Haiti’s new UN envoy warns of an ‘alarming’ wave of violence

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By Webdesk

More than 1,600 murders, rapes, kidnappings and lynchings reported in Q1 2023, BINUH chief says.

Haitians are experiencing an “alarming” wave of violence, said the head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), with criminal incidents more than doubling since last year.

BINUH chief Maria Isabel Salvador told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that 1,674 murders, rapes, kidnappings and lynchings have been reported in the first quarter of 2023.

That’s more than 692 such incidents in the same period a year earlier, Salvador said, citing data collected by BINUH and the Haitian National Police (HNP).

“Gang violence is expanding at an alarming rate in areas previously considered relatively safe in Port-au-Prince and outside the capital,” she said.

“The horrific violence in gang-infested areas, including sexual violence, particularly against women and girls, is typical of the terror that afflicts much of Haiti’s population.”

Trucks block the street as residents protest against gangs in Port-au-Prince
Trucks block a street as people protest against gangs in Port-au-Prince, April 25, 2023 [Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters]

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appointed Salvador in early March to lead BINUH and act as its special representative for Haiti as the Caribbean nation remains embroiled in political crisis and faces rising violence.

Gang violence is on the rise, especially after the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise, which created a power vacuum. And the country’s virtually non-existent government system has made fighting off attacks even more difficult.

Haiti’s de facto leader, Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who elected Moise to the post just days before he was assassinated, has faced a crisis of legitimacy — and attempts to chart a political transition for Haiti have also failed .

The violence has impeded access to health facilities, forced the closure of schools and clinics and exacerbated already dire food insecurity by cutting off residents of gang-controlled areas from critical supplies.

On Sunday, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Haiti, Ulrika Richardson, said fighting between rival gangs in the Cite Soleil neighborhood of Port-au-Prince killed nearly 70 people between April 14 and 19.

“The population feels under siege. They can no longer leave their homes for fear of gun violence and gang terror,” Richardson said.

Also this week, residents of Port-au-Prince lynched suspected gang members and set their bodies on fire in another part of the capital. Footage shared online and by news agencies showed a crowd of people standing near a pile of burnt human remains in a street.

In a brief statement shared on Facebook Monday, the Haitian National Police said officers seized weapons from “armed individuals” traveling in a minivan in Canape Vert.

“In addition, more than a dozen individuals traveling in this vehicle were unfortunately lynched by members of the public,” police said.

On Wednesday, Salvador said the HNP was “severely understaffed and ill-equipped” to deal with the violence, and “deaths, firings and increased firings” among officers have exacerbated these shortcomings.

“The need for urgent international support for the police to deal with the rapidly deteriorating security situation cannot be overemphasized,” she said.

Last October, Henry called on the international community to help create a “specialized force” to suppress violence in Haiti, a demand supported by the UN and the United States.

“Solutions to the crisis must be owned and led by the people of Haiti, but the scale of the problems is such that they require the immediate response and support of the international community,” Guterres said in a report this month ( pdf), reiterating his support for the armed forces.

Police officers walk near people carrying their belongings amid gang violence in Haiti's capital Port-au-Prince
Police officers walk near people carrying their belongings after they flee their homes due to gang clashes, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on April 24, 2023 [Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters]

The UN Secretary-General also warned that insecurity in Port-au-Prince had “reached a level comparable to countries in armed conflict”.

But many Haitian civil society leaders have rejected the prospect of international intervention, as history has shown that foreign forces bring “more problems than solutions”.

Meanwhile, efforts to build the international force have stalled, and no country has agreed to lead such a mission.

Instead, the US and some of its allies, particularly Canada, have focused on providing equipment and training to the Haitian National Police and punishing those accused of enabling and profiting from the instability.

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