Following the recent outbreaks of violence in Haiti, the UN is considering sending a police force to Haiti under Kenyan leadership. But doesn’t the history of Haiti so far show the failure of all UN efforts? Heiner Rosendahl, who worked for the UN in Haiti for a long time, shows that the answers to this question are not quite so simple.

At the end of August 2023 (Sunday, 27.08.2023), several hundred residents of the Canaan district in Port-au-Prince, armed with machetes and clubs and led by their pastor, attempted to liberate their neighborhood from heavily armed criminal gangs. The gang members live from extortion, kidnapping and robbery and exploit the population. The gang members knew that their control of the area was at stake and opened fire on the march with their large caliber weapons. Several demonstrators were murdered, many injured, some kidnapped.

The residents’ action was criticized by human rights groups in the capital: The pastor had unnecessarily exposed the participants to risk, the police had therefore had to stop the march, and the Minister of Justice should investigate the incident. The criticism shows the deep divisions in Haiti. Everyone is talking about the complete insecurity in all parts of the capital and now also in other parts of the country. But the participants in the march in Canaan County apparently saw this apocalyptic, eschatological action as their response to the daily plundering and rape of their wives, mothers and children.

While the pastor and hundreds of people set out to wrest control of their territory from the gangs, at the same time in New York the United Nations and police representatives from Kenya were planning how armed support from police forces from several countries under the command of Kenya could restore security and stability in Haiti. In October 2022, the de facto Prime Minister of Haiti, Ariel Henry, formally asked the United Nations to send an international force to support his country’s police force and restore general security in the country.

This current development invites critical reflection on why past UN peacekeeping missions have not succeeded in establishing lasting general security and stability in Haiti in recent decades. MINUSTAH, the UN mission to stabilize Haiti, ended in October 2017.

Has the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSTAH failed?

MINUSTAH is now generally regarded as a failure. In superficial arguments and criticisms, the sexual assaults and sexual exploitation by MINUSTAH personnel as well as the introduction of cholera 9 months after the 2010 earthquake due to inadequate fecal disposal in the camp of a Nepalese UN battalion are cited as arguments for the failure of MINUSTAH.

However, further analysis should address the underlying problems of peacekeeping operations in Haiti.

One of the problems with the criticism of the UN missions in Haiti is that completely different UN missions are lumped together, even though they were given completely different tasks and achieved very different results. In 1990, a UN election observer mission monitored the first free elections. This was not a Peace Keeping Operation but there was a generally recognized election result.

At the urging of the first elected President Aristide, who had initially been overthrown with US influence, a United Nations human rights observer group, MICIVIH, was sent to Haiti in 1993 to improve the human rights situation under the dictatorship of General Cedras through monitoring. The serious human rights violations documented by MICIVIH led to US President Clinton returning the ousted President Aristide to the presidential palace in Haiti on the shoulders of American soldiers. Clinton’s decision was largely motivated by the desire to keep the Haitian boat people in Haiti by bringing the then popular Jean-Bertrand Aristide back to power.

The US troops who brought Aristide back handed over their task to the first UN peacekeeping operation in Haiti, UNMIH, which began its work in 1995. The Haitian government under Aristide disbanded Haiti’s army with the help of the UN and set up Haiti’s new police force. In the following years, young police officers were trained for the entire country and the later elected President Preval ended the UN mission in 2000 shortly before the end of his term of office.

Renewed uncertainty and lawlessness

At the beginning of 2004, after Aristide had been re-elected in 2000, the government had lost control over large parts of the country. Rebels led by Guy Philippe, a former army officer and member of the new police force, had captured most of the towns in the north of the country. US troops intervened again at the beginning of February 2004 together with the French. It is disputed in historiography whether Aristide abdicated voluntarily on February 29, 2004 or was forced to abdicate. In accordance with the constitution, the President of the Supreme Court was installed as interim president. He asked the UN Security Council to send a UN peacekeeping mission to Haiti.

Thus, the second UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, was decided by the UN Security Council with the mandate to restore general security and stability, to re-establish the authority of the state in the entire territory of Haiti and to organize free elections after a transitional period. The various UN actors initially pursued very different approaches. While Haitian society suffered from general insecurity – 300 people were kidnapped and ransomed every month – the UN military commander, General Heleno (who later became President Bolsonaro’s chief of staff), largely kept his troops in the barracks. According to him, Haiti’s problem was deep social injustice. As right as this was and is in view of the extreme poverty and inequality in the country, Haitian society expected first and foremost general security across all social classes. Under pressure from the second civilian head of MINUSTAH, Guatemalan Edmond Mulet, on the MINUSTAH military leadership, the armed gangs were pushed back considerably in 2007. The kidnapping figures subsequently tended towards zero, so that there was a general sigh of relief in the country and the loss of reputation of the UN due to the passivity of General Heleno (UN commander 2004-2005) could be ironed out. In the meantime, Rene Preval had been elected to a second term in free elections and the Haitian police force was replenishing its ranks with new training courses.

