Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

FEATURE: "The New Peacekeeping: Haiti," February 26, 2007.

Last week, World Report looked at key elements of five political parties' platforms and public statements that were opposed to the war in Afghanistan. Three of these--the NDP, the Bloc and the Canadian Action Party--called for the return of Canadian foreign policy to a central role for UN peacekeeping.

In his study of of peacekeeping commissioned by the Council of Canadians, Steven Staples of the Polaris Institute explains that

"Peacekeeping has evolved greatly since the early days of 'Pearsonian' peacekeeping. Today, most peacekeeping missions contain 'enforcement' elements because they are authorized under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows for the use of force where necessary to implement the UN mandate. These 'robust' missions stand in stark contrast to the more traditional form of lightly armed peacekeepers, which were authorized under Chapter VI of the UN Charter" (Staples Marching Orders 19).

Staples concludes that one of four "practically unreported accomplishments" in the last 15 years is "much greater willingness to use force" on the part of UN peacekeepers. This includes the authorization in 2006 of attack helicopters for use in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Staples quotes the following explanation from the 2005 Human Security Report published by the Human Security Centre at UBC and led by Andrew Mack, former director of the strategic planning unit in the Executive Office of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

"The Security Council has been increasingly willing to authorize the use of force to deter 'spoilers' from undermining peace agreements and in so doing to restart old conflicts. UN peace operations are now routinely mandated to use force to protect the peace, not just their own personnel 32" (p. 153 qtd MO).

A key finding of this report is that the UN has brought about more widespread peace in the world since the end of the Cold War, despite fears of terrorism after the September 11 attacks.

The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations supports the notion that peacekeeping has had to adapt to changing circumstances:

"Under-resourced, under-sized peacekeeping operations with inadequate rules of engagement proved to be ill suited for contemporary post-conflict situations, in which armed factions often remained active in the period following civil wars. In addition to targeting and abusing civilians, these groups have also attacked UN peacekeepers. Aware of the dangers [!] of deploying peacekeepers in situations where there is no real peace to keep, the Security Council now provides, when it deems necessary, UN peacekeeping operations with more “robust” mandates....

These mandates allow and in fact require peacekeepers to “use all necessary means” to protect civilians, prevent violence against UN staff and personnel and deter armed elements from ignoring peace agreements. Currently, UN missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Kosovo, Burundi, Haiti and Côte d’Ivoire operate under Chapter VII mandates . . . .

"The Secretary-General has repeatedly stressed, however, that this new approach should not be interpreted as a means of turning the UN into a warfighting machine, and that the use of force should always be seen as a last resort.28"

But this view of the new peacekeeping has been challenged from a number of directions. Ben Terrell, in an article this month for Pambazuka News, a forum for social justice in Africa, argues that the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has been blatant in its support of rightwing forces, including the Haitian police, and has been systematic in carrying out human rights abuses against the poor people of Haiti.

Terrell claims that in 2004 and 2005 UN troops repeatedly "stood by as Haitian police opened fire on non-violent protesters demanding the return of Aristide. In April 2005, Amnesty International noted that ‘Haitian national police officers (HNP) reportedly used live ammunition against Lavalas supporters as they peacefully demonstrated against the United Nations mission headquarters in Boudon, Port-au-Prince’" (Terrell).

Then on 6 July 2005, Cité Soleil was attacked and bombarded. Today, this is referred to as the first massacre. A team led by Haitian-based journalist Kevin Pina documented the attack so well on film that MINUSTAH was compelled to issue a statement saying it "...did not target civilians in the operation ... but the nature of such missions in densely populated urban areas is such that there is always a risk of civilian casualties. Minustah deeply regrets any injuries or loss of life during its operation." (Buncombe Independent Jul 29 05 qtd Emersberger Oct 2 06).

MINUSTAH claimed to have received "unconfirmed information" that criminal gangs were seen killing civilians after its operation.

Still other witnesses, however, support Pina's evidence. David Welsh, of the US Labour/Human Rights Delegation to Haiti, was at a conference in Port-au-Prince that weekend. Delegation members interviewed witnesses and filmed the bodies of victims. He described the shooting as a "massacre."

Andrew Buncombe of the Independent reported that "up to 23 people were killed during the raid and that many were shot in the head."

