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Opinion

UN can't leave Haiti until rule of law is established

Any exit strategy for the UN presence in Haiti has to be built on the country doubling the size of its police, ending impunity in its courts, and forging the rule of law as a foundation for economic growth and political stability.

By Mark L. Schneider / September 20, 2012

Verona Louis sits outside her tent at a camp for people displaced by the 2010 earthquake in Cite Soleil, Port-au-Prince Haiti, Sept. 12. Op-ed contributor Mark Schneider says: 'Early departure of the UN mission would leave a security vacuum ripe for exploitation by armed gangs, but it is unclear how long the Haitian public, donors, and troop-contributing countries will put up with its continued presence.'

Dieu Nalio Chery/AP

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Washington

UN Security Council delegations and staff are meeting next week to continue fashioning a long-term exit strategy for the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), even as political discord is shaking the earthquake-prone island once again. Early departure of the UN mission would leave a security vacuum ripe for exploitation by armed gangs, but it is unclear how long the Haitian public, donors, and troop-contributing countries will put up with its continued presence.

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Any exit strategy has to be built on Haiti doubling the size of its police, ending impunity in its courts, and forging the rule of law as a foundation for economic growth and political stability.

MINUSTAH was formed in 2004 to keep a polarized Haiti from violent implosion, and then shared in the tragic loss of life during the country’s catastrophic 2010 earthquake. It has been blamed for a cholera epidemic that has caused more than 7,000 deaths and sickened 500,000, and some of its troops are accused of sexual abuses. Its massive presence after eight years has irritated a proud nation.

Nevertheless, when I recently met with government and business leaders and their adversaries, everyone acknowledged one simple fact: Haiti’s limited police force – in numbers and capacity – cannot protect its citizens without UN backing. Until Haiti builds a stronger, more capable law-enforcement structure – and one hopefully is in the making – the resulting vacuum would almost inevitably lead to spoilers seeking to secure their goals through gun barrels rather than ballot boxes.

The logical time for the peacekeeping mission in its current form to end is the transfer of the presidential sash in 2016 by President Michel Martelly to his successor, following a free and fair election. That day is still a long way off, and much has to take place to get there.

The UN Security Council should gradually reduce the size of its military-dominated mission to one with a larger contingent of more robust and competent police. That force still would ideally be led by Brazil and the same Latin American countries that comprise a majority of MINUSTAH military troop forces now.

The new mandate also should underscore MINUSTAH’s recognition of the need to help Haiti respond to the ongoing cholera threat with vaccinations in remote areas and a major commitment to water and sanitation infrastructure. The UN also should do more to ensure better vetting, orienting, and training of future peacekeeping contingents. And it must work to ensure that those who violate the norms are held fully accountable.

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