By: Mariana Cabrera Figueroa
The UN stabilization Mission to Haiti, MINUSTAH, along with the subsequent justice support mission to Haiti, MINUJUSTH, have been both widely critiqued as well as been regarded as highly controversial peacekeeping missions. Throughout the course of the peacekeeping mandates, there have been large successes and equally large failures in MINUSTAH and MINUJUSTH. As with every UN field mission, we can analyze these missions to learn from them and to further better our understanding of what elements contribute to a successful mission. With this, we can also point out the problems and failures on behalf of the UN and on behalf of other parties so that we can work to eliminate these challenges in future peace missions. In this case study, we Analyze the historical and political aspects of the missions, the elements of the missions themselves, including controversies, the likeness of the mission MINUSTAH to a similar one, and a general conclusion of whether this mission to Haiti was a success or a failure.
Historical and Political Background
The minuscule Caribbean nation of Haiti sits slightly above South America and shares a border with the Dominican Republic to the East of Cuba. It has a long and tumultuous history of instability and misfortune. From a crumbling infrastructure and economy to continuous natural disasters, there are many factors to consider that caused irreparable damage to Haitian society and its people. For the purpose of this case study analysis, we will only briefly dive into these events that lead to the establishment of the main MINUSTAH mission.
Haiti’s modern-day struggle for democracy began in the 1980s when a new constitution was adopted to ensure that Haiti would never allow another dictatorship to form. The previous regime -the Duvalier regime- had adopted a constitution to consolidate his power as dictator and further elongate his dictatorship. The Haitian people, tired of poverty, underrepresentation, inequality, and exploitation, began a mass movement of opposition and of pro-democracy. The new constitution was written in 1986, but it required much more political infrastructure than Haiti had to offer. It prioritized many social reforms and called for parliamentary democracy, but with so many new rules, procedures, and frameworks to follow, the system needed time to be built. Because of this, the following administrations and transitional governments could not support themselves and thereby crumbled shortly after being conceived.
This brings us to the Jean-Bertrand Aristide presidency, which began in 1991. The Haitian people were enamored by his humble lower-middle-class background and his commitment to working with the poor. Interestingly, the previous administration was rumored to have tried to assassinate Aristide on three occasions; this only bettered the view that Haitians held of Jean-Bertrand Aristide as a man of the people. His movement, named Lavalas, promised too much and delivered on too little. His presidency was riddled with attempted coup-d’etats, political violence, angry mobs, and opposition from all sides. The supporters of previous dictators/presidents, the bourgeoisie, and external allies like the United States, did not support him, especially when he encouraged his supporters’ violence against his enemies. Additionally, his reforms of the Haitian military and police were meant to stop power abuses, but instead, it only worsened the relationship between the police and the government. He tried to implement moderate policies to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, but it, again, did not work. On September 29, political attitudes finally erupted into a coup d’état led by the chief of police. French, U.S., and Venezuelan powers stepped in, allowing Aristide to flee. After 3 years, and having U.S. and international backing, Aristide returned to Haiti to run for office once again. In 2004 violent uprisings by his opponents’ supporters caused a coup d’état once again forcing him to flee.
At this time, Haiti had received international attention for its ongoing political and economic crisis. After only one week, the United Nations voted unanimously on Resolution 1529 to deploy a Multinational Interim Force for Haiti. This force was a 3-month force dedicated to aiding the political, security, and humanitarian problems that Haiti was facing. During those three months, the United Nations also drafted the resolution for an official peacekeeping mission to Haiti, named MINUSTAH. In April of 2004, UN Security Council Resolution 1542 was passed to transfer the duties of the MIF to the soon-to-be deployed MINUSTAH peacekeeping forces.