Christophe Fournier, of Médecins Sans Frontières, which has a clinic close to Cité Soleil, said: "On that day we treated 27 people for gunshot wounds. Of them, around 20 were women under the age of 18."

Among the dead were four-year-old Stanley Romelus, who was shot in the head; his mother, Sonia, and his one-year-old brother, Nelson. The boy's father said they were killed in their house after UN forces threw smoke grenades.

Also in 2005, Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights and Brazil’s Global Justice Centre concluded, "MINUSTAH has provided cover for abuses committed by the HNP [Haitian national police] during operations in poor, historically tense Port-au-Prince neighbourhoods. Rather than advising and instructing the police in best practices, and monitoring their missteps, MINUSTAH has been the midwife of their abuses."

The Harvard group also found that there were "credible allegations of human rights abuses perpetrated by Minustah".

Brian Concannon, director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and a former UN human rights observer in Haiti, reinforces this point. "Until 2004," he says "the UN, for good reasons, only deployed peacekeepers where there was a peace agreement to enforce. Only in Haiti has the Security Council deployed blue helmets to enforce a coup d’etat against an elected government. With the MIF [Multinational Interim Force] and then MINUSTAH, the UN abandoned a half-century of principles and common sense, with predictable results.

[Concannon continues] "'...In August 2005 a paramilitary group called the Little Machete Army killed dozens of spectators at a soccer game in broad daylight near a MINUSTAH observation post. MINUSTAH never tried to stop the massacre or pursue paramilitary members, even though the group has terrorised the Grande Ravine area for two years."

The situation was supposed to improve after the much delayed elections were finally held in February 2006.

A study published on 30 August 2006 in the prestigious medical journal ‘The Lancet’ showed just how bad it had been under the interim government. The Lancet study concluded that in the 22 months after Aristide's removal there were 8,000 murders and 35,000 sexual assaults in the greater Port-au-Prince area alone. More than 50 per cent of these murders were attributed to anti-Aristide and anti-Lavalas factions including armed anti-Lavalas groups, demobilised army members and government security forces. The report also stated that UN soldiers ‘were identified by respondents as having issued death threats, threats of physical injury, and threats of sexual violence’" (Terrell Pambazuka Feb 7 07).

Then on December 22, just before last Christmas, another massacre. According to residents of Cite Soleil, UN forces attacked their neighborhood in the early morning hours and killed more than 30 people including women and children. This time the target was a purported kidnapping gang led by a young man named Belony. The military operation was said to have been personally sanctioned by President Rene Preval.

"...a Reuters photo revealed a row of dead bodies and two distraught women carrying a wounded young boy. Agence France Presse indicated that at least 12 people were killed and 'several dozen' wounded, a casualty total over 40. A Haitian human rights organization, known by the acronym AUMOHD, reported 20 killed with an initial set of victims’ names.

"The Association Haitienne de presse (AHP) reported 'very serious property damage' following the UN attack, and concerns that 'a critical water shortage may now develop because water cisterns and pipes were punctured by the gunfire.' Red Cross coordinator Pierre Alexis complained to AHP that UN soldiers 'blocked Red Cross vehicles from entering Cité Soleil' to help the wounded.

"MINUSTAH denies it interfered with the Red Cross and refuses to acknowledge any civilian casualties" (Skerett and Engler Feb 6 07).

The Haiti Information Project believes the Dec 22 attack was not triggered by a surge in kidnappings as claimed by the UN, but by a massive demonstration of Lavalas supporters that began in Cite Soleil.

"About ten thousand people demonstrated a few days before for the return of president Aristide in a clear condemnation of what they called the foreign military occupation of their country....

"Footage taken by HIP videographers shows unarmed civilians dying as a result of indiscriminate gunfire from UN forces on December 22, 2006" (HIP Feb 1 07).

Most recently, Agence France Presse reported that a third UN Cité Soleil raid that took place on Jan. 25 left five dead and a dozen wounded. (cited in Skerett and Engler Feb 6 07)

On February 15, the UN Security Council extended the MINUSTAH mission in Haiti.

The question remains how much force and how many innocent victims the public will accept within the concept of a successful adaptation of peacekeeping. What kind of violence will it take to turn peacekeeping into a euphemism for a more sinister reality?

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