Another Step Towards a New Haitian Army

The presidential decree dated December 2nd and confirming the creation of a “State Commission of Organization of the Military Component of the Public Force” in Haiti was made public this week. Haiti’s president Michel Martelly was widely expected to make the creation of a new army official on November 18, 2011, but instead he announced the creation of a civilian-led commission. The newly-elected president has made reinstating the army, which was disbanded in 1995, a priority. A draft “Martelly plan” dated August 2011 called for building an army of 3,500 troops that would be operational within three years and progressively take over as the UN peacekeeping force MINUSTAH withdraws.

The commission was appointed for six months and mandated to organize broad national consultations inclusive of “the Affairs, Parliament, civil society, professional associations, political parties, grassroots organizations and churches,” according to Article 1 of the present decree. However, it was only given forty days to do this and to finalize a blueprint for the creation of the new army which has to be submitted to the president by January 1, 2012.

The commission is composed of seven members and presided over by Richard Maurasse, Secretary of State for National Defense, assisted by Réginald Delva, Secretary of State for Public Security, as vice-president. Other members include Jean Bergenac Barrette, Guy Noël, ex-FAd’H Jean-Thomas Cyprien, lawyer and former presidential candidate Gérard Gourges, and historian Georges Michel, who was a member of the Préval-appointed 2007-2008 presidential commission which had already recommended the creation of a second public force.

The International Peace Institute recently published an issue brief “What Army for Haiti,” which provides a background to the security sector in Haiti and explores the shape that a new Haitian army might take. It addresses the political context in which the army will be reinstated, financial considerations for the government of Haiti, and the role that the international community could play to support Haitian efforts to build an accountable security sector. Some of the key conclusions are highlighted below.

Key Conclusions

Some of the key points of the IPI issue brief are:

• Given the history of tension among security and justice institutions in Haiti, it will be vital to ensure a proper division of labor and coordination between the future army and the police. Border control and the coast guard’s maritime patrol could be transferred to the future army, which could also supplement the police in robust anti-gang and anti-trafficking operations.

• The number of officers serving permanently in the new army should be limited, and some sort of conscription (as per the 1987 constitution) should be considered in conjunction with civilian service, as an opportunity for the youth to acquire civic education and skills.

• A transparent recruitment and vetting process as well as adequate civilian oversight and accountability mechanisms will need to be put in place for the new army.

• A public expenditure review looking at the whole security sector and assessing its strategic coherence and financial sustainability may also be needed.

• The UN should support the newly created National Council on Defense and Security (CNDS) and assist the State Commission in finalizing a comprehensive plan for reinstating the army, if the government of Haiti requests UN assistance. In particular, the UN could facilitate an inclusive national dialogue on security-sector reform and Haitian engagement with international partners.

• The implementation of a more comprehensive plan for reinstating the army will require support from bilateral donors. The UN could complement these efforts with training and the provision of nonlethal equipment, strictly conditioned on respect for human rights.


Many in the international community and some in the current Haitian political opposition have opposed the idea of creating an army on the grounds that the country does not face external threats and could not afford a second security force, while maintaining that efforts should continue to focus on the national police and postearthquake reconstruction.

While there are many political, financial, and coordination risks associated with the creation of this second force in the current context, the international community should welcome the fact that the Haitian government has taken the lead in looking at the security sector as a whole and highlighting concrete steps for Haitian security-institutions-in-the-making to progressively take over from an increasingly unpopular MINUSTAH. Most security-sector reform efforts in Haiti to date have indeed been externally driven—even when supported by Haitian politicians—and focused almost exclusively on the police.

Furthermore, the plan presented by Martelly largely builds on previous efforts by a Préval appointed 2007-2008 presidential commission, which had already recommended the creation of a second public force. The idea of reinstating the army also seems to enjoy broad support among the Haitian people (but so did President Aristide’s decision to disband the abusive army back in 1995).

The newly-appointed commission should help to show transparency and build national unity around the plan by facilitating an inclusive national dialogue around the issue and by engaging with international partners. It should also help to avoid the tendency to feed different messages about the future army to different domestic and international constituencies, as seems to have been the case since the beginning of the year. While the draft Martelly plan circulated in August 2011 put the issues on the table and establishes a good basis for discussion with Haitians and with international donors, that discussion has yet to take place. The process by which this national security-sector unifying vision will be achieved is therefore where the focus should be.

This process and the security sector that will result from it will also be integral to rebuilding much-needed legitimacy for the Haitian state, and could be part of a broader national conversation towards achieving some kind of governance compact between the new Haitian government and its people. This would also likely encourage donors to support the plan. On the contrary, if President Martelly cuts this consultative process short and tries to force a plan for reinstating an army loyal to him in a divided and tense political context, there are real risks of the new army becoming a private presidential militia of a few hundred elements, which would set back efforts to build an accountable security sector in Haiti.

About the photo: President Michel Martelly (left) during his inauguration ceremony in May 2011. UN Photo/Victoria Hazou