The United Nations Security Council has approved a multinational force to assist in Haiti as the Caribbean nation contends with widespread gang violence.
The 15-member council voted overwhelmingly in favour on Monday, with 13 approving a Kenya-led mission to Haiti. The remaining two countries on the council — Russia and China — abstained, citing fears over Haiti’s troubled history with foreign involvement.
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Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry has repeatedly requested international assistance over the past year as gang violence has skyrocketed, leading to ever-growing insecurity and a spate of vigilante reprisals.
The UN estimates 5.2 million people, nearly half the population, currently require humanitarian assistance. Gang violence has displaced approximately 200,000 residents and killed 3,000 people this year alone, with 1,500 more kidnapped for ransom.
Just last month, powerful gang leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier announced he planned to overturn Henry’s government, sparking more fears about stability in the country.
In response to the violence, Monday’s UN resolution authorises the creation and year-long deployment of a “Multinational Security Support” (MSS) mission to bolster Haitian police, restore security and protect critical infrastructure. The force would be subject to a review after nine months.
Haitian Foreign Minister Jean Victor Geneus applauded Monday’s vote, calling for countries to commit to participating “as quickly as possible”.
“More than just a simple vote, this is in fact an expression of solidarity with a population in distress,” he said. “It’s a glimmer of hope for the people that have for too long been suffering.”
Previously, in July, Kenya had volunteered to lead the international force, promising to “deploy a contingent of 1,000 police officers to help train and assist Haitian police”. Jamaica, the Bahamas and Antigua and Barbuda have likewise pledged to offer assistance.
Kenya’ss UN Ambassador Martin Kimani welcomed the Security Council’s vote as evidence of an “exemplary spirit of cooperation”.
“With this action, the Security Council has ignited a beacon of hope for the beleaguered people of Haiti,” Kimani said.
But the resolution had been a long time coming. Countries like the United States had been reticent to lead such a force.
“It is rather controversial. That’s one of the reasons why it took so long,” Al Jazeera correspondent Shihab Rattansi explained. “Actually, no one even wanted to lead this mission. It was only at the end of July that Kenya said, ‘We will look into it,’ and then accepted to lead this.”
Even Kenya’s offer to lead the force has attracted backlash. Prominent human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have expressed “deep concern” about Kenya’s “continued unlawful use of force against protestors” within its own borders.
Rattansi also pointed out that many Haitians are wary of UN intervention, due to recent experiences with the organisation’s peacekeepers.
“In 2017, the last UN stabilization mission left having not only brought cholera to Haiti, which killed some 10,000 people — the UN still hasn’t adequately compensated Haitians for that — but it was also alleged to have been responsible for widespread sexual abuse, including of children,” he said.
Additional criticism on Monday came from UN representatives for Russia and China, who expressed concern about sending an armed force to Haiti.
Russia’s Vassily Nebenzia called the move “an extreme measure that must be thought through” and warned it would be “short-sighted” to approve a force without a detailed plan for its eventual withdrawal.
Chinese diplomat Zhang Jun, meanwhile, said Haiti needed a “legitimate, effective, accountable government” in place for any foreign intervention to be effective.
Zhang also questioned if sending a force would have made more sense earlier, before more than 60 percent of the Haitian capital had fallen under gang control.
“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 after Monday’s vote.
Still, officials in the US and elsewhere hailed the UN resolution as an “important milestone”.
“We have taken an important step today, but our work to support the people of Haiti is not done,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement afterwards. “It is now crucial that we focus on making progress in mobilizing the international support necessary to deploy this mission swiftly, effectively and safely.”