In mid-2009, the UN prepared to end the MINUSTAH peacekeeping mission in two years at the latest. There were some unfinished business, but the cooperation between the government (Preval) and the UN was so productive overall that the end of MINUSTAH was planned for 2011.

What economic model for Haiti?

During this time, the UN and the international community debated which economic model Haiti should pursue: Nobel Prize winner Josef Stiglitz argued in favor of strengthening smallholder agriculture, while British economist Paul Collier advocated the creation of jobs in the low-wage sector in free trade zones. In any case, Preval was more enthusiastic about Stiglitz’s ideas and built roads to open up the countryside outside the capital, a basic prerequisite for rural development. The international players tended to follow Collier’s ideas, which were of course also favored by the Haitian business elite. This made it possible to earn money quickly, which was then invested abroad, in the USA and the Dominican Republic, instead of risking long-term investment projects in a country that is still not very stable.

Despite all the progress made in Haiti, there was no medium and long-term development plan anchored in the budget. Each member of parliament tried to negotiate projects for their constituency. And some set up their own companies to handle investment projects – there was no longer any control. This is because, under the constitution, MPs were not accountable to the Court of Audit. As a result, the necessary investments for the security infrastructure did not find their way into the budget, but remained with the international donors, leading to a lack of ownership and corruption on the part of the international players.

Nevertheless, in mid-2009 everything pointed to an imminent end of MINUSTAH in a relatively stable context.

The 2010 earthquake

Then suddenly the ground opened up, the famous earthquake on January 12, 2010 destroyed important parts of the capital and many people died under the rubble of the buildings.

Nothing was the same as before – and the weaknesses of peacekeeping in the context of disasters became visible as if through a burning glass:

The previous MINUSTAH leadership died under the rubble of the headquarters that collapsed in the earthquake.

The main problems were:

Problem 1: Panic about looting and epidemics

Internationally, panic grew that there would be general looting and destruction of the economic infrastructure. The US army therefore deployed several thousand soldiers, but without specifying their exact mission.

Problem 2: No structured data collection

MINUSTAH soldiers collected the bodies and buried them in mass graves outside the city, but they did not take names or conduct a body count. The death toll thus became a purely political figure, which Edmond Mulet, who was immediately sent back from New York as the new head of MINUSTAH, raised to over 300,000 in order to show a higher number of victims than in the 2004 tsunami in East Asia and thus be able to demand more resources. Anthropologists later used serious studies to put the death toll from the earthquake at 60-80,000. The high death toll in Mulet and the fact that all government buildings, all ministries apart from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which was the building of the former army general staff, had collapsed, resulted in the unexpectedly high pledges of over 11 billion US dollars at the donor conference in New York in April.

Mulet ordered the MINUSTAH department heads to request more personnel and more financial resources – even though MINUSTAH was already looking at downsizing before 12 January 2010.

Problem 3: Peacekeeping in a multidimensional problem context

At the same time, the international aid machinery rolled in. Thousands of aid workers entered the country through an unprecedented number of non-governmental organizations that were not registered by anyone. Since the aid was theoretically supposed to be coordinated by UN agencies such as UNICEF, OIM, the World Health Organization and the World Food Programme, but was structured by the NGOs’ access to funds, it was not possible to coordinate the aid in a meaningful and streamlined way. Various organizations took care of different areas such as blankets or tents, water, food and health. As a result, there were again no exact figures for those affected. The expectation that one only had to occupy a tent in one of the camps in order to be entitled to a social housing to be built led to many people leaving their still standing houses and others migrating from the interior of the country to Port-au-Prince to occupy a tent.

Problem 4: Role of the national government or: the takeover by international actors

This expectation was fueled by public demands for a government social housing program from Bill Clinton’s staff, who acted like a proconsul in Haiti. The families split up, often with one family member living in a tent in a different tent camp. This led to immensely higher numbers of people registered as homeless (up to 2 million out of a capital city population of 3 million). As a result, around 40% of the aid pledges made at the New York donor conference have already been used by NGOs for emergency aid.

