Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Loving the peacekeepers: A response to protests in Haiti

Reports have been pouring in from the radio, security update emails and phone calls that there are ongoing violent protests targeting MINUSTAH throughout Haiti. The protests have mostly been confined to the cities of Cap-Haitian and Hinche, where four police stations have been burned and protestors have been throwing rocks and bottles and even exchanged gunfire with UN soldiers. Unconfirmed reports say that there will be demonstrations in Port-Au-Prince tomorrow and things are predicted to continue to heat up as November 28th, the date set for Haiti’s legislative and presidential elections, nears.

MINUSTAH is the UN's Chapter VII Peacekeeping Mission in Haiti. It has been in place since 2004, with its most recent mandate issued on October 15th, 2010: to ensure a secure and stable environment; to carry out natural-disaster response; and to support the Haitian government in preparation for the elections on November 28th. Chapter VII of the UN Charter authorizes the use of military force to resolve disputes and so the mission is comprised of 8,940 military troops and 4,391 police agents.

Some of my advocacy work for MCC in Haiti has focused on MINUSTAH, asking the UN Security Council to address the following concerns: numerous human rights abuses that have been perpetrated by soldiers; a lack of legitimacy since the mission’s presence violates the Haitian Constitution; the mission's military component, which MCC would like to see eliminated; and a lack of clarity with regards to the mission’s humanitarian component.

A wall in Port-Au-Prince reads "down with the occupation"

MINUSTAH is perceived as an occupying military force by many of MCC’s Haitian partner organizations. And indeed, insecurity in Haiti is not the result of war, genocide or crimes against humanity as is the case for UN peacekeeping missions elsewhere in the world. In a recent interview, Camille Chalmers, director of MCC partner organization PAPDA (Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development), states that MINUSTAH’s presence in Haiti is illegal and has in fact exacerbated Haiti’s structural crisis.

The protests this week have been sparked by the cholera epidemic that is spreading throughout the country. According to the Ministry of Health, 1,039 people have died and almost 17,000 are now infected. It's widely believed that the cholera, which matches a strain in Southeast Asia, was brought to Haiti by Nepali peacekeeping troops who have been documented dumping sewage in tributaries of the Artibonite river. UN officials are denying that the troops are the source of the cholera and have not launched an official investigation, despite requests from the Haitian government and Haitian civil society. Many Haitians, who have lost loved ones and fear contracting the disease, are furious about this and that anger is being fanned by some political candidates running in opposition to Haiti’s current government.

A few weeks ago I posted this prayer that those "whose lives are intertwined with systems that harm... violate, exploit, exclude, objectify, and dominate" would be inspired with "a longing for justice and the courage to break free from the powers that oppress." I believe that MINUSTAH's presence here helps to maintain a status quo that serves the economic elite and oppresses the majority of the population. I am categorically opposed to militarization and believe that the presence of more than 8,000 military troops in Haiti vilifies Haitians and does little to address the root causes of violence in this society.

But, as a result of my faith I also believe that violence is never an appropriate means to redress issues of injustice. This is difficult because it often seems that the marginalized have no other means of changing a system that is deeply rooted in exclusion. For that very reason, there is a part of me that wants to root for the protesters. Instead I am trying hard to look to my ultimate example of a peacemaker.

In The Powers That Be, Walter Wink reminds us that Jesus does not want the oppressed to give in to the power of oppression, but "rather, find a third way, a way that is neither submission nor assault, flight nor fight, a way that can secure your human dignity and begin to change the power equation. ... Jesus is not advocating nonviolence merely as a technique for outwitting the enemy, but as a just means of opposing the enemy in a way that holds open the possibility of the enemy's becoming just also. Both sides must win. We are summoned to pray for our enemies' transformation, and to respond to ill treatment with a love that is not only godly but also from God."

That is much harder to do than throwing rocks, and so as I wait to see what happens in Haiti this week I pray and I long for the day that "they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore."

Please join me in praying for a non-violent movement towards justice, dignity and peace for all of Haiti.


nerkert said...

I admire you both for thinking deeply and for speaking out for the marginalized.

caleb said...

lots of prayers for you guys, amazed at your persistance in such terrible odds, you guys are doing great work.


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