For many, the name “Haiti” conjures images of earthquake damage, people struggling to survive, or perhaps personal memories of a service trip to help build houses or bring medical care. Most do not associate it with the words “military occupation.”
But Haitians know better. They remember a tumultuous history as an enslaved colony and infant nation undermined by repeated attempts at recolonization and foreign occupation. In the last century alone, Haiti has experienced three military occupations: the first two by the United States (from 1915-1934 and 1990-1994), and the third and most recent under the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti, known by its French acronym, MINUSTAH.
MINUSTAH has been in Haiti since 2004, when it was invited by Haiti’s transitional government to quell violence following a coup against former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Each year the UN Security Council decides whether to renew MINUSTAH’s mandate, and each year it has done so with broad support from the international community, many citing reasons of generalized civil unrest.
Mennonite Central Committee’s civil society partners in Haiti share a different view, saying that MINUSTAH should leave immediately.
Camille Chalmers, director of Haitian Advocacy Platform for Alternative Development, explained that all other UN peacekeeping missions exist because of an armed conflict that results in an enforceable peace treaty. This was not the case for Haiti.
Adds Pierre Esperance, director of the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights, “[Haiti is] not at war. We can live without [MINUSTAH].” Others agreed that the UN Stabilization Mission has only served to destabilize Haiti. MINUSTAH troops and associated actors have been implicated or involved with killing innocent persons, sexual abuse, abandoning children, and — most notoriously — importing cholera.
The 2010 cholera epidemic began when MINUSTAH negligently introduced waste water from Nepalese troops infected by cholera in their home country into Haiti’s main water source. The UN officially continues to deny responsibility for the contamination that has claimed the lives of 8,584 people and infected 706,291 others. At a time when earthquake reconstruction funds in Haiti are diminishing, the annual budget for MINUSTAH in 2014-2015 is set at $500 million, an amount that could pay for nearly a quarter of the UN’s fledgling $2.2 billion Cholera Elimination Plan.
Not only is MINUSTAH’s occupation unnecessary, it is an egregious waste. MCC’s partner organizations point out that the presence of machine gun-toting troops and roving armed vehicles runs counter to Haiti’s true needs: the construction of durable and decentralized housing, community-based economic development, and water and sanitation infrastructure improvements. MCC collaborates on these types of projects with Haitian partners, so it naturally leads us to advocate on their behalf. According to the Platform for Human Rights Organizers in Haiti, MCC is the only international organization who completely supports their exact position on MINUSTAH presence—a complete and immediate withdrawal.
Our Anabaptist faith calls us to oppose military intervention around the world and to work toward a peaceful and just resolution in Haiti. As the UN Security Council considers whether to renew MINUSTAH’s mandate again this month, our respective advocacy offices are working towards and praying for such a resolution.
This article was written by Charissa Zehr of MCC’s Washington Office and Vanessa Hershberger of MCC’s United Nations Office, with the assistance of Jenn Wiebe of the Ottawa Office and Ted Oswald of MCC Haiti. Charissa, Vanessa and Jenn travelled to Haiti in July 2014. The article originally appeared in Mennonite World Review on 27 October 2014.