Haiti’s escalating gang violence now permeate all levels of the society, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said Thursday as he urgently called for the deployment of a multinational force to the volatile Caribbean country to help police quell the violence.
The appeal from High Commissioner Volker Türk comes as gang violence spreads from Port-au-Prince, the capital, to the center of the country and a mid-July truce between two main gang coalitions fell apart. On Thursday, teachers at École Argentine in Port-au-Prince stepped in to prepare the meals for students after the cooks were unable to make it to work due to the violence.
“Every day the lives of Haitian people become even harder, but it is vital that we do not give up. Their situation is not hopeless,” Türk said. “With international support and resolve, the Haitian people can tackle this grave insecurity, and find a way out of this chaos.”
In recent months, Haiti has seen recurrent, indiscriminate, large-scale attacks, often against entire neighborhoods and their residents. This has led to the displacement of 130,000 people, and close to 2,800 reported killings between October of last year and June, including 247 women, 58 boys and 20 girls, according to a new report to the United Nations Security Council. There have also been nearly 1,500 kidnappings for ransom reported during the time period.
On Wednesday there was heavy gunfire in Cité Soleil in the capital, after a gang truce between the G-9 and G-pèp-la coalitions fell apart after gang leaders shot a member of the G-9. The incident comes on the heels of other violent confrontations that have spread to Haiti’s Central Plateau, and as the Security Council members negotiate a draft U.N. resolution that would authorize a multinational security support mission led by Kenya to Haiti to help fight gangs.
The United States and Ecuador have authored the resolution, which would also help the Haiti National Police in tackling organized crime, armed gangs and international arms and human trafficking. The resolution was expected to be voted on this week, but as of Thursday it had not yet appeared on the Security Council’s public calendar.
As members discussed the resolution, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres circulated his report on the progress achieved toward meeting key benchmarks since the Security Council last October established a Haiti sanctions regime to target gangs and their supporters in Haiti. In that resolution, the council imposed sanctions against a powerful gang leader, Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, and put in place a committee to investigate further imposing an asset freeze, travel ban and arms embargo on anyone who threatens the peace, security or stability in Haiti.
The U.N. chief said that while armed gangs control or exercise influence over about 80% of metropolitan Port-au-Prince, the violence is now spreading to other regions, including Gonaives in the Artibonite Valley and Cap-Haïtien. That has led to “alarming upward trends” in the number of killings, kidnappings and rapes. Between October 2022 and June, 252 women and 200 minors, including a boy, were reported to have been victims of sexual violence, including collective rape.
The benchmarks Guterres was asked to focus on were: an adequate judicial system that can prosecute gang members and their criminal activities, a progressive reduction in violence by gangs and criminal networks, a decrease in illicit arms trafficking and the strengthening of local capacity to address community violence and human rights.
“No progress was achieved against any of these benchmarks,” he said. “The multifaceted crisis in Haiti, with gang violence at its center, has further deepened since the establishment of the Haiti sanctions regime.
“The human rights situation is marked by brutal attacks, including indiscriminate killings targeting the civilian population. Conditions for detainees in Haitian prisons are also alarming,” Guterres added.
A separate report issued by the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva highlights the gravity of the human rights situation in Haiti and stresses that the deployment of a multinational security mission, which Kenya has agreed to lead, is essential to assist the Haiti National Police.
The report is based on a visit to Haiti in June by William O’Neill, the U.N.’s designated independent human-rights expert on Haiti. He toured the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince and the Central Prison in Cap-Haïtien. At both prisons, he observed prisoners crammed into small cells, in stifling heat, with limited access to water and toilets.
“They must endure a suffocating smell and, in the capital, mounds of rubbish, including human excrement, add to the squalor. The detainees must take turns sleeping because there is not enough room for them to lie down at the same time,” the report says, calling on Haitian authorities to deal with the the prison overcrowding.
Gang violence has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis and now permeates all facets of life in the society, the report says. Gang firefights and roadblocks in the capital have disrupted the movement of goods and services and led to a 49% inflation rate in January.
“Essential goods and services had become unaffordable to many, with the price of basic food items going up by as much as 87% in the last year, forcing poor households to spend a large proportion of their income on food,” the report said.
O’Neill also highlighted attacks against medical staff and facilities, which have led some institutions, including those run by international groups, to temporarily suspend or scale back their activities. On Tuesday the University Hospital in Mirebalais was attacked by gangs. Though none of the 350 patients were injured, the attack underscored how the violence is no longer just isolated to the capital or the Lower Artibonite Valley to the north.
“While insecurity and lack of resources are real, it does not impede the State to respect its human rights obligations, including to exercise due diligence and do everything in its capacity to protect all persons,” the report states. “The State must do more to protect human rights.... Increasing accountability for human rights violations and abuses, fighting corruption and impunity and implementing efficient governance will be the key to success.”
The number of people in need of humanitarian aid has nearly doubled over the past three years, while attacks against schools by gang members have increased ninefold in the past year, and many health workers have left the country, the U.N. human rights office said.
“Gangs have shown increasing brutality, mutilating and burning bodies in public and then sharing the horrific images on social media,” the High Commissioner said in a press statement. “Women and girls are particularly exposed to gang violence, including sexual violence, such as collective rape. Gangs continue to recruit children and use them as lookouts or messengers, as well as involving them in kidnappings and robberies.”