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U.N. Approves Kenya Mission to Haiti

The United Nations Security Council on Monday authorized a yearlong multinational security mission for Haiti, led by Kenya, aimed at cracking down on rampant gang violence that has unraveled life for many on the Caribbean nation.

The 15-member United Nations Security Council voted to authorize a security mission that would guard critical infrastructure such as airports, ports, schools, hospitals and key traffic intersections and carry out “targeted operations” along with the Haitian National Police. Kenya has pledged at least 1,000 security personnel and several other nations are expected to offer other resources.

The Council voted 13 in favor of the resolution, with two abstentions.

The resolution’s passing marked an increasingly rare moment when the Council was able to act. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, divisions among its five permanent members, each with veto power, have impeded the Council from passing resolutions and taking actions.

Russia and China abstained, which suggested that neither country endorsed the resolution but were not going to block its passing. Diplomats said negotiations had been tense with the two countries for several weeks, with the text being rewritten multiple times, but that ultimately a consensus was reached.

The idea for the Security Council to deploy a multinational force to Haiti was proposed by António Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations, in the aftermath of breakdown of law and order in the country and gangs taking over ports and fuel depots, said U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric on Monday.

“We’re also asking member states to send in their own citizens into a very difficult and challenging environment with real life-and-death risk. So we understand this could take a long time. There are political and logistical implications,” Mr. Dujarric said.

He added that countries that dispatch police or other security forces to Haiti will be held accountable for the actions of their troops and must ensure that they live up to highest standards of human rights and conduct.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed in Haiti from October last year until June, as gangs took over large patches of the country, particularly Port-au-Prince, the capital, according to the United Nations. Many neighborhoods have cleared out as people fled widespread murders, kidnappings and extortion.

Gangs aligned with political parties have strengthened their grip on the country since the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. No municipal, legislative or parliamentary elections have been held in years, creating a power vacuum.

Gang members during a protest in Port-au-Prince in 2021 following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.Credit…Victor Moriyama for The New York Times

The Biden administration has pledged $100 million plus another $100 million from the Department of Defense in the form of intelligence, airlifts, communications, and medical assistance.

About a dozen countries said they would join the mission, including Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda.

Haiti’s prime minister, Ariel Henry, had urged the international community to take action a year ago.

But human rights advocates who consider Mr. Henry’s appointment illegitimate criticized the move to authorize an outside force as yet another measure by the international community to prop up a corrupt and unelected government.

“Historically, interventions haven’t made things better, and historically made things worse,” said Alexandra Filippova, a senior staff attorney at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, a legal advocacy group. “This will prop up a corrupt, illegitimate repressive government, which is responsible for creating and perpetuating the crisis.”

Two leading Haitian American groups wrote to the Biden administration opposing the Kenya plan, saying it will serve to “exacerbate its current political crisis to a catastrophic one.”

Past U.N. missions to Haiti ended in more misery for Haiti: a yearslong peace keeping force brought cholera to the country more than a decade ago, killing thousands of people. Human rights groups said many U.N. soldiers fathered babies and abandoned them.

And Kenya has been criticized for human rights abuses and corruption in other countries where it has deployed forces.

U.S. officials said the current proposal, which was co-sponsored by the United States and Ecuador, calls for strong human rights protections.

Haiti’s prime minister, Ariel Henry, speaking last month at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.Credit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times

The resolution gives the deployment of the force of an international legal mandate and facilitates third-party countries, namely Kenya, putting boots on the ground. It also offers logistical and training support to the third-party countries.

The resolution establishes an oversight mechanism to prevent human rights violations or abuses, especially sexual exploitation.

A senior U.S. official said Monday’s vote represented a significant milestone in the Council’s effort to stabilize Haiti since it fell into violence two years ago following Mr. Moïse’s assassination and an enormous earthquake in 2010.

“The mood among Council diplomats has been increasingly pessimistic. This vote on Haiti will give a fillip to a lot of gloomy diplomats. It does suggest that the permanent members can still firewall some areas of agreement despite their differences,” said Richard Gowan the U.N. director for the International Crisis Group, an organization that works to prevent conflicts.

U.N. diplomats said that the negotiations to pass the resolution started in late August after Kenya came forward to lead the mission. It took weeks of intense talks to get China and Russia on board after they formed a unified front opposing two major parts of the resolution.

A key factor in getting Russia and China on board was Kenya’s leadership of the police force and an overall view at the Council to be more responsible to African voices and demands, diplomats said. Russia and China both have strong economic, military and political ties to Africa. The support for the resolution from Caribbean countries support added more momentum.

Russia and China wanted a six-month mandate instead of a year, which American, European and other members of the Council rejected, saying it would set up the enterprise for failure because it would not give the Kenyan forces enough time to turn things around, diplomats said.

The second point of contention was the resolution being mandated under a section of the U.N. charter that allows the Council to intervene when security is threatened. Russia and China wanted the resolution to be under a different section that calls for nations to settle disputes by peaceful means.

In the end, the text was adjusted multiple times and a concession was reached, diplomats said.

The passing of the resolution at the Council is noteworthy given the deepening divisions among the permanent five members — the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia — since Ukraine war started.

The Council has been unable to act to stop the aggression in Ukraine because of Russia’s veto. In the past few months, tensions seeped into other issues, with Russia blocking action on Syria cross border aid delivery, sanctions against individuals in Mali and denouncing North Korea’s missile launches.

The Security Council is mandated with authorizing U.N. peacekeeping missions, and it is unusual for it to authorize multinational or third country forces to enter a conflict. As a technical matter, Kenya did not require the United Nations vote but had said it would not proceed without international backing.

A convoy of cars carrying members of a Kenyan delegation leaving the premises of the Haitian National Police in Port-au-Prince in August.Credit…Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters

In 2007, the Council authorized forces from the African Union to enter Somalia to help it combat extremist terrorist groups.

A U.N. diplomat said the timeline of Kenya dispatching forces to Haiti was still unclear, but it would at least be several months away. The diplomat said Kenya wanted the clarity of a Council resolution before it began implementing the logistics of a timeline.

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