MSS Mission: Rewriting the Rules of International Intervention?

The Haitian crisis which started in 2018 and persisted to this day alongside a gang war that took off in 2020 has not only changed the lives of its millions of citizens but also the course of international law forever.

The Haitian crisis which started in 2018 and persisted to this day alongside a gang war that took off in 2020 has not only changed the lives of its millions of citizens but also the course of international law forever. With the establishment of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) back in 2019 through Security Council Resolution 2476, the international community’s response to the country’s predicament has been unique compared to other missions due to their emphasis on settlement through the use of UNSC’s softer Chapter VI powers.

The Council’s passing of Resolution 2699 in early October marked the start of a new chapter for the UN’s involvement in helping the nation’s struggle to get back on its feet. Proclaimed as a big feat of international and especially regional cooperation, the Multinational Security Support (MSS) Mission is unlike any other mission similarly authorized under Chapter VII. For a couple of reasons, at least, the Mission has the potential to rewrite the rules of international intervention as we know it.

Voluntary Derogation of Sovereignty on Domestic Matters

The UN’s increasing involvement from BINUH to the MSS Mission was triggered by a request by Prime Minister Ariel Henry who deemed it necessary for an external force to free the capital of Port-au-Prince from the gripping hands of the armed gangs. The world’s first Black republic had seen destruction not by a dictatorial leadership nor an identity conflict that breaks out a civil war, but rather an infestation of corrupt practices among its elites that violence has become a normalized means of staying in power.

While Haiti is not the first country to request the UN’s assistance to handle an ongoing crisis, it is the first to do so for a reason other than an armed conflict in the conventional sense. While not always obvious, the Haitian leadership’s real enemy is the people and culture formed in their institutions that perpetuate violence. Haiti is more of a state on the brink of failure than it is a nation at war. Hence, the usual guises for intervention may not just be applied.

Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is the most common basis for intervention. As the 2005 World Summit’s Resolution A/RES/60/1 puts it, however, it is used when the ‘worst forms of violence and persecution’ – genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity – take place. In other words, R2P is usually enforced upon the violation of one or more jus cogens norms. The nature of these acts are that they are customarily done by parties to an armed conflict governed by the rules of international humanitarian law.

The answering of the Haitian government’s appeal posits a new paradigm within the R2P regime. Stemming from Resolution A/RES/60/1’s Article 139 provision, an explanation that can be provided is that the Haitian government ‘has manifestly failed to protect their population’ from domestic threats. This extends R2P beyond mass atrocities, opening a pathway for intervention in states facing severe internal crises without conventional war. As the Kenyan president noted in his address, sovereignty should make way for the upholding of human rights.

Through the UN but not by the UN

Resolution 2699’s provisions pertaining to the MSS Mission’s operationalization, while done under UNSC’s Chapter VII powers, still show reserved and extremely cautious approach of countries in navigating this uncharted legal and political realms. This is demonstrated by the Mission’s operational mechanism whereby, according to the first clause, it is done by the joint effort of states as notified and authorized by the Secretary-General. The MSS Mission is the first to be done not directly through the UN’s peacekeeping operations system but instead the independent, voluntary participation of states led by Kenya.

The unprecedented mold of the Mission raises concerns as to how the pre-existing international legal norms would be applied and/or changed from this moment onwards. For instance, a use of status of forces agreement (SOFA) needs to be made and tailored specifically for the Mission’s purposes and counter its challenges. This SOFA will play a crucial role in defining the legal status and privileges of the personnel involved in the mission, setting a legal precedent for similar future international engagements. Additionally, the crafting of this SOFA may necessitate a deeper dialogue among participating states, the host state, and international legal experts to ensure it adequately addresses the unique operational framework of the MSS Mission.

Within said agreement, given the fact that the policemen that will be deployed are not affiliated with the UN, the extent and forms of their involvement – whether they are less than, equivalent to, or even beyond that afforded to conventional Blue Helmet troops – should be intricately determined. The differentiation in status between UN-affiliated personnel and those in the MSS Mission could lead to nuanced legal and operational dynamics, demanding clear guidelines to ensure effective coordination and accountability. Moreover, the precise delineation of their roles, rights, and responsibilities might also contribute to the mission’s legitimacy and acceptance, both within the international community and primarily among the local populace in Haiti.

Provided the evolving global security landscape where regional cooperation-centered initiatives are becoming the new norm, the legal and operational framework developed for the MSS Mission could serve as a blueprint for future endeavors. This novel approach aligns with the broader trend of regionalization and multilateralism in addressing security and humanitarian challenges. The MSS Mission, therefore, not only addresses the immediate security concerns in Haiti but potentially pioneers a shift in how the international community collaborates to resolve crises.

Questions to be Answered in Time

For better or worse, the MSS Mission will forever change the dynamics of international politics and the construction of the legal regime on intervention from the relatively constant state it has been for a long time. Alas, a few things are still not clear as it stands. Firstly, the effectiveness of this model in restoring peace and security in Haiti remains to be seen, along with the measures of effectiveness that will be used. Its replicability in other regions facing similar non-conventional security challenges though seemingly far in sight, is worth pondering.

The precedents that MSS Mission ought to establish concerning the authorization and operationalization of interventions outside the traditional UN peacekeeping framework in particular are of significant interest for states and scholars alike. Questions on the enforcement of accountability mechanisms to ensure adherence to international law as well as the implications of regional leadership for the success and acceptance of such interventions, like other proponents of the paradigm shift, are yet to be fully understood.

Rafsi Albar
Rafsi Albar
Rafsi Albar studies public international law at Universitas Gadjah Mada, Indonesia. He assists teaching in administrative law, conducts various public interest legal research, and serves as an editor at Juris Gentium Law Review, the country’s foremost student-run publication.