Realizing Layers of Security in Haiti: A Conceptual Re-Think is Needed if Haiti is to Find Post-Earthquake Peace

Articles in this week’s New York Times and Globe and Mail highlighted calls for a massive scaling-up of disaster relief and development efforts in Haiti. However, leaders should be much more critical about the shortfalls of such missions in the past, as Haiti is no stranger to international interventions, in particular at the hands of the United Nations and the US government, and to a lesser extent, Canada. As security is often held to underpin relief and development efforts, policymakers need to reform their view of the provision of physical security and international law needs to reflect this process. Time and time again, Western powers have failed to assist the Haitian people address the wrongs of the past and meet their overall social and economic development goals.[1]

Sadly, it has become commonplace for developed nations to make big pledges when tragedies occur, but seldom are all funds collected to drive development strategies. Only 10% of funds pledged to Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake have arrived in Port au Prince thus far. Core funding is often lumped into ‘security programs’, while so-called ‘soft development’ strategies languish. Soft development aid dollars are often tied up in the activities of foreign NGOs. The amount of NGOs in Haiti is staggering. The presence of so many foreign personnel, who are often unaccountable to the Haitian government or people as a whole, is troubling and potentially destabilizing. Furthermore, the flow of private security personnel into Haiti could also drive conflict.

Policing in the Western world has undergone a massive metamorphosis in the past two decades. A “multilateralization” process has unfolded, which has made the state police less prevalent in the daily lives of citizens.[2] Private security firms, security technologies, and an array of other services have replaced the state as the primary keeper of the peace. This fact is not reflected at all in the Western-driven UN policy towards Haiti, where the way forward is often seen as entrenching a strong, top-down, state-centred policing model. Why is one model good for ‘us’, and another good for ‘them’? The UN Transition Mission in Haiti (UNTMIH) has as a core part of its mandate the obligation to train “PNH specialized units in crowd control, the rapid reaction force and Palace security, areas considered to be of distinct importance.” Nothing in this mission mandate touched upon the redress of past injustices in Haiti. Language tying security efforts to economic reforms and trade liberalization is commonplace in UN resolutions on Haiti.[3] The MINUSTAH mandate of 2004 called for the creation of a “secure and stable environment within which the constitutional and political process in Haiti can take place,” so as to promote the “economic stability of Haiti”.[4] This mandate further aimed:

to assist the Transitional Government, particularly the Haitian National Police, with comprehensive and sustainable Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programmes for all armed groups, including women and children associated with such groups, as well as weapons control and public security measures….[5]

The Police Nationale d’Haïti (PNH) has long been the primary entity with which the West has done business in Haiti, whereas foreign actors have backed away from dealing with civil society groups, particularly the Lavalas movement which twice elected Aristide. Robert Perito claims that despite after “nearly two decades of international assistance, the PNH remains dysfunctional, corrupt and incapable of controlling crime and maintaining public order without the presence of U.N. forces.”[6] Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with promoting economic stability and security in Haiti, but what type of security are we talking about and what type of economy?

Yasmine Shamsie sharply criticizes UN policy as being out of touch with Haitian realities, highlighting that the development strategy in Haiti has long:

…focused on the export-manufacturing sector, devoting little attention to the country’s rural sector. In a country where close to 65% of the population is engaged in some form of agricultural production, assisting peasant farmers would have been the most direct way of alleviating poverty (donors contended poverty alleviation was their overall objective) and addressing the vast imbalance between rich and poor, thereby fostering political equality. Yet international donors directed less than 1% of the $550 million in donor aid and loans distributed in FY 94/95 to peasant agriculture.[7]

