Community Experience of Conflict in Haiti: Assessing the Emotional Legacy of Civilian Deaths as a result of Intense Use of Force by UN Peacekeepers

Lead Research Organisation: University of Ulster


Wills (Transitional Justice Institute, UU) and McLaughlin (School of Creative Arts, QUB) will collaborate on this inter-disciplinary project, which which will combine socio-legal research and participatory practice, in order analyse how the law governing UN peacekeepers' use of force is understood and applied in practice, through a case study of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH); and to explore the impact on local communities of the use of deadly force by peacekeepers. McLaughlin is a documentary filmmaker and professor of film studies. Wills is a professor of law. This project will focus on the use of intense force by MINUSTAH; but the approach could later be applied to other missions operating in situations in which international humanitarian law (IHL, also referred to as ius in bello or law of armed conflict) is inapplicable. Analysis of the effectiveness of the resort to use of deadly force is generally presented from the point of view of the authorities responsible for maintaining law and order, or from the viewpoint of local and international elites; but unless the viewpoints of the people living in the communities where force is used, are also presented, the analysis will be distorted and hence unreliable as a predictor of stability. The project will use participatory documentary film practices (which ensure that participants are co-owners of the project and have control over the use of material in which they appear) as a means by which people that are normally marginalised from international decision-making processes that affect them, may have their voices heard and taken into account in the drafting of UN mission rules of engagement and policy guidelines. The film will enable policy makers to consider the physical, emotional and psychological (and hence political) effects of the use of deadly force on the people living in the communities in which the UN carries out its operations. Social-legal research on the limitations of a 'top-down approach' to controlling political violence suggests that policy makers often fail to take into account the effects of repressive force in creating support for 'bottom up' political movements that challenge the legitimacy of the authorities in charge. Two of the major tipping points that trigger violent mobilisation are killings of protestors and prisoner deaths. Under mission specific 'Chapter VII' rules of engagement MINUSTAH is authorised to use 'deadly force,' if lesser means are ineffective, to 'prevent or put a stop to acts of civil unrest,' defined as the 'commission, perpetration or instigation of acts of violence which affect public peace and order.' Under both international human rights law and IHL the right to use deadly force against civilians is very limited, except where there is a threat to life that cannot be prevented in another way. Between 2004-2007 scores of people were killed by the UN (initially denied but later admitted) during heavily armed raids into Cité Soleil. MINUSTAH is credited with reducing gang violence and most commentators from within the UN view the raids has having been effective in improving security: but 11 years after it was first deployed the mission remains deeply unpopular. One reason for this (among several) is the number of people not involved in criminal activity, including children, that were killed in UN raids; and MINUSTAH's response to their deaths. Since the residents of troubled communities rarely write journal articles or produce their own reports (50% of Haiti's population over the age of 15 is illiterate) their voices are usually mediated through those of their political leaders; who may also represent other interests. Participatory film-making practices allow those most directly affected by violence to tell their own stories and thus opens up direct channels of communication between the affected communities and the policy makers (many of them from outside Haiti) responsible for making decisions on the use of force

Planned Impact

Who might benefit from this research?
1)The participants in the film; other residents of Cité Soleil; local Haitian community groups and institutions;
2)The UN; including the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (UNDPKO); UN peacekeepers; the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, especially the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council; and delegates of 'penholder' states responsible for drafting UN mission mandates;
3)Legal advisors to UN missions; national defence forces of troop contributing states;
4)Marginalised communities in countries where UN forces are deployed under a Chapter VII mandate.

