Kidnapping, urban gangs and unresolved killings form a trifecta of challenges to citizen safety that the four month-old Martelly administation must confront by speedily completing reforms to professionalise the Haitian National Police (HNP).
Keeping Haiti Safe: Police Reform , the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, warns that post-quake insecurity underscores continued vulnerability to violent crime and political instability in the country. Overcrowded urban slums breed armed groups and remain sources of broader instability. The weakness of government institutions, including the HNP, limits public response to slums plagued by deep poverty and limited economic opportunities.
“A strengthened and professional HNP is crucial to Haiti’s recovery and development”, says Bernice Robertson, Crisis Group’s Senior Analyst in Haiti. “The country’s porous land and sea borders remain susceptible to drug trafficking, smuggling and other illegal activities that weaken the rule of law and deprive the state of vital revenue”.
Police reform has made significant strides but is far from complete after nearly five years. HNP deficiencies and nationalistic opposition to the continued presence of the UN peacekeepers (MINUSTAH) contribute to proposals for reestablishing an army, an idea supported by many in the new administration. Under any circumstances, however, the first priority needs to be to complete the recruitment, training and deployment of the HNP, including community police and more specialized units to patrol the borders, investigate serious crimes and assure citizen safety. Only then, and with wide consultation among the many sectors of society that suffered the abuses of the old army, should the serious questions of financing, mission and mandate be explored that surround the problematic notion of another armed force.
The broader issue of stability and national reconstruction requires identification of common ground with the political opposition, grass roots communities and business elites. This would reinforce a national consensus for transforming Haiti, prioritising jobs-based decentralisation, equal protection under the law and community security.
The Martelly administration must remove tainted officers and expand the HNP’s institutional and operational capacity in and beyond Port-au-Prince. It should update the reform plan quantiatively and qualitatively to build community confidence, training and strengthening of specialised units, while UN police (UNPOL) more actively mentor those efforts.
The international community should send clear messages about priorities, make good on its pledges of financial and technical support to improve security, concentrate resources on further HNP development, and establish a timetable with benchmarks for achieving those goals.
“Public security must be guaranteed for Haiti to attain its goals of economic recovery, social development and effective democratic governance”, says Mark L. Schneider, Crisis Group’s Senior Vice President. “Ridding the force of those who engage in abuses, criminal activity or corruption is a priority and requires strong support from the country’s political leaders”.