We imagine United Nations peacekeeping missions in far-off countries, perhaps distant from our own interests. But as I witnessed on my recent visit to Haiti, the issues are very real -- and why we are working to provide support to the rule of law in a country often challenge by political insecurity with the efforts of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
I met with UN and Haitian officials to underscore the vital importance of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, just weeks before the Security Council's review of the mission mandate. I also spoke directly to Americans (pictured here) who serve in the police and military components of MINUSTAH, and with the New York Police Department's bilateral assistance program, to convey our deep appreciation for their service. They are part of a network of Americans who we hope to link across missions, who have served in such operations.
Haiti is just six hundred miles from our shores, part of the Caribbean "third border" with the United States. It is the poorest nation in our hemisphere and one that has suffered natural and man-made setbacks throughout its history.
The 2004 mandate of MINUSTAH was to help the Haitian government reestablish conditions of security and stability. By 2009, it had made real progress in its goals and was planning to scale back its operations. But in January 2010, an earthquake leveled Port au-Prince, killed thousands and made millions of Haitians homeless and jobless. MINUSTAH suffered too -- losing its own top leaders and dozens of staff. Nevertheless, the UN mission responded, working to help Haiti recover. We are tremendously grateful for all they did -- even as they were reeling from the deaths of their own personnel.
Today, we can see MINUSTAH shifting again. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has recommended a drawdown of over 1,600 troops. We agree, and believe that the role of the peacekeepers should continue to move from providing direct operational security to coaching and mentoring Haitian security forces, especially the Haitian National Police. On my trip, I learned that the critical vetting of the police forces, which was suspended after the earthquake destroyed offices and records, will resume this month. This is a key function to build an institution worthy of public trust.
I also met with senior UN leaders, including those in the Conduct and Discipline Unit, to discuss allegations of misconduct by peacekeepers and to urge reforms. They agreed and we will follow up on what the UN, in Haiti and elsewhere, is doing to prevent misconduct in any mission.
There remain incredible needs for those displaced by the earthquake and basic security is an absolute precondition for successful economic development. MINUSTAH must continue to help Haitian authorities and institutions take on their challenges now and in the future.