During this time, political violence was not the only problem that Haiti was facing, it was just the one that caught the attention of the entire international community. At the same time as the political unrest was developing, there was a high crime rate in Haiti. Kidnappings and sexual assaults were not rare, as well as murder and physical threats from Haitian gangs & even from the Haitian police. The adoption of the MINUSTAH mandate, set to deploy in June 2004, aimed to combat all of these forces in Haiti to stabilize it once again. In the mandate, the UN called for cooperation and resources from the Organization of American States (OAS) and from the Caribbean Community (CARIBCOM). These actors are regional actors who have geographical, cultural, and political ties to Haiti. Because of this, It was also in their interest to ensure that Haiti be stabilized. Together, the organizations decided to aid Haiti in institution building and in ending its humanitarian crisis. To do this, they would help the transitional government of Haiti with resources and knowledge, beginning with holding democratic elections and restoring order. Additionally, a special representative to Haiti was appointed to oversee and report back to the United Nations on the situation. On the issue of human rights violations within the nation of Haiti, the U.N. opened an investigation into the crisis to help finally put an end to it.
The MINUSTAH mandate was extended a multitude of times throughout the years, most extensions being placed for 6 months before being renewed. The peacekeepers in Haiti helped to restore law and order to Haiti through anti-crime operations and in providing manpower when needed. This came in handy during nationwide elections -peacekeepers distributed ballots and supplies- and during scenarios of environmental disaster cleanups. The 7,600 military personnel, 2091 police officers, and 777 international volunteers played an important role after the 2010 earthquake that wreaked havoc on the entire country. These MINUSTAH peacekeepers were stationed in Haiti until 2017, when they were slowly withdrawn to make room for the new Justice Support Mission to Haiti, MINUJUSTH. The smaller MINUJUSTH mission comprised around 350 civilian staff, 300 police officers, and 7 police units. This mission had the same goals as MINUSTAH but served as a support mission instead of a development mission. It came to an end in October 2019, to be replaced with a liaison office instead. The United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) was established by the UN Security Council resolution and is still active today.
Analysis of the Operations
In the first period of the MINUSTAH mandate, the mission was rocky but headed in the right direction. The mission peacekeeping forces were made up of surrounding countries’ civilian and military personnel, mainly from their neighbors in South America. These forces deployed to Haiti in June of 2004 and immediately began working to ensure that free and fair elections were possible in the coming years.
The mission’s leadership was composed of Brazilian & Chilean commanders of the military component of the mission. The heads of the mission were more diverse but mainly resided in South America as well. This points to regional actors taking part in international issues that would affect them the most. Of the peacekeeping troops, Brazil provided the largest amount at 2,200 troops, followed by Nepal with 1,075. At first glance, it may seem strange that Nepal has the second-largest peacekeeping troop number in Haiti, but Nepal has always sent many troops to a variety of UN missions. Chile and Argentina followed suit by sending around 500 troops each to MINUSTAH in Haiti. Over the course of the mission, it had 9,000 troops deployed on Haitian soil to help contribute to the mission.
In 2005, Brussels held an international donor conference, in which countries and organizations around the world pledged over 1 billion dollars to help Haiti’s political and humanitarian crisis. Unfortunately, not all that money made it to Haiti. Here we see the beginning of the problems that occurred during the stay of MINUSTAH/MINUJUSTH in Haiti. There were problems with communication and implementation all around, as with most high-prospect missions. Just as Jean-Bertrand Aristide had promised too much and delivered on too little, so did the UN. In all fairness, the United Nations fully intended to keep their promises made in the MINUSTAH mandate and proclamation. They did not, however, foresee the controversies that would complicate the matter indefinitely.
The controversies and complications that we will review here are four different, yet concurrent, issues pertaining to the people of Haiti and the ones sworn to protect them. These are: the Cholera outbreak beginning in 2010, the sexual abuse and exploitation of women and children by UN peacekeepers, the human rights abuses by peacekeepers, and the mixed sentiments of the Haitian people on the UN mission to Haiti. These incidents were ones that could have been remedied, had the United Nations committed to doing so at the time, and ultimately shaped the outcome of the MINUSTAH and MINUJUSTH missions.
The Cholera epidemic in Haiti began in October 2010, almost 100 years since its eradication on the island. The disease seemingly came out of nowhere, spreading rapidly through Haiti’s cities. These same families had just narrowly recovered from the 2010 earthquake that toppled Haiti’s buildings and hurled it into yet another crisis. The Cholera epidemic has killed over 10,000 Haitians since then and has infected over 820,000. Only after hundreds of lives were lost, did we uncover the truth about where the disease came from.
