HLS Report Criticizes UN Efforts in Haiti

One year after the forced departure of president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haiti may be in danger of becoming a “failed state,” according to a report released on Monday by the Clinical Advocacy Project, a division of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School (HLS).

The report, “Keeping the Peace in Haiti?”, criticizes the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), a Brazilian-led peace-keeping operation established by a UN mandate in April of last year.

Authored by two second-year HLS students, Benjamin S. Litman and Pooja A. Bhatia `98-`99, the report rebukes MINUSTAH for adopting a “timid interpretation of its mandate,” and offers recommendations to ameliorate the situation.

“The report certainly is a harsh criticism of MINUSTAH, because MINUSTAH deserves that criticism, but it is meant to be a constructive criticism,” Lipman said. “We think they have the capacity, they just have to realize it, that’s all.”

The authors criticize MINUSTAH for failing to accomplish the three components of its mandate— “providing a secure and stable environment, particularly through disarmament; supporting the political process and good governance in preparation for upcoming elections; and monitoring and reporting on human rights”— and claim that Haiti is “as insecure as ever.”

It includes a list of alleged failings and abuses on the part of MINUSTAH, including the claim that the group did not investigate alleged killings of hospitalized patients by members of the Haitian National Police.

Though Bhatia acknowledged the difficulty of MINUSTAH’s task, she said she hopes that more will be done.

“To be sure, it is a huge task,” she said. “Haiti is a really complicated place, and it hasn’t functioned properly in a long time.”

To initiate efforts for improving MINUSTAH’s performance in Haiti, HLS Human Rights Program Clinical Director James L. Cavallaro `84, who served as the editor of the report, released its findings in Brazil earlier this week. He said yesterday that the report met with some controversy in an already-tense Brazil.

“It has really stirred things up, it’s promoted debate on the role of the UN in Haiti, and that’s a good thing,” he said. “We want to engage all the authorities so that they cannot pass the buck as they have tried to do with [the] hospitals.”

Cavallaro met with the Brazilian National Director for Human Rights on Wednesday, Nilmario Miranda, to present the conclusions of the report. Cavallaro said that Miranda received the report well and promised to look into the alleged hospital abuses. He added that Miranda also planned to organize a commission to research, document and report on the human rights situation in Haiti.

“The bottom line is that the UN mandate demands a lot of the Brazilian troops, and they haven’t stepped up yet, Cavallaro said.

Despite these difficulties, Litman was hopeful, citing progress made as soon as a day after the release of the report.

“It definitely seems to be having an effect,” he said.