James Lebovic contends that in the post-Cold War era it is “apparent that the UN and various governmental and non-governmental organizations have pursued a peace-building strategy of promoting market economies and democratic elections that has often been ineffective or counterproductive.”[8] This analysis lends itself to the argument that UN policy towards Haiti has done more to solidify the position of the wealthy elites in Port-au-Prince, and the large landowners (many of them empowered by the Duvalier family[9]), than to alleviate the pressure created by massive social and economic inequalities in Haiti. Furthermore, former President Bill Clinton may lack the proper credentials to be a UN emissary to Haiti. His administration stymied efforts by Aristide to reform the Haitian economy and disperse Haiti’s wealth more equally amongst the rural poor. Instead of addressing economic inequalities, Aristide, was forced into the privatization of state entities, which only drove insecurity issues and led to open conflict.[10] Morley and McGillion posit that under the Clinton administration:

efforts to democratize the Haitian state were perceived as a potential threat to longer-term U.S. objectives: the restoration of political stability; the survival of an, albeit reformed, military institution with its external linkages to the Pentagon intact; and the promotion of an open economy and a development strategy that accorded foreign investors a central role.[11]

As the United States and most Western economies have entered into a period of “state capitalism” themselves, it would be unjust for future UN policy towards Haiti to force neo-liberal economic development upon a struggling nation via ill-planned UN Security Council resolutions and conceptually weak security programs. Similarly, the top-down, state-centred approach to security in Haiti has continuously served to entrench right-wing, violent elements of the Haitian political scene, drowning out the voices of the rural agriculturalists and Lavalas supporters who make valid claims against the trade and development agenda of Western powers and Haitian elites. If Western powers want to empower Haitian people and recognize their ability to shepherd the country out of chaos, they should approach security provision in a more nuanced manner. Conceptual approaches from Africa might serve well in Haiti. Bruce Baker, who posits a theory of “multi-choice policing” in Africa, writes:

The extended family may protect the compound, but it is the street committee that sorts out the assault at the bar, the sorcerer that detects the culprit, the headman or local priest that mediates a settlement over damages caused by a neighbour, a spontaneous mob that handles the bus station pickpocket, the commercial security guard that secures the entrance to the city centre office and the state police that are called if a colleague is murdered at the bank. Policing, as it is experienced, is a complex pattern of overlapping policing agencies.[12]

Why not strengthen the social fabric of Haitian communities instead of ignoring it? While it may be easier to deal with one body over the many disparate factions that can provide security in Haiti, it is time to recognize that the PNH has had a deleterious effect on at least some aspects of state-building and that all the reforms and training in the world will not reverse a culture of brutality overnight.

Perito claims that the “processes of disaster response and recovery generally reinforce existing inequalities.”[13] This is something that should be heeded as the international community takes up the call to ‘fix’ Haiti. Justice reforms, meaningful agricultural reforms, emigration programs, and addressing the economic injustices of the past perpetrated by the French and American governments must be key components of future UN policy towards Haiti. Sadly, with a French and American veto on the Security Council this will be a tough proposition for leaders to make.

[1] The blackmailing of the Haitian people by the government of France for most of the 19th century is appalling and still needs to be addressed. The American government has played  a strong role in the governance of Haiti since World War I, having occupied the country militarily at various points. The US also supported the Duvalier regime, and played a direct role in the ouster of the twice popularly-elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide. For more on these events, please read: Paul Farmer, “Blood, Sweat and Baseballs: Haiti in the West Atlantic System” (1988) 13 Dialectical Anthropology 83ff. David Nicholls, “Haiti: The rise and fall of Duvalierism” (1986) 8:4 Third World Quarterly 1239ff. Sandra Beides, Colin Granderson, and Racheil Neild, “Justice and Security Reform after Intervention: Haiti” published in Charles T. Call (ed.), Constructing Justice and Security After War (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute for Peace, 2007) 69ff. Hans Schmidt, The United States Occupation of Haiti 1915-1934 (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1971) at 108ff.

[2] David H. Bayley and Clifford D. Shearing, The New Structure of Policing: Description, Conceptualization, and Research Agenda (Washington, D.C.: National Institute of Justice, 2001) at 9.

