U.N. peacekeeping mission to Haiti ends after 15 years with mixed legacy

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - The United Nations ended its 15-year-long peacekeeping and justice mission to stabilize Haiti on Tuesday with a mixed legacy highlighted by the fact the country is entering its fifth week of violent anti-government protests.

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In 2004, the United Nations sent thousands of soldiers and police officers to restore order after a rebellion toppled then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Haiti was wracked by political and gang violence.

Two years ago, with the country more secure, it withdrew military personnel and said it would focus more on the justice system and law and order, with U.N. police officers training Haiti’s national police.

But critics question the extent to which the United Nations, which will retain a smaller political mission in Port-au-Prince, achieved its objectives of helping Haiti improve political stability and strengthen its rule of law institutions.

Schools and businesses have been shuttered in recent weeks due to protests calling for the resignation of President Jovenel Moise. Demonstrators are angry over allegations of corruption by public officials and dire economic conditions in Haiti, which remains the poorest country in the Americas.

In one recent protest, thousands marched to the U.N. headquarters in the capital Port-au-Prince to demand it stop supporting Moise and complain about its alleged disrespect of Haitian sovereignty.

A U.N. statement released on Tuesday cited Jean-Pierre Lacroix, U.N. under-secretary-general for peace operations, saying the U.N. mission had fostered a better environment for democratic processes to take root but more political solutions were needed.

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Other controversies have also dogged the United Nations in Haiti, including the introduction of cholera to the island and sexual abuse claims.

An epidemic of the waterborne disease broke out after peacekeepers accidentally dumped infected sewage into a river during recovery efforts after an earthquake in 2010 killed more than 300,000 people.

The United Nations has not accepted legal responsibility for the outbreak, which killed more than 10,000, although in late 2016 outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon apologized to Haiti for the organization’s role and announced a $400 million fund to help affected Haitians.

But to date-the U.N. Haiti Cholera Response Multi-Partner Trust Fund has only raised about $10.5 million and a quarter of that has been spent, online U.N. figures show.

Meanwhile U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti have on several occasions been accused of rape. In 2011, then Uruguayan President Jose Mujica apologized for the alleged rape of an 18-year-old Haitian man by Uruguayan U.N. peacekeeping troops.

A year later, two Pakistanis were found guilty by a Pakistani military court of raping a 14-year old Haitian boy.

The United Nations and aid organizations have also faced criticism for slow reconstruction efforts due to a lack of coordination and bypassing the government and businesses.

Reporting by Andres Martinez Casares; Writing by Sarah Marsh in Havana; Editing by David Gregorio