In the week following the 7.0 earthquake, the United Nations voted to increase the number of UN peacekeepers on the ground in Haiti to assist in cleaning up and restoring the cities that had been affected. UNSC resolution 1927 deployed an additional 680 police officers to Haiti for earthquake relief 21. It was later found that these UN peacekeepers were responsible for the outbreak. Specifically, Nepalese peacekeepers were discovered to have dumped their waste immediately next to a major river in Haiti that supplied water to many villages.
Since Cholera is a disease found in contaminated water, this is thought to be the source of the entire outbreak. Hundreds of Haitians relied on the Artibonite river for its water supply, especially in the time after the 2010 earthquake that killed and displaced thousands. The villages near the Nepalese camps ingested the water and the cholera strain, causing them to fall ill within hours. The bacteria causes diarrhea, dehydration, and flu-like symptoms, and can kill if not treated immediately.
At this time, thousands of Haitians were already dying from the disease. The United Nations refused to open an investigation, stating that there was no conclusive evidence that it was UN peacekeepers who were responsible for the epidemic. The silence from the UN on the issue was not forgotten, especially after another natural disaster hit Haiti in the same month, further exacerbating the crisis. Only in 2016, did UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon apologize to the people of Haiti for the outbreak, after thousands of Haitians were killed over the course of the 6 years.
The United Nations severely mismanaged the Cholera epidemic in Haiti during the MINUSTAH era. Because of its refusal to admit its wrongs, more Haitian people suffered and passed away. This was a failure on the part of the UN and of Nepal to hold its officers accountable and to provide more medical assistance to Haitians in need. As the world’s most well-known international organization, the UN has a responsibility to set a standard for other countries and organizations. It has the resources to investigate problems within its missions, and to fix them. More importantly, it has the responsibility to send a message to the world that it will be fair and transparent when problems like this arise, especially when it has cost them the lives of Haitians that they promised to protect. The mission of MINUSTAH was to bring peace and stability to the nation, instead, it brought cholera.
The second international controversy regarding UN peacekeepers in Haiti is the sexual abuse and exploitation of women and children throughout the MINUSTAH and MINUJUSTH mandates. Unfortunately, over the years, we have come to find out that sexual abuse was far from uncommon in Haiti in the time that UN peacekeeping troops were there. Although Haiti had previously reported problems with sexual abuse beforehand, no one thought it would happen at the hands of UN personnel.
A common story told around Haiti is one of UN peacekeepers offering money or food in exchange for sexual favors. This relationship is a common example of sexual exploitation. It is also considered sexual abuse in some cases due to the existing power dynamics between the peacekeeper and the victim. Living in poverty often means doing unimaginable things to be able to survive, or to help your family survive. UN peacekeepers knowingly took advantage of young and impoverished Haitians because they knew it would be difficult for the victims to say “no”. Many of these women are even left pregnant and with no help in raising a child. Some girls are promised money but left to fend for themselves when the peacekeepers decide to leave. Again, because of the dynamics, there is nothing the victim can do to claim the money in return for the abuse they experienced.
One well-known story of sexual exploitation is one that made headlines was the 134 peacekeepers implicated in the creation of a child sex-trafficking ring. This ring was run in Port Au Prince by multiple Sri Lankan Peacekeepers, including a commander. They offered the hungry children, some as young as 12 years old, snacks and coins in exchange. This exploitation went on for years before they were discovered, and the peacekeepers were merely sent home from the assignment. These stories are not difficult to come across in Haiti.
Sexual exploitation is common in Haiti, but this does not mean that sexual assault is also not uncommon. Multiple peacekeepers have been found assaulting young men and women on numerous occasions. They were usually sent home or dismissed from the mission but suffered no real consequences for these crimes. Since 2007, the UN has reported that it has received 116 allegations of sexual abuse brought on by UN peacekeepers all around Haiti. In the same report made by the UN, there were 29 peacekeepers reported to have fathered children while in Haiti. It is important to note here that although this is the number reported by the UN, the number of sexual crimes that occurred was most likely much higher than this. This is because of a few reasons, but for the sake of this case study, we will only list two. First, victims of sexual crimes usually do not see justice and second, many are scared of what will happen to them if they speak out. It makes sense that young men and women would not report their crimes because of the mentality that nothing will come of their accusations. To date, not a single UN peacekeeper has been prosecuted for a sexual crime while on a peacekeeping mission. This shows us that the UN has not done anything, and will probably continue to not do anything, to help victims of sexual crimes done under their watch and mandates.
