Haiti Prime Minister Ariel Henry, G9 leader Jimmy Cherizier, UN Security Council
On 02/10/2023, the UN Security Council voted to send a Kenyan-led multinational force to support the Haitian government in countering armed gang violence. The mission, called Multinational Security Support (MSS), has been approved with 13 votes in favor out of the 15 members of the Security Council. Russia and China abstained. The MSS has been authorized for a year with a renewal after nine months.
Although voted on by the Security Council, the MSS is a non-UN mission, so it will not be directly run by the United Nations. Kenya has volunteered to lead the international force and will provide 1,000 police officers. The Kenyan President William Ruto had previously expressed in July 2023 the willingness to lead a support operation in Haiti.
Other countries, including CARICOM members such as the Bahamas, Jamaica, Antigua, and Barbuda, will join the MSS and dispatch personnel. The United States, while not participating with personnel, has agreed to logistically finance the operation with $100 million in intelligence, medical assistance, equipment, communications, and airlift.
The approval of international assistance comes more than a year after Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry repeatedly called for “robust support” to re-establish order and tackle gang-related violence and the humanitarian crisis in Haiti.
The ongoing humanitarian and security crisis in Haiti started in September 2022 when a powerful coalition of gangs that controls several parts of the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, known as the G9 Family and Allies gang alliance, took control of a major fuel terminal of the country, preventing the distribution of diesel and petrol. The terminal blockade also worsened the precarious conditions of the Haitian population, which experienced a dramatic rise in food insecurity.
In September, the G9 leader Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier called for an overthrow of PM Ariel Henry, announcing a truce among metropolitan gangs and urging the population to rise up against the unelected government. Cherizier was sanctioned by the UN in 2022 for human rights abuses and involvement in acts that “threaten the peace, security, and stability of Haiti.”
The gang leader, while opposed to international intervention, said he would welcome a foreign force if they were to arrest the “illegitimate prime minister and corrupt politicians.” Moreover, Cherizier appealed to the international community, declaring that human rights abuses will not be tolerated.
Haiti has experienced an unprecedented escalation of violence in the past year. According to the United Nations, more than 3,000 homicides and 1,500 kidnappings were reported in the first nine months of 2023. Moreover, the surge in gang-related violence, especially in the capital, forced the population to flee urban areas, resulting in more than 200,000 displaced people. Also, sexual and gender-based violence is reportedly on the rise in the country.
Increased violence and the uncontrolled flow of displaced persons from Haiti affect regional stability and security. In mid-September, the Dominican Republic closed all borders with Haiti over a canal dispute. The closure of access points to the Dominican Republic, the main receiving country for Haitian refugees could also worsen economic conditions.
Haiti has suffered from gang violence for decades but the current wave of violence escalated after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021. Following Moïse's death, power was taken by the current unelected prime minister Henry, whose government is perceived by many as corrupt.
The one-year multinational support mission aims to support and train Haiti’s police force to deal with gang violence. The country’s security forces are, in fact, under-equipped and inadequately prepared to handle the violence and insecurity that come with gang crime.
It must be noted that the MSS is not a UN peacekeeping operation. While the UN maintains multiple support activities for Haiti, such as the BINUH political mission to achieve political stability and good governance, the MSS is not a UN-led operation.
Haiti has a troubled history with international interventions. The last international intervention, the U.N.’s 2004-2017 MINUSTAH mission, resulted in a massive sexual abuse scandal and a cholera epidemic, killing some 10,000 people. The MSS will be the first international force deployment in Haiti approved by the UN since MINUSTAH.
The MINUSTAH scandals have caused outrage and distrust of foreign forces by the people of Haiti. To date, a large part of local civil society remains opposed or skeptical toward international interventions, claiming that the solution for the country should be identified and led by Haitians.
Besides Haiti’s records with international interventions, other factors delayed the international community’s decision-making and approval of the MSS. Some states have been reluctant to support Ariel Henry’s contested government openly.
Concerns have also been raised about the capabilities of Kenyan security forces to handle the rampant violence in Haiti. Moreover, Kenyan military and police have been domestically accused of human rights abuses, excessive use of force, and corruption.
China and Russia abstained from the vote, arguing that the operation does not provide a plan for an eventual withdrawal and that Haiti would first need “a legitimate, effective, and accountable government” for successful foreign intervention.
The United Nations has green-lighted a “historic” international support mission in Haiti. The Kenyan-led multinational force will assist Haitian authorities and security forces in managing the rapidly deteriorating, multi-faced security and humanitarian crisis. Gangs have taken control of much of the capital, spawning a surge in crime, homicides, extortion, and kidnapping. The situation is also volatile in the country's peripheral and rural areas due to displaced people flows. In addition, protests and demonstrations against Henry's perceived corrupt government are erupting and spreading across the country. The year-long deployment of foreign support forces will face a highly fragile and armed environment. Curbing gang violence would create the conditions necessary to hold elections, which have not occurred in Haiti since 2016. For the MSS to take off, it will be necessary to await the Kenyan parliament's decision on when and which security forces will be deployed to Haiti. In the meantime, the UN is encouraging states to contribute personnel, equipment, and funds.