Monday, September 16, 2013

The Challenges Facing the Haitian National Police force

This is a post about the issues that the HNP is facing today, and how to overcome them. It is also available in slightly different format on

In addition, I wrote a more academic article that will elaborate further on this topic:

Hope you like it! :)

Due to the poverty, in addition to other factors, Haiti’s security environment has been unstable for quite some time. In 1994, Aristide disbanded the Haitian Armed Forces that were guilty of many human rights abuses and created the Haitian National Police (HNP), which is now responsible for police, corrections, fire, emergency response, airport security, port security, and coast guard functions. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the HNP; unfortunately, during all this time not a lot of progress has been made in reforming the HNP. Moreover, there is talk of withdrawing the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) due to allegations of sexual exploitation and physical abuse of Haitians by the Sri Lankan, Uruguayan, and Brazilian peacekeepers. The Haitian Senate and the people of Haiti are crying out for justice and for the withdrawal of peacekeeping troops. As the UN does not have the authority to prosecute the peacekeepers, it relies on the home countries of the peacekeepers to prosecute. It can only send home the accused peacekeepers. Considering the UN’s inability to punish, the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recommended to reduce the troops from 6,270 to 5,021 by June 2014.

Thus we need examine what still needs to be done in the HNP reform before the withdrawal of UN troops. The biggest obstacles that stand in the way of the HNP becoming a self-sufficient and responsible force are underfunding, under-resourcing, the internal issues of the HNP and the lack of genuine commitment to the reform on the part of the government.

These issues are all very much interconnected. Due to the government’s lack of political will and dedication to the reform process, the HNP reform is underfunded and the HNP itself is under-resourced. While the government’s annual budget has been increasing in past years, the percentage that is dedicated to the HNP is steadily decreasing – from 5.5% in 2006 to 4.8% in 2011. Since having a secure and stable environment is the main goal of the government, it should ensure the share of the HNP’s budget is growing in proportion with the increase in the government’s annual budget, not decreasing.

Most of the budget dedicated to the HNP is used for the payment of salaries, rather than the actual reform. Since the number of HNP graduates is growing and the HNP’s budget is decreasing, less and less money will be dedicated to the actual reform since the government will need to pay more salaries. Currently, MINUSTAH and bilateral donors such as USA and Canada are dominating the reform of HNP. As a result, many within the government see the reform process as imposed by the external actors, which leads to a lack of local ownership and political commitment. MINUSTAH cannot withdraw when the government is not fully committed to reforming its only security force, since the country’s stability and security would solely depend on the HNP after withdrawal of troops.

In order for the HNP to become a self-sufficient and responsible force, the government needs to shift its main focus from increasing the number of officers to ensuring that it is capable of fully funding and equipping the existing force. Furthermore, the government should focus on finishing the vetting process for the existing police officers (only 4,462 out of 12,678 have been vetted) and ensuring that the end number of officers is not higher than the number it can adequately manage without external help. It is best to have a well-functioning and well-equipped smaller force than larger force that is underequipped, undertrained and underpaid since such a force is more likely to be involved in human rights abuses.

Furthermore, the government needs to address the internal issues of the HNP. The HNP cannot properly function under its current regulatory system, which is composed of outdated and last minute 70 general orders, guidelines and standard operating procedures. A committee should be established to update and harmonize all of them and make sure that they reflect the current realities of the HNP.

Lastly, the hierarchy issues should be addressed. For example, the Inspectorate General, which is responsible for investigating public complaints and human rights violations and assessing the efficiency of the HNP, should be made an independent body. As it stands the Minister of Justice and Public Security, who has the power to dismiss the Inspector General, is also responsible for the functioning of the ministry. Thus the Inspector General has a tricky job of making sure that his recommendations will be acceptable to the Minister, otherwise, it could cost him/her his job. Indeed, the Inspector General has been replaced three times in 2012, which as the United Nations Secretary-General rightly pointes out does “raise questions about the independence and the effectiveness of the oversight body”.

As mentioned, the Government of Haiti has a lot to do before the withdrawal of the peacekeeping force. Since the HNP is clearly unready to take the bulk of the responsibility for security on itself, the government needs to show clear commitment to the reform of HNP and make it number one priority - if it does not want Haiti to fall back into chaos after the withdrawal of the UN troops.

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