The United Nations mission in Haiti has decided to postpone a tentative agreement that would have placed the Haitian National Police under direct UN control. The move, announced on March 10, came in the wake of widespread criticism that the agreement, if implemented, would undermine Haiti’s sovereignty.

On Feb. 22, Gerard Latortue, the U.S.-installed Haitian prime minister, and Juan Gabriel Valdes, head of the UN stabilization forces in Haiti (Minustah), signed the accord in New York City. The agreement would have obligated the Haitian National Police (HNP) to consult with Minustah before undertaking police operations, and would have given the UN agency veto power over police promotions.

The new pact would have also given Minustah access to the files of any government or court official or entity relating to the HNP, including the private papers of the president, for example, as well as unrestricted access to police offices and prisons. It further stipulated that future governments would be obligated to honor the accord.

As popular pressure against the accord mounted, President Boniface Alexandre, Foreign Minister Herard Abraham and Justice Minister Henri Dorleans condemned it, claiming Latortue never informed them he was going to sign it. The Haitian News Agency reported that Alexandre asked Abraham on March 6 to write to the UN, asking that the accord’s implementation be halted until its unconstitutional provisions were removed. The UN action on March 10 was apparently a response to that request.

According to Brian Concannon Jr. of the Oregon-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, the deal, if it were to go through, would decrease the powers of President-elect Rene Preval and give the international community much more leverage over him.

“The deal was signed a week after the announcement of Preval’s victory, and five weeks before his [then] scheduled inauguration,” Concannon said. “If the agreement was appropriate to negotiate at all, it would have been appropriate to negotiate it with the president who would have to abide by it, and who also had the electoral and constitutional legitimacy to bind his country.”

“There was no reason why the deal could not have been negotiated with elected president, other than a fear that the voters’ choice would not agree to it,” he said. “The UN should be above such underhanded stunts.”

Concannon continued: “Time and again Minustah stood by while the police massacred prisoners, invaded neighborhoods and made illegal arrests, insisting that their mandate prevented them from interfering in the police force’s internal affairs.” He said the UN mission did not issue a single investigative report in almost two years of Latortue’s reign, yet now it sought extraordinary powers, including the right to read Preval’s personal diary if it touches on police matters.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have accused the HNP of carrying out widespread illegal arrests and extrajudicial killings.

In response to critics, Latortue said that when he signed the document, which he admitted is unconstitutional and “places the HNP further under the tutelage of Minustah,” he did not understand all of its provisions. He later said the UN corrected any would-be problems in the agreement, and that Haiti should “move forward.”

Minustah’s Valdes defended the accord, saying it was not intended to put Haiti under international tutelage, but merely to ensure that anything the government does is in harmony with the HNP’s development.

Anthony Fenton, a Canada-based journalist who closely follows developments in Haiti, said the proposed agreement “appears to be the first official acknowledgment that Haiti is under a foreign tutelage similar to the ‘Kosovo model.’” He noted that such ideas have been floated before, notably at a high-level meeting in January 2003 in Ottawa, Canada. “Of course, the reality is that Haiti has been under a de facto trusteeship since Feb. 29, 2004,” he said, referring to the date of Aristide’s ouster by U.S. Marines.