Haiti: UN troop mandate renewed for one year

The United Nations (UN) Security Council voted unanimously on Oct. 14 to extend for another year the mandate for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the international military and police force stationed in Haiti since June 2004. For now the operation will continue to consist of 5,021 soldiers and 2,601 police agents. The Council accepted UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon's recommendation to cut the number of soldiers to 2,370, but it decided to maintain the current troop strength until after March 2015, when Ban is to deliver a report on developments, including elections for local, municipal and some parliamentary posts. According to the government of President Michel Martelly, the elections, originally scheduled for 2011, will be held in the first three months of 2015; under the 1987 Constitution a presidential election should take place later in the year.

Latin American countries provide the bulk of the soldiers, and a number of Latin American groups and political figures—including Argentine human rights activist and 1980 Nobel peace prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel—joined Haitian groups in pressing for an end to MINUSTAH, which is blamed for repressive acts, for the sexual abuse of minors and others, and for introducing cholera into the country in October 2010. MINUSTAH opponents sent the Security Council an open letter dated Oct. 12 calling for "the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops occupying this Caribbean country." (Adital, Brazil, Oct.10; AlterPresse, Haiti, Oct. 15)

The Security Council vote came as the UN was about to face a court challenge to its claim of legal immunity for deaths and other damage from the cholera epidemic. A federal district judge in New York, J. Paul Oetken, has agreed to hear oral arguments from the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and other groups representing thousands of Haitian cholera victims in a lawsuit filed last year. Even a former lawyer for the UN, Columbia law professor Bruce Rashkow, questioned the international body's immunity claim, although he expressed doubts that the victims would win in court. The UN "is obligated to establish some modality for plaintiffs, for people injured, to seek redress," he told France 24 radio. "You have to step up to the plate and deal with your responsibility." The hearing before Judge Oetken is scheduled for 10 am on Oct. 23 in Lower Manhattan's Thurgood Marshall US Courthouse, room 706; it is open to the public. (New York Times, Oct. 8; France 24, English, Oct. 10; undated announcement forwarded from IJDH)

Meanwhile, Secretary General Moon is scrambling to fulfill his December 2012 pledge of $2.2 billion to fight the epidemic in Haiti. The UN still hasn't met its initial goal of raising $400 million by the end of this year, although World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim announced in early October that the international bank would put up $50 million. Experts are worried that attention will be taken away from Haiti's cholera epidemic by the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, where some 4,500 patients have died. The toll from cholera in Haiti is now over 8,300 deaths, and more than 700,000 people have been sickened. (Miami Herald, Oct. 9; France 24, Oct. 10)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, October 19.