The government representatives were pushed out of the decision-making processes by the way in which the international players presented themselves; the dominance of English in the planning rounds in the French and Creole-speaking country was just one indication.

The immediate consequence was a far-reaching loss of control on the part of both the government and MINUSTAH. This is clearly illustrated by the district of Canaan mentioned at the beginning. Canaan did not exist before January 12, 2010. It was barren land, barren and inhospitable. Investors were planning to set up another free trade zone for sweatshops there. Just a few days after the earthquake, 300,000 people camped here, about 15 km from the city. The people, many of whom came from the interior, took possession of the land. The government was no longer able to enforce the right of ownership, even though it had decreed it. This is how Canaan came into being.

Problem 5: Elections and the change in results

Then everyday life returned. President Preval’s mandate ended on February 7, 2011. In order to be able to inaugurate a successor on February 7, 2011, an election had to be held at the end of 2010. The Preval government did not feel able to hold elections so quickly after the earthquake that changed everything. But Edmond Mulet insisted on compliance with the constitution. The regular elections should be held in any case

The result of the first round of voting placed Ms. Mirlande Manigat in first place with 33%, while Jude Celestin, who was supported by Preval, came in second with 22% 2. the singer Michel Martelly with 21 % in 2nd place 3. Manigat and Celestin would therefore contest the second ballot. But Martelly, who performed in his concerts with more brutal sexualized songs than Lindemann is known for in Germany, had electrified the Americans with the slogan “Haiti is open for business”. They definitely wanted to see him as Preval’s successor. As head of MINUSTAH, Mulet either allowed himself to be pressured by the Americans or he pushed through his own conviction that a delegation from the Organization of American States should review the election results. The result was changed, as the Brazilian OAS diplomat Ricardo Seitenfus, who witnessed the pressure on Preval, has documented. Martelly replaced Celestin in the run-off and won the second ballot.

The loss of trust and credibility of the United Nations due to the interference in the election results at the turn of the year 2010-2011 had and continues to have dramatic consequences.

Problem 6: Corruption of the Martelly government – lack of political will to tackle it

The Martelly government promised everything and delivered nothing. The major reconstruction projects, such as the new parliament building, were celebrated with pompous foundation stone ceremonies, but were never carried out. The money from these projects disappeared.

The Preval government had saved 3.5 billion US dollars from the PetroCaribe Fund, a preferential oil agreement between Venezuela and various Caribbean countries, which the Preval government joined against the opposition of the US government. These 3.5 billion US dollars, which at the time corresponded to one and a half times Haiti’s annual budget, had literally disappeared by the end of the Martelly government. The International Monetary Fund remained silent, MINUSTAH was aware of the signals of massive theft during the Martelly period, but did not dare to take any action because such criticism would have meant the end of the UN mission, since it was in the country at the invitation of the government.

The Martelly family enriched themselves and stole on such a large scale that cab drivers at the airport in New York were constantly bombarding people arriving from Haiti with more and more information about which beaches Martelly had snatched up and which hotels his son was now building in Haiti.

After MINUSTAH’s withdrawal, Haiti’s Supreme Audit Office presented the first reports on where the money had disappeared. Among them was the new president, J. Moise, assassinated in June 2021, who was paid twice the total amount for the construction of a road in the north of the country before his election, but never built it.

When the population paralyzed the country for several months in 2018 and demanded the money back, the UN remained silent.

Problem 7: Rule of law and Martelly blocked judicial reform

Martelly appointed an unconditional supporter as presiding judge of the Supreme Council of the Judiciary, who, according to the constitution, could no longer be available for this position as he had already passed the age limit.

But MINUSTAH was so happy to finally report a little progress in the area of judicial reform to New York that this minor blemish was not emphasized in dispatches to New York.


A central component of the UN mission’s mandate was to strengthen the institutions and stabilize the government. However, the Martelly government had a major legitimacy deficit due to the change in the result in the first round of voting. In addition, the government undermined itself through massive corruption and the blocking of judicial reform.

The mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission to stabilize a government with a lack of legitimacy is tantamount to squaring the circle. The task cannot be solved. Since no lasting stability can be achieved in this way, the mandate of the peacekeeping mission will be extended until the donor countries no longer want to pay.

A possible international police mission led by Kenya to support the Haitian police will face the same problem. The de facto prime minister, in office since June 2021 thanks to the support of the UN and the most important diplomatic missions in Port-au-Prince, has no legitimacy or support in the country. He is held responsible for the dramatic security situation in the country and for the strengthening of criminal gangs.