[3] This is true in the UNTMIH mandate, but is also in evidence in the MIPONUH police-training mission mandate.

[4] UNSC Res. 1541, UNSCOR, 2004, S/RES/1542 1-2.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Robert M. Perito, “Haiti After the Earthquake” (2010) 5 Peace Brief 1 at 3.

[7] Yasmine Shamsie, “Building ‘Low-Intensity’ Democracy in Haiti: The OAS Contribution” (2004) 25:6 Third World Quarterly 1097 at 1102.

[8] James H Lebovic, “Uniting for Peace? Democracies and United Nations Peace Operations after the Cold War” (2004) 48:6 Journal of Conflict Resolution 910 at 934.

[9] Arché Jean, The Role of Agriculture in the Economic Development of Haiti (Indiana: AuthorHouse, 2008) at 97ff.

[10] Shamsie, supra note 4 at 1101.

[11] Morris Morley & Chris McGillion, “’Disobedient’ Generals and the Politics of Redemocratization: The Clinton Administration and Haiti” (1997) 112:3 Political Science Quarterly 363 at 363.

[12] Bruce Baker, “Multi-choice policing in Africa: Is the continent following the South African pattern?” (2004) 35:2 Societies in Transition 204 and 204.

[13] Perito, supra note 6.

Philip Duguay Philip Duguay will receive his LL.B.-B.C.L. in June 2011. He has worked on CIDA funded projects in Senegal, Ethiopia and Indonesia, and spent most of 2010 in South Africa, studying human security at the University of Cape Town and working as an adviser to the African Wind Energy Association. He is interested in environmental and energy law, as well as state security topics and corporate social responsibility matters.

Leave a Reply

6 Responses to “Realizing Layers of Security in Haiti: A Conceptual Re-Think is Needed if Haiti is to Find Post-Earthquake Peace”

  1. Philip Duguay says:

    A fantastic documentary on post-quake Haiti produced by PBS Frontline, which features many of the writers and people mentioned above, is available to watch for free online here:

  2. Philip Duguay says:

    Clifford Shearing and his colleagues from the University of Cape Town, Centre for Criminology, speak frequently about ‘police cultures’ and how they can deteriorate in times of duress. Clearly, this happens in developing countries as well as developed ones. Make up your own mind, did post-Katrina violence in New Orleans give credence to the notion that we (the public and policymakers) should be more aware of policing cultures and less focused on equipping our officers with enough hardware to ‘get the job done’?

    Did this documentary on post-Katrina violence make you think any differently about post-disaster state-policing models and how they can be altered to better react to the stresses that civilian populations undergo in times of catastrophe? Should there be better International Law guidelines on police preparedness in time of post-disaster relief?

    Another PBS-Frontline piece that cuts to the core of this issue:

  3. Each time I see blogs as good as this due to the fact I will need to quit bludging and begin operating on mine.Thanks

  4. Philip Duguay says:

    As President Michel Martelly considers bringing back the army in Haiti, policing in Haiti is beginning to garner the type of media attention it should. The New York Times has presented a video news clip that takes a look at how the weak justice system in Haiti, and its ability to try members of the PNH for a mass murder that occurred last year in a Haitian prison:

    Rather than bolstering the PNH with an even more militant force, international actors, and particular the United States, should focus on maintaining discipline and better working mechanisms under the umbrella of the civilian police force. The prisons and courts seem like a good place to start!

  5. Philip Duguay says:

    With every passing year, the MINUSTAH forces lose legitimacy in Haiti:

    Without real elections, you cannot have real security. Haitians had a democratic revolution over 200 years ago, and no police reform project is going to supplant the need for Haitian citizens to actualize their democratic aspirations.

  6. Philip Duguay says:

    This New York Times highlights the disastrous reconstruction policies being deployed in Haiti, and their tendency to serve foreign investment interests first, and the Haitian people and environment as an afterthought:


Comments are moderated and will not appear until they have been approved by an administrator.