In an effort to curb these attacks and sexual exploitations, the United Nations only added an amendment to not allow any relationships between peacekeepers and civilians of the country that the mission is deployed to. While this is a great addition to UN mandates, in reality, it will not do anything to stop the problem that peacekeeping culture holds of sexual abuse and exploitation. Peacekeeping culture itself is a problem, as we can see here. This is not one or two bad peacekeepers who need to be punished, it is a systematic problem. When more than 134 peacekeepers are found running an exploitation ring, this should alarm the entire world. Those guilty peacekeepers were only one group. Most likely, there were others who saw this happening, who heard about it happening, and who did nothing to stop it. Those bystanders are also guilty of letting these sexual crimes occur. I can also guarantee that there were numerous other peacekeepers that were not caught that committed similar crimes. In addition, we have to remember that this one instance was over the course of 3 years, there were likely more peacekeepers acting similarly before and after this group was found to be doing this.
There has been a long-standing debate around who is and should be responsible for the UN peacekeepers who commit crimes like these. Sexual crimes are among the most heinous crimes committed around the world. The problem of peacekeeping culture and sexual exploitation is a large one, but no one wants to take accountability for it. The United Nations claims it is the responsibility of the home countries of the peacekeepers to hold them accountable when they get home. The sending nations believe it is the responsibility of the United Nations to carry out some sort of punishment and blame for this. This argument ultimately boils down to the fact that everyone wants to take responsibility for successes but no one wants to take responsibility for failures of the system. I believe that this is the UN’s duty to fix peacekeeping culture and to hold these people accountable for their crimes. With the power and influence that the UN has, it could definitely make an impact if it wanted to. The problem is that if the UN were to hold them accountable, it would essentially implicate the United Nations for being the power that allowed this to happen for so long. I believe that this was another failure on behalf of the UN during the missions to Haiti, MINUSTAH & MINUJUSTH. Had the UN intervened and actually tried to help victims gain justice, it would have shown the perpetrators that this type of behavior would not be tolerated, which could have saved countless young men and women in the future.
A third similar controversy in Haiti is the human rights violations found at the hands of UN peacekeepers. Aside from sexual abuse and terror, UN peacekeepers in Haiti were also physically threatening and hurting civilians. One of the missions of the MINUSTAH and MINUJUSTH mandates was to protect people from corruption and human rights abuses by members of Haitian gangs and of the Haitian police. So, the UN peacekeepers were supposed to be working to eliminate these sorts of threats to civilians when they see them. Instead, many Haitians reported being threatened by the same peacekeepers sent there to protect them. As well as having a culture of sexual abuse, these UN peacekeeping troops in Haiti also had a culture of aggressive violence.
The most well-known story of peacekeepers committing acts of violence against civilians is the story of the Cite Soleil raid in 2007. Haitians still remember the day that the raid encircled Cite Soleil with 1,440 soldiers surrounding the area. The UN peacekeepers fired into the square, which was run by Haitian gangs at the time, utilizing 22,000 rounds of ammunition. The United Nations argued that this was done in self-defense, although none of the local accounts corroborate that story. Civilians and children were severely wounded in the incident. Another individual example of peacekeeper violence was brought to light when a 16-year-old Haitian boy was found dead hanging from the ceiling of a UN peacekeeping base. Gerard Jean-Gilles was found with a wire wrapped around his neck the morning after being accused of stealing money from a Nepalese peacekeeper. Shortly afterward, the money was allegedly found still in the peacekeeper’s possessions. The United Nations official autopsy proclaimed the death of Gerard as a suicide, despite the circumstances surrounding his mysterious death.
There are numerous other reports such as these, in which UN peacekeepers decide to use violence against defenseless Haitians. In many instances, people, especially young boys report being beaten by peacekeepers stationed in their cities. This culture of violence on behalf of UN peacekeepers is well known around Haiti. In one study, respondents were asked about violence and threats they suffered in Haiti in general. 19.6% of these respondents claimed to have received death threats from UN peacekeepers in their area.
