U.N. Attempts Tough Police Reform In Haiti
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
And it's four years now that the U.N. has had a mission in Haiti to try and stabilize the country. One important part, retraining the Haitian National Police. Police in Haiti are notorious for corruption and terrible human rights violations. Reporter Ruxandra Guidi has more from Porto Prince.
RUXANDRA GUIDI: It's been four years since international pressure and an armed rebellion forced Jean-Bertrand Aristide out of power in Haiti, and for almost as long, the U.N. peacekeeping force here known as MINUSTAH has made security and human rights a priority. MINUSTAH acting police commissioner Richard Warren says that, when it comes to monitoring the Haitian police, the mandate has been especially challenging.
Mr. RICHARD WARREN (Acting Police Commissioner, MINUSTAH): The national police was made up largely of officers that had been brought in with little or, in some cases, no training. A lot were brought in from the ex-army, but that group did not have the professionalization that's needed for the type of policing that must be done today. I would view it as being established to serve the state rather than serve the people.
GUIDI: Before MINUSTAH's mandate began in Haiti in 2004, government and private militias, soldiers and police and rural sheriffs freely exercised violence. Previous efforts to reform the Haitian National Police hadn't proved very successful, The force was made up of 4,000 officers stretched to provide inadequate service to a population of 8 million.
(Soundbite of shouts and gunfire)
GUIDI: On this day, a group of about 30 police officers are participating in target practice while MINUSTAH officials keep watch. The lessons, the equipment, and even the uniforms are all being paid for by U.N. donor countries like the U.S., Canada, and France. Inspector General Jean Miguelito Maxime says he's confident this time around because the training is much more holistic. There's a strict focus on human rights and community policing and on police officers working alongside U.N. troops.
Mr. JEAN MIGUELITO MAXIME (Inspector General, Haiti National Police): (Through translator) The difference is that today, we have a plan of action that's much more profound. We needed specialists to come and teach us about kidnappings and abductions. Those are our priorities now, though surely everything in Haiti is challenging, and everything is a priority. But of course, we must focus on security and crime above all.
GUIDI: But not everyone in Haiti approves MINUSTAH's plan for peace, security, and police reform. Patrick Elie is a sociologist and a former Haitian minister of defense. He's critical of MINUSTAH's short-term vision for Haiti, which focuses on security at the expense of rebuilding infrastructure, relieving poverty, and creating jobs.
Mr. PATRICK ELIE (Sociologist, Former Haitian Minister of Defense): You have a population that is like 50 percent under 25 with no future! Those who go to school go to school to become unemployed. So, if you don't deal with that, and all you think about is how many more policemen you're going to have, and are you going to have an army that can go down in the shantytown with tanks - if that's the way you see it, you're going nowhere very fast.
GUIDI: This year's government budget for the Haitian National Police is $120 million. The plan is to continue training and investing in the police force until 2011, when there should be a total of 14,000 newly-trained officers. But what happens to the Haitian National Police after 2011 and when MINUSTAH is set to leave still remains a big question.
Young Haitian men are lining up outside the police headquarters every week to apply for new jobs. In a country where there's almost 80 percent unemployment, the prospect of becoming a police officer with a monthly salary of $375 is definitely appealing. Peterson Duvalle (ph) is a 25-year-old applicant who says he's eager to pass a test and become a policeman.
Mr. PETERSON DUVALLE: (Through translator) I am poor and from the countryside, and when I came to the city, I couldn't pay for anything. The only thing I can find here are low-paying jobs as policemen who patrol the poor neighborhoods.
GUIDI: Still, Duvalle is hopeful to land the job. For NPR News, I'm Ruxandra Guidi, Puerto Prince, Haiti. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.