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May 20, 2010 | Commentary

The UN Secretary-General has released a report evaluating the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in the aftermath of the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which is expected to prompt the Security Council to take action to revise MINUSTAH’s mandate to reflect the post-disaster environment. Although MINUSTAH had entered a period of consolidation prior to the disaster, the new situation will call for a surge effort over the coming 18-24 months in order to ensure continued progress in stabilization and allow an even transition to long-term reconstruction efforts. The report emphasizes the need for a simultaneous, integrated political and security strategy to achieve protection and recovery objectives in this high-risk period. The United Nations Haiti Integrated Strategic Planning Group declared on April 7 that the earthquake had not destroyed the gains of the past few years, but had damaged them and presented new obstacles.

Despite its weakened capacity following the disaster, and the tragic deaths of many mission staff – including mission chief Hedi Annabi as well as his deputy –MINUSTAH acted with exceptional fortitude in disaster relief, responding within its mandate to post-earthquake needs and priorities of recovery, reconstruction and stability efforts as outlined in Security Council resolution 1908 of January 19. In the months following the earthquake, MINUSTAH made significant contributions providing logistical and administrative support to relief efforts. MINUSTAH supplied security assistance for humanitarian operations, operational support to the Haitian National Police (HNP), provided technical advice and support to state institutions at the sub-national level, assisted in repairing the damage to critical infrastructure of the judiciary, and coordinated a large-scale public information campaign.

The earthquake struck at an inconvenient juncture in Haiti’s political calendar, as both legislative and presidential elections are to take place this year. Legislative elections have already been postponed; no timetable has been established for presidential polls; and Parliament has not only come to term as of May 10, but also placed emergency authority in Haitian President René Préval, who now governs without a legislature. Scheduled to leave office in February 2011, Préval has affirmed “elections are an essential condition for Haiti’s post-quake recovery as well as long-term development.” The UN has underscored that a coherent political timetable and smooth handover of power are a critical step in renewing the state following the earthquake.

The Security Council will need to decide which of the Secretary-General’s recommendations to implement, and whether these recommendations are adequately covered under the existing mandate. A shift toward humanitarian relief and away from the security-focused peace enforcement orders of MINUSTAH appears to trouble the P5, but to leave MINUSTAH’s mandate incomplete or incompatible with the situation at hand is to invite disaster.

Though gains have been made by MINUSTAH since 2004 in the areas of stability and governance, the mission has been criticized in the past for lacking a complete or coherent SSR strategy, capacity to institute SSR reform, or a mandate that reflected the devastated socio-economic conditions on the ground. Certainly, the context in which MINUSTAH must operate has now shifted, and – as has been widely understood since the earthquake – some revision of the mission’s mandate must take place to address the pressing humanitarian needs of the Haitian people in the post-disaster environment. The massive influx of foreign aid, new revitalized international support, additional UN personnel, and creation of the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission presents an opportunity for a renewed SSR effort in Haiti with MINUSTAH in a central role.