Once again, we see that the culture of UN peacekeeping is a broken and rotten one. We once again see that the UN peacekeepers, who are sent to Haiti to protect the Haitians from violence and gangs, are the same ones who turn around to commit those same crimes against the Haitians. These abuses of power turn peacekeepers into the perpetrators they were supposed to be protecting Haitians from. Because of this, we know that UN peacekeeping culture overall needs serious reform. This was another example of a failure on the part of the UN, although one can argue that it is similar to the problem of a culture of sexual abuse in peacekeeping. The United Nations did not try to stop this violence and now the prosecution of these human rights violations is rare.
It is because of these three controversies that we move forward to the fourth one, in which we look at the mixed attitudes of the Haitian people towards UN international troops. Within Haiti, there were many people on either side of the argument, as well as people in the middle. Some believed that the UN did more harm than good in Haiti, as seen with the Cholera epidemic, sexual abuses, and human rights abuses. These people wanted the UN to leave, and let the Haitians take care of themselves. On the other hand, there were people who believed that most soldiers were good people who wanted to help them, and that MINUSTAH and MINUJUSTH troops should stay longer in Haiti.
A survey conducted at Columbia University, the results on when Haitians believed MINUSTAH should leave offers insight on the topic. The survey was conducted in 2011 to random households in Port Au Prince in Haiti. The results showed that about 30% of the population would have liked MINUSTAH peacekeepers to leave Haiti immediately. 25% of the individuals asked wished that MINUSTAH would leave within the next year. 19% of respondents answered within 2 years and 16% responded that they would like MINUSTAH to leave only after 2 years. Although this is a small survey and is not depictive of all of the Haitian perspectives, it does offer an interesting insight into the divide between opinions of Haitians.
While there have been successes within MINUSTAH and MINUJUSTH, there have also been failures such as the three previously mentioned controversies. The Haitian people could not simply sweep these issues under the rug, and they were rightfully angry. The reality of the situation is the question of whether these issues surpass the good that the UN peacekeepers have done in restoring order and in institution building in Haiti. Although it may be easy for us to make that analysis, the Haitians had to live with the effects of either one, making it difficult for them to agree on the situation.
After much analysis of the MINUSTAH peacekeeping mission, I believe that we can learn from its turbulent mission. While it was not completely a failure, it was not the grand success that the UN claimed either. By studying its mandate and its controversies, we can say with certainty that the United Nations played an important part in ensuring the overall success of the mission, but also failed the Haitian people. The UN, as we know, is an international organization dedicated to peace, communication, and humanitarianism. It succeeded, eventually, in helping Haiti rebuild its infrastructure and democracy in a more peaceful environment. It failed, however, on the humanitarian aspect of its own mission. By allowing UN peacekeepers to act in ways that abused and exploited the Haitian people, the UN allowed the mission to continue its unintended effects on civilians. Had the United Nations intervened in the toxic peacekeeping culture shown in Haiti, it might have saved many Haitians from sexual and physical abuse, or from death by cholera.
From this mission, we learn about the complexities of “fixing” broken nations, and how much impact a simple statement such as “we will not tolerate this” can have. It is true that the United Nations did the best that it could, and these conditions could have happened elsewhere. Sexual abuse, in general, is a large problem all around the world, not just in peacekeeping, but the responsibility of an organization like the UN is to take accountability above all. With transparency and accountability, MINUSTAH could have come back from these issues to succeed in the world’s eyes. But in the end, we cannot overlook these mistakes in favor of peace elsewhere.
One major lesson learned here is that UN peacekeeping needs to be reformed so that these same soldiers who hurt Haitians cannot go on to hurt other civilians. Additionally, the bystanders of these crimes should also not be able to work on other missions and allow this to happen once again. With UN peacekeeping reform, such as a more extensive required training process and questioning, we can ensure this. Another lesson learned is the importance of leadership in international missions. Without strong leadership, both of the UN and of the Chiefs of these operations, the missions will not thrive. Similarly, with strong leadership, UN missions can succeed in all aspects, not just technical. Hopefully, the United Nations can take this lesson of MINUSTAH in stride, and understand its own wrong-doings so that it can become a better organization to better protect people in need all around the world.
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