Kenya's Haiti deployment faces new court challenge

A Kenyan Police officer stands guard at Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital in Nairobi on October 31, 2023. [AFP]

A small Kenyan opposition party has filed a new lawsuit seeking to prevent the government from sending police to violence-plagued Haiti as part of a UN-backed mission.

The Thirdway Alliance Kenya and its leaders Ekuru Aukot and Miruru Waweru complained on Thursday, arguing that the government had "blatantly disregarded" a January court order prohibiting the deployment as unconstitutional and illegal.

The lawsuit said that its petitioners were "reliably informed" that the Kenyan deployment may take place no later than May 23, "hence the urgency of this application".

Haiti has suffered from poverty, political instability, and natural disasters for decades, and the UN-backed multinational force -- to be led by Kenya -- has been tasked with helping its beleaguered police rein in criminal gangs.

The expected deployment of a first batch of Kenyan police to the Caribbean nation would coincide with a visit by President William Ruto to Washington where he will meet US President Joe Biden on May 23.

A Haitian source had told AFP in early May that a first contingent of 200 Kenyan police were expected by that date.

The Kenyan government has not publicly commented on the date, but an interior ministry source told AFP they could arrive by next Tuesday.

Kenya pledged last July to deploy up to 1,000 personnel to Haiti, an offer welcomed by the United States and other nations that had ruled out putting their own forces on the ground.

But the mission has faced legal challenges.

 'Acting in bad faith'

In January, Kenya's High Court ruled that the National Security Council -- which authorised the deployment -- only had the authority to send the military abroad and not police officers.

The judge, ruling on another lawsuit filed by Aukot, said Kenya could deploy police to a country only if a reciprocal agreement existed.

Such a deal was signed on March 1 in the presence of Ruto and Haiti's then-prime minister Ariel Henry who was visiting the East African nation.

But the Thirdway lawsuit has accused the respondents -- including Ruto as well as other top Kenyan officials -- of "acting in bad faith" by ignoring the High Court orders.

The complaint, which wants the government found in contempt of court, argued that Haiti was not a "reciprocating country" and that it had not made any formal request for a police deployment.

"There is no Government in place in Haiti capable of giving such request or signing any bilateral agreement with Kenya for the deployment of police officers to Haiti, and there is no Parliament in place in Haiti to ratify such agreement," it said.

Kenya had announced in March that it was putting its deployment on hold until a transitional council was installed in Haiti after Henry quit as the crisis grew even more violent.

The council was sworn in late last month and is due to lead the country until fresh polls, with an elected government to take over by February 6 next year.

Aside from Kenya, other countries who have voiced willingness to join the mission agreed under a UN resolution in October last year include Benin, The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, and Chad.

The situation in Haiti, a country of 11.6 million people, began deteriorating in late February as well-armed gangs that control most of Port-au-Prince and much of the country went on a rampage they said was aimed at toppling Henry.

The United Nations says some 360,000 Haitians are internally displaced, with the gang violence forcing 95,000 people to flee the capital and pushing five million into "acute hunger."