Building a Safer Haiti
Post-quake Haiti is a dangerous place, as a new report from the International Crisis Group makes clear. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people still live in poorly policed camps where they fall prey to rapes, robberies and other violent crimes. Prison escapees have regrouped in urban slums; drug traffickers and armed gangs are back in business.
Times Topic: Haiti
Before the January 2010 earthquake, Haiti’s National Police force was weak, frequently abusive and plagued by widespread corruption. The quake destroyed police stations and prisons and stalled efforts to clean up and professionalize the force.
Much of the security gap has been filled by the United Nations force, Minustah, whose latest one-year mandate expires next month. The Security Council should renew Minustah’s mandate, and the U.N. and the Haitian government should continue working together to build a competent, nonpolitical police force that can take over when Minustah leaves.
Many Haitians are eager to see the 12,000 U.N. troops gone immediately. Minustah became the target of public anger after poor hygiene at one of its camps was blamed for setting off a cholera epidemic. Five of its troops from Uruguay were recently sent home and jailed after being accused of sexually assaulting a teenage boy. But for all Minustah’s problems, it cannot leave now. The Haitian police force is not ready to replace it. Post-quake plans to hire and train thousands of new officers are behind schedule, and the new president, Michel Martelly, appears more interested in building up an army — something Haiti does not need.
If he wants to see more Haitians in uniform, he should be working to build up civil law enforcement, including crime-investigation teams, community-policing units, customs officers, border guards and coastal patrols.
He must also resist the temptation to pack the upper ranks of the police with cronies — a longtime Haitian practice. He should allow the police commander, Mario Andrésol, to stay at least until the end of his term in 2012 to complete a reform plan that includes vetting officers to remove those linked to corruption and human-rights abuses.
The Crisis Group estimates that Haiti needs 20,000 police officers for its population of 10 million. It now has about 10,000, about half of whom are new to the job. A goal of 14,000 by 2012 will probably not be met, but international donors and the U.N. should see to it that progress continues. The priorities should include hiring more women and expanding policing outside the capital. A police force that can protect the Haitian people — within a functioning judicial system — is essential for a new Haiti.
Reprinted from The New York Times, The Opinion Pages, of Tuesday, September 20, 2011.