Ruto bids ceremonial farewell to Haiti-bound police

Kenya's National Police Service personnel present arms during a guard of honour parade. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • The East African nation offered to send 1,000 police to stabilise Haiti, alongside forces from several other countries, but the deployment has run into persistent legal troubles.

Nairobi. Kenya's President William Ruto bid a ceremonial goodbye on Monday to some 400 police officers set to lead a UN-backed mission to tackle gang violence in Haiti, the presidency said.

The East African nation offered to send 1,000 police to stabilise Haiti, alongside forces from several other countries, but the deployment has run into persistent legal troubles.

However, Ruto has been an enthusiastic backer of the mission, and officials said over the weekend that a contingent would depart on Tuesday.

"This mission is one of the most urgent, important and historic in the history of global solidarity," Ruto told the officers in quotes shared by his office.

"It is a mission to affirm the universal values of the community of nations, a mission to take a stand for humanity."

Ruto prayed for the officers -- dressed in green military fatigues and cream helmets -- and handed them a Kenyan national flag, according to the footage shared by the presidency.

"Your presence in Haiti will bring hope and relief to communities torn apart by violence and ravaged by disorder," he said, adding that the rest of the force will join their colleagues "soon".

An interior ministry official had told AFP earlier in the day that the officers will depart for Haiti on Tuesday.

A senior police official said the group will comprise elite officers from the Rapid Deployment Unit, General Service Unit, Administration Police, and Kenya Police.

"They have all undertaken a rigorous training for this exercise on top of their prior training of handling complex situations and are ready for the mission," he said.

"Please let's not doubt their capacity."

The deployment was approved by a UN Security Council resolution in October, only to be delayed by a Kenyan court decision in January.

The court said Ruto's administration had no authority to send officers abroad without a prior bilateral agreement.

While the government secured that agreement with Haiti in March, a small opposition party, Thirdway Alliance Kenya, filed a fresh lawsuit in another attempt to block it.

The party's leader, Ekuru Aukot, told AFP on Monday that he intended to "seek an injunctive order against the deployment."

"There is an active ongoing court case. So William Ruto is circumventing that because he does not believe in the rule of law," he said, describing the Kenyan leader as "a slave of America."

The deployment comes as Ruto faces youth-led protests against proposed tax hikes, with demonstrators calling for a national strike on Tuesday.

While the rallies last week were mostly peaceful, two demonstrators lost their lives after Thursday's protest in Nairobi.

Rights concerns

Global monitor Human Rights Watch has raised concerns about the Haiti mission and doubts over its funding, while watchdogs have repeatedly accused Kenyan police of using excessive force and carrying out unlawful killings.

Other countries that have expressed willingness to join the mission include Benin, the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, and Chad.

And while the United States is supplying funding and logistical support, Washington has made it clear there will be no US boots on the ground in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas.

Haiti has long been rocked by gang violence but conditions sharply worsened at the end of February when armed groups launched coordinated attacks in the capital Port-au-Prince, saying they wanted to overthrow then prime minister Ariel Henry.

Henry announced in early March that he would step down and hand over executive power to a transitional council, which named Garry Conille as the country's interim prime minister on May 29.

The violence in Port-au-Prince has affected food security and humanitarian aid access, with much of the city in the hands of gangs accused of abuses including murder, rape, looting and kidnappings.