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INTERVIEW: How new mission could support gang-ravaged Haiti

This week, the Security Council will consider a draft resolution on a new non-UN multinational mission under the UN Charter’s Chapter VII provision allowing the use of force.

“This is not a typical or old kind of peacekeeping mission,” Ambassador Robert Rae of Canada, Chair of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Haiti, told UN News.

“It’s an illusion to think that the UN is going there to deliver solutions; the solutions will come from Haitians,” added retired Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz of Brazil in a separate interview with us.

He was Force Commander of the UN Stabilization Mission there (MINUSTAH) from 2007 to 2009. He is the author of Improving Security of United Nations Peacekeepers: We need to change the way we are doing business, and headed up the UN Secretary-General’s fact-finding mission in Ukraine.

We asked them what a non-UN security operation would look like on the ground, what it will take to set up, and how the UN would be involved with the new mission.

Bob Rae: It’s really important to stress that this is not a typical or old kind of peacekeeping mission. The situation we’re dealing with is very different. It’s not an armed struggle between two groups. It’s not a group that’s ethnically or regionally or geographically defined. This is about gangs. It’s about gang warfare. It’s about the tactics of gangs, theft, killing, rape, and dealing with the gangs, which requires a very different kind of approach.

The relationship will be very close because the work of BINUH – the UN [special political] mission in Haiti – will obviously be a key contributor to our understanding of what needs to be done. BINUH has a long-established relationship with the Haitian National Police. I think a lot of the discussion that’s underway is about how the [new] mission is intended to really reinforce in security issues and reinforce the relationship with the existing security force in Haiti.

A burned car serves as a barricade on a street in Port-au-Prince. With over 150 gangs operating in and around the country, all roads in and out of Haiti's capital are now under some form of gang control.
© UNOCHA/Giles Clarke

A burned car serves as a barricade on a street in Port-au-Prince. With over 150 gangs operating in and around the country, all roads in and out of Haiti’s capital are now under some form of gang control.

General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz: A new mission in Haiti will need first to understand the context. It’s a very complex context, and it’s very important to be aware of all the variables in the country. Then, you need to understand the position of local partners and local government. The solution depends on the Haitians, on the government, and on the public working in Haiti. It’s an illusion to think that the UN is going there to deliver solutions. The solutions will come from Haitians.

Bob Rae: The Kenyans have stepped up, which I think is critically important, but they will not be alone. All of us, who’ve been helping in the improvement of the Haitian National Police, will be supporting them. It will be a multinational effort. There already have been publicly a number of countries that have indicated their support and what they want to do. That will, I’m sure, be increased over the next few days. I think once the resolution is passed and approved by the Security Council, it then will become possible for everybody to get moving quickly. Something which we very much want to see is a process of engagement that will not take too long. We do have to move pretty quickly to respond.

Ambassador Robert Rae of Canada addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s 78th session.
UN Photo/Cia Pak

Ambassador Robert Rae of Canada addresses the general debate of the General Assembly’s 78th session.

General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz: When you arrive in a country, you typically have four or five months to organize the mission, for all contingents to arrive on the ground, to organize police units and the work. The first step is about how to operate together with the Haitian police. It’s fundamental to have joint operations. It’s very important to establish a joint operation and establish a very professional relationship with the Haitian police.

Bob Rae: This mission is not going to be a walk in the park. It’s a very difficult undertaking, but all of the UN has come together with one voice to say, “unless we have a coherent approach on security, we’re not going to be able to address the other issue”. The security issue is becoming critically important. We couldn’t possibly see this kind of a mission undertaken without deep learning on the basis of others’ experiences.

I think the requirement that any force in any other country has to be respectful of the law and respectful of human rights is completely understood. I know that will be an integral part of the discussions at the Security Council. We need to show an understanding that we are dealing with some of the most violent and brutal killers that work today in Haiti.

Displaced men, women, and children sheltering in a boxing arena in downtown Port-au-Prince after fleeing their homes during gang attacks in August 2023.
© UNOCHA/Giles Clarke

Displaced men, women, and children sheltering in a boxing arena in downtown Port-au-Prince after fleeing their homes during gang attacks in August 2023.

General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz: It’s fundamental to have personal experience in intelligence. How effective you work hinges on access to good information. In this kind of work, the problem of street gangs is very sensitive. They are in the middle of the population. They don’t have uniforms. You don’t know who’s who. You are a foreigner there, and you need to be very careful not to confuse criminals with the population because they are inside the population. To know the difference, you have very good people with experience to organize intelligence. That’s why it’s important to have contact with the Haitian authorities and the Haitian police.

Bob Rae: We have much better information than we had [earlier this year]. That’s why Canada has invested so much in getting information and getting data and understanding better the structure of gangs and exactly who’s involved and where some of their sources of funds are coming from. We know enough about what we’ve seen to know that they’re operating with great brutality.

UN News
Retired Lieutenant General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz commanded the UN peacekeepers in Haiti from 2007 to 2009..

UN News

General Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz: The new Commander and new professionals going there are able to do the job and are prepared. But, they need to understand that the problem is not of public security. They are going to work inside a political problem. The question is much more political than a question of public security. It’s much more a question of public administration, government performance, and the problem of coordination. We have thousands of international organizations there, and normally, coordination is very poor. We need to understand that the problem is much more about accountability than a simple question of public security.

Bob Rae: There is a very strong consensus that came out of the high-level meeting [on Haiti] chaired by [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau last Thursday that focused on the question of international development and on the need to have an approach to this intervention which is not simply a military intervention. It’s a police intervention that is intended to support the Haitian efforts that are already in place, and it has to be accompanied by stronger action on the development and humanitarian sides. There’s a very deep crisis taking place in the country today and any intervention has to deal with all the elements of the crisis that can’t just be a single focus.

BINUH will have a very critical role. There’ll be other critical roles in place, but it will obviously be one of them. Part of what they’re trying to figure out is the wording of the [Security Council] resolution that will really refer to the broader purpose of the mission. Beyond that, I can’t say much because the resolution still hasn’t been passed. So, we’re all looking at that and assessing it accordingly.

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