is confined between the road National 1 and the sea, so it was not difficult to cordon and search the area. As it was for some years under criminal control, without government presence, the gangs thought they could defend the territory. This feeling was reinforced by UN behavior, which had simply been patrolling and offering low-intensity reaction against the attacks.

In January 2007, we decided to protect the Haitian citizens and restore conditions for government authority in the area. To do that, it was necessary to confront the gangs, to face the challenges, to end the criminal arrogance. The troops were excellent, and law was imposed on the criminals. Just after the gangs were defeated, the street market developed in Cité Soleil and its surroundings. The government returned with the presence of the judicial system and the Haitian National Police. Peace returned.

If there are some different opinions about that time, they are based in theoretical considerations and naïve or inconsequential romanticism. The end state is that the people lived in peace and enjoyed a normal life, with children going to school and citizens working without street gangs’ criminal control. — CARLOS ALBERTO DOS SANTOS CRUZ

Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz was force commander of Minustah from Jan. 10, 2017 to April 8, 2019.

Departing the kingdom of impunity

After 13 tumultuous years, the UN peacekeeping mission is coming to an end. Referred to universally by its acronym, Minustah, the rather more grandly titled Mission des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en Haïti, arrived in June 2004, after the overthrow of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a democratic icon who had decided years before that he was not beholden to the rules of democracy.

Taking over security duties after the brief presence of a US-led multinational interim force, the UN mission, with its troops usually led by a Brazilian, acted like a reserve force in support of successive Haitian governments. These included the interim government in power when the UN entered the country, to that of René Préval (2006 to 2011), to that of the carnival singer-turned-president Michel Martelly, to yet another interim government and finally to today’s occupant, Jovenel Moïse. In a deviation from Haiti’s long history of revolution, no government was overthrown by force of arms during Minustah’s 13-year tenure.

That tenure has been, however, far from unblemished. In addition to acts of nature — the UN endured its largest single-day loss of life when more than 100 of its members died in the January 2010 earthquake — there have been a series of self-inflicted wounds as well. Besides being embroiled in a series of sexual assault scandals and other abuses during its tenure, Minustah soldiers also brought a cholera epidemic to Haiti, courtesy of a broken PVC pipe that poured raw sewage into a tributary that fed directly into the Boukan Kanni and Jenba Rivers at a Nepalese peacekeeping base.

That none of the perpetrators of the above transgressions, intentional or not, have ever been prosecuted by a Haitian court leads to the mission’s most notable failure: a system of impunity that has always been present in the country and now codified into standard practice, whereby anyone bringing honesty into the political arena is viewed at best as a fool and at worst a threat to be destroyed. Since Minustah entered Haiti, a number of public figures and security officials widely viewed as honest have met either exile (internal or external) or worse for facing up to this system. Perhaps the most famous case is that of Robert Marcello, a Haitian who disappeared in 2009 while allegedly looking into fraudulent government contracts with ties to politicians.

In Haiti today, the form of democracy — that elections, questionable or not, happen every few years — appears to have been settled, while the fact of democracy — a government that is responsive and provides justice and security to its people — remains a promise unfulfilled. — MICHAEL DEIBERT

Michael Deibert is the author of “Haiti Will Not Perish: A Recent History.” He is a visiting scholar at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.

The cholera debacle

On Oct. 19, victims of cholera in Haiti gathered for a Mass near the now-abandoned UN base where cholera started seven years ago, to commemorate loved ones and march for justice. In Haiti, Minustah’s 13-year legacy is defined by its lack of accountability for causing an epidemic that has killed at least 10,000 Haitians to date. Minustah was mandated to promote rule of law and human rights, yet for years, it responded to the overwhelming evidence that its waste disposal caused the outbreak with denial, obstruction and a refusal to honor its legal obligations to remedy victims.

Minustah was deployed in 2004 after a coup that removed democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. It is the only peacekeeping mission in history deployed under Chapter VII of the UN Charter — authorizing the use of force in response to a threat to international peace and security — without an active conflict or peace agreement to enforce. In addition to victims of cholera, Minustah leaves behind survivors of sexual abuse, children fathered by peacekeepers and dozens of victims whose family members were killed in UN raids in Cité Soleil.

In December 2016, the UN announced a long-overdue “new approach to cholera in Haiti,” publicly apologizing and promising to raise $400 million for cholera treatment and remedies for the hundreds of thousands of victims. But the plan is only 3 percent funded, and the UN has yet to engage victims on the elaboration of the project, despite repeated assurances that it would place them at the center of its response. In the eyes of most Haitians, Minustah will thus be remembered as a mission that was intended to promote the rule of law while repeatedly abusing it in its own practices.

The UN and its members are about to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a successor rule-of-law mission in Haiti. For Haiti, and for the UN, the UN must deliver on its promises of accountability to victims of Minustah’s human-rights abuses or this new mission will also lack the credibility essential for its success. Merely changing the UN acronym without doing the work to establish credibility will condemn Haiti to another failed international intervention. — BEATRICE LINDSTROM

Beatrice Lindstrom is a staff attorney for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, an advocacy group. 

The Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake that hit Port-au-Prince killed tens of thousands of Haitians as well as many UN staff members, including the deputy peacekeeping chief for the mission, Hedi Annabi. MINUSTAH

Compensation for cholera victims 

My pride in serving the UN was often tested by my conversations with New York cabdrivers. In my first five years, when I would say, “Please take me to the UN,” a driver would reply, “How lucky you are to work there.” In the next five years, they were not so impressed but still sympathetic that the UN was trying to help the world’s many people. In my last five years at the UN, the cabdrivers grew increasingly critical. They seemed to regard the UN as no longer part of the solution but possibly part of the problem.

One conversation with a Haitian cab driver has stayed with me. He said, “You should tell your people to get out of my country — they steal our goats; they rape our children and . . . now they are killing us with their cholera.”

While this was not the whole of the UN’s story in Haiti, I could not deny that it was a very real and tragic part of it. While it is true that Minustah had contributed to peace and stability in Haiti, it also caused pain and injustice there. I was therefore happy when the former secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, publicly apologized to the Haitian people before leaving office in December 2016. He said: “We simply did not do enough with regard to the cholera outbreak and its spread in Haiti. We are profoundly sorry for our role.” His apology was six years overdue but better late than never.

I also hope that the current secretary-general, António Guterres, remembers that he declared that “immunity is not impunity” as a candidate for the secretary-general post in 2016. I hope he addresses the UN’s role in the outbreak and spread of cholera in Haiti — not just the inadequacy of the UN’s response thereto. I hope he ensures that the victims and their families are respected — that they are given compensation not charity. I hope he strives to uphold the UN’s moral and legal responsibility. I hope my Haitian cabdriver heard him. — MONA ALI KHALIL

Mona Ali Khalil was a senior legal officer with the UN Office of the Legal Counsel from 2009 to 2015, where she focused on peacekeeping and Security Council sanctions. 

This time, tap the diaspora

Chastened UN peacekeepers exited Haiti in October and re-entered it immediately after as a limited policing-focused mission. As conceived, this transformation is unlikely to make much of a difference in Haitians’ lives.

The robust UN presence of Minustah was established in 2004 at the behest of US, France and Canada. Its hoped-for benefits turned into a series of missteps that brought much despair and woes to Haiti. Cue cholera; the inability to respond adequately to hurricanes, tropical storms or the 2010 earthquake; staging and manipulating elections; and contributions to political instability and state collapse: tout y est!

How can the UN presence be more advantageous to Haiti this time? Agreeing to a true partnership would have been an important first step, signaling that the UN would not simply provide support as needed from the sidelines but would hold itself equally responsible for state failure or progress.

To attract domestic investment and foreign capital, Haiti must develop the capacity to significantly reduce the costs of doing business in the country, breaking down the isolation that condemns at least half of its population to 19th-century privations. Over the next period, Haiti must focus on restoring basic government functions and ensure that streets are kept clean; potable water flows in the pipes; electricity is delivered; primary schooling is indeed universal; basic health care and sanitation services exist; law, order and respect for human rights regulate the behavior of the average citizen; and food production and delivery grows.

These steps can begin to enhance the nation’s ability to first trigger significant spending from the Haitian diaspora; and second, compete with its neighbors for a fair share of international capital, technology and markets. It is generally recognized that the Haitian diaspora’s wealth of skills and resources has yet to be tapped in a major way. Both Haiti and its international allies should seriously commit to attracting and using the diaspora for public-sector reforms and economic development. — JOCELYN McCALLA

Jocelyn McCalla is executive director of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights, a New York advocacy group.


We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

Susan Manuel has worked extensively in UN peacekeeping and other UN entities as well as in journalism, receiving various awards. Currently, she is an international communications consultant. Previously, she was director, ad interim, of communications and public information for the AU-UN peacekeeping mission in Darfur; chief of the peace and security section in the UN Department of Public Information; acting director of strategic communications and spokesperson’s unit for the UN mission in Afghanistan; spokeswoman and deputy director of communications for the UN mission in Kosovo; regional public affairs officer for the World Food Program; and spokeswoman for the UN peace operations in the Balkans. She also worked for the UN in South Africa and in Cambodia.

In journalism, Manuel worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter and columnist, including in Honolulu, Washington, D.C., and Nevada. She has a master’s degree in journalism and a bachelor’s degree in social sciences from the University of California, Berkeley.

We would love your thoughts. Please comment:

Judging the UN in Haiti: ‘We Let the Haitians Down’
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

1 Comment
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Gulnara Shahinian
Gulnara Shahinian
5 years ago

Thank you for the honest article and role of MINUSTA in Haiti.
It was my first and most memorable mission to Haiti in my capacity as UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery in 2007 . Interviews of children and adults raped by peace keepers were the most depressing . Unfortunately UN failed to meet needs of Haitian people , most creative, proud and courageous I have seen.

Related Posts
UNGA78: A quiz from PassBlue
Online Program Enrolling Now - Seton Hall - United Nations Institute for Training and Research


Don't Miss a Story:

Subscribe to PassBlue

Sign up to get the smartest news on the UN by email, joining readers across the globe.​

We respect your privacy and take protecting it seriously​