How might they benefit from this research?
1)The participants: The participatory practice used in this research will underpin a commitment to ensure that those participating in the making of the documentary film will benefit from the processes involved, both in terms of subject agency and policy change proposals. For example, during post-production, we will collaborate with the film's participants in the editing of the film, by utilizing online media, such as Vimeo, in order to allow responses and suggestions at each draft edit stage, thus enabling participants to remain co-authors of their own stories, so returning agency and better managing the risks of re-stimulation of traumatic experiences: telling their stories may even offer some healing although this cannot be guaranteed. Other residents of Cité Soleil and local Haitian community groups will also benefit through publicising of the problems caused by the use of intense force in their community and by screening of the film to UN and influential decision-makers so as bring the experiences of Cité Soleil residents to their attention, in a direct way through the voices of affected people, and so enable their views to be taken into account in the international decision-making processes that affect their community.
2)The UN: We will meet with MINUSTAH's British personnel during our 2015 visit and will maintain contact through skype in the months prior to filming. It is difficult for UN peacekeepers to discuss their operations in public media but we will invite MINUSTAH's participation at whatever level is feasible for the mission. Dissemination of the documentary film to relevant constituencies, with follow-on discussions and workshops, is aimed at facilitating dialogue between policy makers, peacekeepers, and those most affected by the use of force, in order to encourage debate on the possibility of policy changes and their impact on the ground. Subject to approving the film and whether the logistics can be managed Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudical, Summary or Abitrary Executions would be 'very happy' to attend one of the launches and David Malone, United Nations University, may also attend a launch. We will also utilise links with UNDPKO to arrange a screening and seminars for people working within UNDPKO and for people working in other relevant areas, for example those tasked with drafting mandates for peacekeepers. We will also target embassies, and USAID in Port au Prince, since they too may have a role (in practice) in shaping UN policy.
3) Legal advisors to UN missions; national defence forces of troop contributing states: greater clarity on the applicable law and awareness of the social and political effects of the use of intense force in residential communities is likely to be of benefit to mission legal advisors and commanders and the defence departments of troop contributing states. We will arrange screenings and debate at military training centres and university institutes that specialise in military and security law, utilising contacts that we have established in our previous research projects.
4)Marginalised communities: whilst this case study is focused on MINUSTAH the findings from the research may be of benefit to other violence-affected communities through changes in UN policy that result from the project.
Description The United Nations' Rules of Engagement for Peacekeeping Missions engaged in law enforcement operations do not comply with international human rights standards. United Nations' peacekeepers fired from helicopters in densely populated neighbourhoods in Haiti where people live in house with thin walls and roofs (mostly made of resalvaged metal) killing scores of civilians, including children, inside their homes. The UN has not visited the neighbourhoods and has not talked to to survivors. It has not carried out any independent investigations.
Exploitation Route Our campaign for an investigation and demands for UN accountability may be of use to others seeking human rights investigation and accountability from the UN or other international organisations
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice,Other

Description The President of the Methodist Church of Ireland has written to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Under Secretary-General Lacroix asking them to carry out an investigation. Lacroix replied declining and the President of the Methodist Church has written back reiterating his request for an investigation. Wills and McLaughlin also wrote to Lacroix who responded in July 2018, promising to investigate. Wills visited the Human Rights Protection Officer of the UN Mission in Haiti, MINUJUSTH, (which replaced MINUSTAH in 2017) and asked him to meet with survivors, which he did, in the uN base. We have asked him to visit the neighbourhood where the injuries occurred os that he can see the damage for himself - but he has not yet done so. In 2019, MINUSTAH's former force commander, was appointed Minister for Institutional Security in Brazil, and he has frequently stated that he aims to implement similar policies in Rio's favelas as he implemented in Haiti. In 2019 and 2020, police and army killed on average 6 people a day in the State of Rio de Janeiro. The approach has drawn widespread criticism and reengaged interest in and criticism of MINUSTAH's operations and in our film It Stays With You, which has won six best documentary awards since November 2020.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Other
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Screenings of documentary film at FOKAL Cultural Centre Port au Prince; State University of Haiti; United Nations University, Tokyo; Human Rights Council session side event; NYU; Oxford University; London University; Royal Irish Academy; Belfast Film Festival; Foyle Film Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Screenings of documentary film at FOKAL Cultural Centre Port au Prince; State University of Haiti; United Nations University, Tokyo; NYU; Oxford University; Geneva Academy of Human Rights; London University; Royal Irish Academy; Belfast Film Festival; Foyle Film Festival. Screenings were followed by panel discussions with various experts including UN Senior Policy Advisor Adam Day, and Profs Philip Alston, Christof Heyns, Noam Lubell, Louise Mallinder.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018