MINUSTAH Continues to Prioritize Security Over Relief

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Wednesday, 02 June 2010 12:55
We – along with aid and relief groups on the ground in Haiti - have argued before that in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake an over-emphasis on security concerns severely hampered relief efforts. US defense secretary Robert Gates cited "security concerns" for preventing air drops of humanitarian aid, while Doctors Without Borders warned that "hundreds could die" after one of their supply planes was delayed for 48 hours because the US military was not prioritizing humanitarian aid at the Port-au-Prince airport. CEPR co-director Mark Weisbrot noted on January 20 that despite the warning about security:
Lieutenant General PK Keen, deputy commander of the US Southern Command, reports that there is less violence in Haiti now than there was before the earthquake hit. Dr Evan Lyon, of Partners in Health, a medical aid group famous for its heroic efforts in Haiti, referred to "misinformation and rumours … and racism" concerning security issues.

“We've been circulating throughout the city until 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning every night, evacuating patients, moving materials. There's no UN guards. There's no US military presence. There's no Haitian police presence. And there's also no violence. There is no insecurity.”
Nearly three months after the earthquake, Ansel Herz reported for Inter-Press Service on the ongoing militarization of Haiti, following an incident involving MINUSTAH using tear gas. Herz reported that Haiti had been divided into security zones, similar to those seen in countries at war:
"Red zones are no-go zones, you're not supposed to be there whatsoever," said Regine Zamor, a Haitian-American who arrived days after the earthquake to find her family. She's been coordinating among NGOs to distribute aid in Carrefour Feille, one of the hardest-hit areas of the city.

"We only found out for folks in our community that it was a red zone because we weren't getting any help," she said. "That green, yellow, and red zoning actually comes from maps when there's war, but there's no war here in Haiti."
Although the US military officially withdrew from Haiti yesterday, the group that has been at the center of the most controversy has been the UN peacekeeping force, MINUSTAH.

In a scathing report over a month after the earthquake, Reuters looked at MINUSTAH's role in the relief efforts:
Initially, however, none of the peacekeepers appeared to be involved in hands-on humanitarian relief in what emergency medical experts describe as the critical first 72 hours after a devastating earthquake strikes.

Their response to the appalling suffering was limited to handling security and looking for looters after the magnitude 7.0 quake leveled much of the capital and took what Haitian President Rene Preval says could be as many as 300,000 lives.

There was looting in the capital, but it paled in comparison with the severity of the humanitarian crisis.
Reuters continued:
But in the days and weeks that followed it often seemed that lessons from other disasters were ignored in Haiti as fears of rioting or lawlessness overshadowed concerns about getting aid out quickly.
Now, nearly 5 months have passed, yet security still seems to be receiving undue prioritization. Yesterday we noted that although the hurricane season has now officially begun, the situation on the ground remains absolutely dire. The UN noted that:
“With so many people still so vulnerable after the recent earthquake, a serious hurricane this year could be devastating. We are therefore planning for a worst-case scenario.”
Yet reading the last five Joint Operations and Tasking Center (JOTC) reports reveals that MINUSTAH is still focusing almost solely on security. Combining data from the previous six days, the JOTC reports show that MINUSTAH has undertaken 5,092 security operations, involving 29,537 troops, and 56 maritime patrols, sailing 746 nautical miles. On the other hand, there have been 51 humanitarian assistance missions, involving just 359 troops.

Although the JOTC report on June 1 does acknowledge that "the general security environment continues to be characterized by persistent criminal activity," there is no indication that crime has increased since the earthquake. Furthermore, just days earlier, JOTC described the situation as "marked by a low, but constant, level of criminal activity."

Given the urgency and scale of the humanitarian disaster, perhaps it is time to change the mandate of MINUSTAH. As Brazilian (Brazil is one of the largest contributors of forces to MINUSTAH) defense minister Nelson Jobim has suggested:
"It's time to begin thinking about changing the nature of MINUSTAH's mission," Brazilian Defence Minister Nelson Jobim told the Brazilian newspaper O Estado after the January earthquake struck Haiti.

"MINUSTAH's mandate is to maintain the peace, that is, security, but the U.N. needs to realise that its mission is no longer solely to strengthen security but also to build the infrastructure," he said.
With the chance of another disaster looming, it is imperative that all actors work immediately to prevent this potential catastrophe.

Tags: minustah | security