Six Ways the United States and the International Community Can Help Haiti Without Armed Intervention
By Vélina Élysée Charlier, Alexandra “Sasha” Filippova and Tom Ricker
Vélina Élysée Charlier (@VelinaEC) is a feminist and political activist. A member of the Noupapdòmi collective, she fights against corruption and impunity to bring about social and economic change in her country, Haiti. Alexandra “Sasha” Filippova is a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Tom Ricker is the program director at the Quixote Center, where he has worked on and off since 2002. Tom has also worked with Witness for Peace, the East Timor and Indonesian Action Network, and the Rothko Chapel in Houston.
This article was first published on Just Security on October 19, 2022
A debate rages on a military intervention in Haiti. The international community appears set to send military and/or police units to the country following de facto head of state Ariel Henry’s request for special forces to help deal with armed groups that have taken over. control of large sections of Port-au-Prince. The United Nations held a special session on Haiti on Monday, October 17. A US resolution on the deployment of a “rapid action force” was discussed alongside a separate resolution on punishing individuals who support armed groups in the country. The composition of an international force is still under discussion; as currently worded, it would not be a UN mission.
The G9 gang confederation, an alliance of powerful gangs in Port-au-Prince, blocked gas supplies at the Varreux terminal in the capital for more than five weeks, creating havoc and hunger across the country. With the re-emergence of cholera, the situation is now much more serious. Medical staff cannot move freely due to insecurity, hospital supply chains are in tatters and there is not enough fuel to run generators needed for basic operations. Drinking water is scarce. All of this makes any cholera containment strategy difficult to achieve.
As desperate as the situation has become, armed intervention is unlikely to solve Haiti’s security problems. If the gangs retreat in the face of foreign troops, there may be temporary relief. US Navy Admiral Craig Faller, former head of SOUTHCOM, seems to think it likely and pointed to the gang truce established when a small contingent of US forces opened a humanitarian corridor through the Port- au-Prince in Martissant to obtain aid in the Grand Sud, southern region of Haiti, following the earthquake of August 2021. Although this decision made possible the temporary delivery of aid, it did not had no long-term impact on safety. Martissant remains impassable to this day.
On the other hand, if the gangs, like the one controlling the Varreux terminal, for example, do not retreat, armed intervention means massive bloodshed. The gangs are heavily armed and have regularly waged street battles in neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince for four years. If they decide to engage, they will do so on terrain they know, and while they will almost certainly be outmatched in the long run, they can inflict enormous damage on intervening forces and civilians.
When the UN last occupied Haiti (2004-2017), human rights violations were widespread. Human rights lawyers Mario Joseph and Brian Concannon described some of the abuses in an op-ed for the Miami Herald in September this year:
“Under pressure from US officials, UN soldiers aggressively – and illegally – pursued suspected gang members. In a July 2005 attack, “peacekeepers” fired more than 22,000 bullets, 78 grenades and five mortars at thin-walled, densely populated houses in the Cité Soleil neighborhood. The United Nations claimed that all those bullets killed six gang members. But hospitals and journalists reported that the bullets also killed at least a dozen people who were not gang members, including women and children.
This violence is the harsh reality of military interventions. The potential is absolute devastation for affected communities. Benoît Vasseur, head of mission of Médecins Sans Frontières in Haiti, told the Guardian last week: “Our immediate reaction [to the news of an intervention]as a medical organization, it means more bullets, more injuries and more patients… We are afraid that there will be a lot of bloodshed.
Given these possible consequences and the historical reality of the failure of past interventions in Haiti, it is important to remember that there are other things than the international community – and in particular the United States, which dominate Haiti-related business – can do.
First, the United States can reverse its unconditional support for the de facto government of Ariel Henry. As long as the US State Department backs Henry, they don’t care about any claims of neutrality. A Haitian-led solution is the only way to restore stability. And, the only way that can happen is for the United States to stop sitting on the scales, even though it claims to support Haiti’s self-determination.
Second, a governance agreement must be implemented. While insecurity could be a major obstacle, agreement on governance must come first, and insecurity can then be addressed through established mechanisms. If not, the millions poured into the Haitian National Police over the past few years of increasingly undemocratic governance would succeed in stemming the violence. The international community can help with the democratic transition, but under the leadership of a Haitian-led transitional authority, not instead of it. So far, the international community has effectively sidelined serious local efforts to establish a legitimate democratic government with its support for Henry. That’s part of the problem.
Third, to use appropriate legal instruments, such as the US Magnitsky Act, to impose sanctions on figures involved in corruption and human rights abuses, especially government officials and members of the oligarchy who support and facilitate the gang violence in Haiti. These cannot be symbolic gestures that change nothing. The head of the G9 blocking Varreux, a former policeman who orchestrated massacres of civilians with apparent government collusion, has been sanctioned for nearly two years without consequence. Yet this is what the UN is designating as the target of its proposed new sanctions.
Fourth, support accountability for the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. It should be recalled that many of those involved in the assassination claimed to work for or have the support of various US government agencies, and Henry, whom the US government effectively installed as head of state, did not responded substantially to evidence that he may have been involved and obstructed the investigation. The US government must be much more transparent about the investigation and support efforts to identify, arrest, and prosecute the intellectual and material perpetrators of this crime. Congress asked the US State Department to report on the assassination investigation, but that report is now four months overdue and the Biden administration continues to back Henry without addressing the serious allegations against him.
Fifth, the United States must do more to curb illegal gun sales to Haiti. Gun sales to Haiti from the United States are supposedly already heavily restricted and monitored, but the system is clearly broken. The United States must assess, fix, and enforce this system alongside officials in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Sixth, the United States must end all deportations and deportations of Haitian migrants, most of whom would be considered refugees or would have the right to access asylum procedures, without the application of Title 42. , the United States should end forced repatriations of Haitians prohibited at sea. Given the aforementioned security and public health crisis, forced relocation to Haiti is a violation of international obligations of non-refoulement and is clearly immoral.
All of these recommendations have been on the table for at least 18 months, and some go back years. The international community did not listen. It is only now that the situation has reached the current level of desperation that the international community is ready to act. Unfortunately, if military intervention is the chosen path, it will not necessarily ensure security in the short term and, in the absence of adoption of the points listed here, will almost certainly have no impact on the security situation in the longer term. long term. Indeed, it might well do more harm if history is any guide. The United States and other international actors seem more concerned with keeping the current de facto regime – which it has installed and supported – in power than allowing Haitians to lead the way out of the current crisis. This must stop.