Various criminal gangs now largely dominate the capital, the central courthouse has been occupied by them since April 2021, they have stormed the women’s prison, the gates are open, on Tuesday they conquered the police station in the Carrefour-Feuille district, less than 2 km from the presidential palace. In the meantime, tens of thousands of people have fled their neighborhoods and are seeking shelter in school buildings, and 40,000 refugees have arrived in the capital’s stadium alone in the past few days.

There is therefore a great deal of wishful thinking among the majority in Haiti that international intervention can restore general security. The editor-in-chief of Haiti’s only daily newspaper wrote at the end of August 2023: ” Losing sovereignty is one thing, losing sight of the price of survival is worse. “

However, intellectuals and politicians from various institutions are of the opinion that a technical assistance mission with a few international specialists and adequate equipping of the Haitian police with weapons and an appropriate fleet of vehicles with international support is more necessary. But they do not believe that a Kenyan-led police mission reinforced by police forces from Caribbean states and other countries can solve the country’s problems because one of these problems is also the government of the de facto prime minister.

Conclusion: If you look at the disastrous situation in Haiti today, many people tend to conclude that UN missions are a general failure and question such missions across the board. On closer inspection, it becomes clear that individual UN missions have achieved some useful things. It is more than questionable whether a new UN police force under the leadership of Kenya, which is not formally a UN mission (its reputation is too damaged), will be able to provide more security again. The failure of MINUSTAH’s last mission is largely due to the actions and interference of external governments, in this case the USA, which backed the wrong horse. In many cases, the UN and the USA are backing the current prime minister’s horse alone, and other political forces are not even being seriously discussed. Kenya wants a mandate from the UN Security Council. In view of the global antagonisms of the USA, Russia and China, this is more than questionable.


  • Heiner Rosendahl

    Heiner Rosendahl is married and has two children. He completed his peace service with Aktion Sühnezeichen/Friedensdienste in Israel from 1972 to 1974. He then studied Catholic theology and history in Münster from 1974 to 1979. During this time and until 1979, Heiner Rosendahl was heavily involved in the context of Chile solidarity. From 1987 to 1993, he was Executive Secretary of the Christian Initiative Romero e.V. in Münster. This was followed in 1993 by an assignment as a member of the UN human rights observer mission MICIVIH in Haiti. He then became MICIVIH's representative for prison reform in Haiti from 1995 to 1996. This was followed by the position of Head of the UN Regional Office in Jeremie, Haiti 1996 - 1997. 1999 - 2001 Heiner Rosendahl was Senior Human Rights Officer of the OSCE in Kosovo, Mitroviza and Pristina 1999 - 2001 (during the war March - June 1999 in Ohrid, North Macedonia). Heiner Rosendahl then returned to Haiti as Senior Civil Affairs Officer of the UN Mission MINUSTAH 2004 - 2009, followed by the position as Chief Civil Affairs of MINUSTAH in Haiti from 2009 - 2015.

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A critical assessment of UN peacekeeping operations in Haiti

Heiner Rosendahl

[wpml-string context="pb-bioinfo" name="info-3"]Heiner Rosendahl ist verheiratet und hat zwei Kinder. Er absolvierte seinen Friedensdienst mit der Aktion Sühnezeichen/Friedensdienste 1972 -1974 in Israel. Darauf folgte ein Studium der katholischen Theologie und Geschichte in Münster von 1974 – 1979. In dieser Zeit und bis 1979 engagierte sich Heiner Rosendahl stark im Kontext der Chilesolidarität. Von 1987 bis 1993 war er Exekutivsekretär der Christlichen Initiative Romero e.V. in Münster. 1993 folgte ein Einsatz als Mitarbeiter der UN-Menschenrechtsbeobachter-Mission MICIVIH in Haiti. Danach wurde er von 1995 – 1996 Beauftragter der MICIVIH für Gefängnisreform in Haiti. Es folgte die Position als Leiter des Regionalbüros der UNO in Jeremie, Haiti 1996 – 1997. 1999 – 2001 war Heiner Rosendahl Senior Human Rights Officer der OSZE in Kosovo, Mitroviza und Pristina 1999 - 2001 (während des Krieges März – Juni 1999 in Ohrid, Nordmazedonien). Danach war Heiner Rosendahl wieder in Haiti als Senior Civil Affairs Officer der UN Mission MINUSTAH 2004 – 2009. Es folgte die Position als Chief Civil Affairs der MINUSTAH in Haiti von 2009 – 2015.[/wpml-string]

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