In the lead-up to the UN Security Council’s March 2019 debate on the situation in Haiti, the Secretary-General tabled a report suggesting that

Haiti has remained on a positive trajectory … In no other sector has headway been so evident as in security and national police development, continuing the trend observed since the full withdrawal of peacekeeping military contingents, which was completed in October 2017 … The steadily decreasing criminal activity reported year by year is a concrete indication of the continuously improving security situation in the country. Despite the considerable progress, challenges remain in the capacity of the national police to deliver on their constitutional mandates.

Meanwhile back in Haiti, large public protests rocked the capital and other cities, with protesters demanding an end to extravagant corruption, calling for socio-economic equity and a radical change in government. The new government of Prime Minister Lapin (the third since the last round of elections in February 2017), struggled to rekindle confidence in the context of a deep fiscal, macroeconomic and legitimacy crisis.

What is the real state of police development in that complicated context? How does it fit in the larger puzzle of justice and security sector reform, governance and development in Haiti?

In an article published in Stability: Journal of Security and Development, I made two evidence-based arguments about uneven movement towards 2GSSR in Haiti. First, the Haiti National Police (HNP) has effectively grown from about 10,000 uniformed police in 2012 to over 15,000 police today. It has strengthened capabilities in key areas like strategic planning, recruitment and training, infrastructure, territorial deployment, criminal investigations, crowd control and internal discipline. Yet there has been much less change in ‘softer’ domains like community policing, prison reform, gender equality and accountability for human rights violations. Why? In brief, the mixed motives of senior police officials and their political allies, the ambiguous priorities of international partners like the UN, the USA, Canada and Brazil and the relative weakness of human rights organisations, converge to consolidate technical reforms that far short of 2GSSR ideals.

Second, HNP development does not take place in a vacuum. It occurs in a context where there is deep elite-level resistance to the judicial reforms needed to diminish inhumane conditions and a 75% rate of preventative and prolonged detention in Haiti’s prisons. The resistance of senior magistrates and their political allies, in the Executive and in Parliament, also blocks the reforms required to decrease massive corruption documented in three official reports on the diversion of funds from PetroCaribe, the (sinking) flagship of Venezuela’s assistance to Haiti over the last decade. The HNP operates in a context where parts of the same elite are collaborating to reinstate the Armed Forces of Haiti – despite Western opposition and the Haitian state’s inability to pay the bill. Those elites also resist calls to pursue a more equitable and sustainable development strategy (including paying their fair share of taxes), instead of continuing to cut back on the meagre social protections put in place in recent decades. The HNP also operates in the context of increasing donor fatigue and of deep scepticism about the results flowing from the considerable development assistance that Haiti has received since 2004.

What could international partners like the United Nations and Canada do to advance deeper reforms in that difficult context? Three main recommendations flow from our study (grounded in years of document and field research).

First, it is essential to continue supporting the HNP’s development, based on its current Strategic Development Plan 2017-2021. Yet instead of focusing mainly on financial and technical collaboration, international partners should also help the HNP engage reformers in civil society – notably in human rights and women’s organizations — who are working for greater transparency, accountability and community-based collaboration. Strengthening those domestic drivers of change are vital as the UN reduces its footprint in Haiti.

Second, it is essential to work with the same range of stakeholders to break the deadlock over judicial and wider reform. The PetroCaribe Challenge movement and Ensemble Contre la Corruption offer an historic opportunity to press elites to tackle corruption that perpetuates inhumane conditions in Haiti’s prisons and rampant cynicism in the streets, as well as deterring the private investment required to generate growth with equity.

Third, international partners should resist the temptation to exit too hastily, as they did in the early 2000s. There are many reasons to be frustrated with Haiti. Yet it is essential to recall that certain international partners are partly responsible for Haiti’s current problems. It is also crucial to remember that we have much to lose if advances are undermined, in domains like HNP reform. Exit is not an option. More politically astute, broadly based and sustainable engagement is the only way to help Haitians consolidate limited gains and eventually reboot deeper reforms, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

Stephen Baranyi is an Associate Professor in the School of International Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa and a Senior Fellow at the CSG.