A lesson on UN peacekeeping – from Haiti

Security in Haiti has improved enough that the UN might soon pull out its forces. One reason: a novel approach to reducing neighborhood violence by listening to community concerns.

Two women walk in front of a United Nations car in a street of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Feb. 9.

The Trump administration promises big changes at the United Nations, especially in its peacekeeping missions, which are now in 16 countries. But before the United States moves too fast, it should take note of the news this week that UN forces in Haiti will likely be withdrawn soon, a result of progress in reducing violence on the Caribbean island.

The head of UN peacekeeping, Hervé Ladsous, said Haiti has made so much progress that he would recommend the Security Council pull out the nearly 5,000 multinational troops and police. “Security is not perfect, but I think it is much better,” he said. One sign of progress: A more professional police force was able to help keep a relative peace during an election in November that brought a new president, Jovenel Moïse, to power.

UN peacekeepers were sent to Haiti in 2004 following an uprising that toppled then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. They have been controversial, mainly for inadvertently introducing cholera. But they have also been important for a new approach at countering armed gangs and kidnappers.

Known as “community violence reduction,” the approach has since been used in many other world trouble spots. Rather than rely on “tough” policing, it looks first at ways to bring hope to each neighborhood, such as providing jobs or sports to at-risk youth and providing seed money for women to become entrepreneurs. One critical step is to confront gang members, offering them alternatives to their criminal activities – embracing rather than jailing them.

“By listening to their concerns and taking them seriously, by initiating community reconciliation and kick-starting seed projects, we gave these communities hope, opportunities for a fresh start, and positive incentives to work together to bring violence under control,” explains Dmitry Titov, the UN assistant secretary-general for Rule of Law and Security Institutions.

Haiti is not yet able to stand on its own without international support. It is still recovering from the devastation of a 2010 earthquake and a massive hurricane last year. And its legal and political systems will need foreign attention for years. But on security, it has not only made progress but given the world a model for reducing local violence. That’s one UN reform worth keeping.

[Editor's note: An earlier version of this editorial had the wrong year for the earthquake in Haiti.]

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