In Response to Protests, MINUSTAH Disregards Legitimate Grievances

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Tuesday, 16 November 2010 15:10
Protests against the UN and MINUSTAH in Cap-Haitien and elsewhere throughout the country yesterday resulted in at least two civilian deaths and numerous injuries. Yet the response from MINUSTAH completely ignores the legitimate concerns of the citizens about the source of the Cholera outbreak and the role of MINUSTAH in Haiti. The UN News Center reports:
“The way the events unfolded suggests that these incidents were politically motivated, aimed at creating a climate of insecurity on the eve of elections,” the mission, known as MINUSTAH, said in a statement.

“MINUSTAH calls the people to remain vigilant and not be manipulated by enemies of stability and democracy in the country,” the mission added.
The protesters, according to news reports, largely held MINUSTAH responsible for bringing cholera (with a death toll now over 1000) into Haiti, where it had not been seen for decades. Despite calls from public health experts like Paul Farmer to pin point the cause of the epidemic, and the popular anger directed at MINUSTAH, officials have shied away from such an investigation. As reported by the Associated Press, a World Health Organization official said today that "at some time we will do further investigation but it's not a priority right now."

MINUSTAH's statement on the protests says that "One of the demonstrators was killed when he was hit by a bullet fired by a UN peacekeeper, who shot back in self-defense. An investigation is under way to determine the exact circumstances of the death." However Ansel Herz, writing for Inter-Press Service, reports that "At least two protesters have been reported killed, one shot in the back, a local official told the media." If indeed the protester was shot in the back, it would seem to discredit the explanation of shooting in self-defense.

Also, as Herz points out, there are outstanding issues with MINUSTAH that have angered Haitians in the past:
Anger at U.N. troops has simmered and boiled over into peaceful protests several times since the body of teenaged Gerard Jean Gilles was found hanging from a tree inside a Cap-Haitien peacekeeping base in late August.

Days later, a peacekeeping patrol responded with tear gas after being bombarded with stones. One soldier was injured, according to an internal U.N. report.

Seventeen civil society organisations authored an open letter to the head of MINUSTAH requesting an independent inquiry and condemning what they called "your decision to obstruct Haitian justice in this case".
Although MINUSTAH is ostensibly in Haiti to ensure a "secure and stable environment", when it becomes the cause of instability and violence, it calls into question whether their presence is really necessary, especially given the long list of prior complaints and abuses.

Tags: cholera | elections | minustah