Global perspective Human stories

Police overwhelmed, development stalled, as gang violence spirals in Haiti

A young girl walks in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.
UNDP Haiti/Borja Lopetegui Gonzalez
A young girl walks in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince.

Police overwhelmed, development stalled, as gang violence spirals in Haiti

Peace and Security

Haiti’s protracted political and humanitarian crisis – marked by spiking levels of gang-related violence and a badly struggling national police force – are reversing crucial security and development strides made since the country’s devastating 2010 earthquake, the senior UN representative in Port-au-Prince told the Security Council on Tuesday. 

“Years of hard-fought recovery gains are being undone, and Haitians are grappling with setting the country back on a path to democracy,” said Helen La Lime, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Haiti.   

Turf wars 

Briefing the 15-member Council, Ms. La Lime said more than 2,100 murders and some 1,300 kidnappings were reported in 2022, and gang violence overall reached levels not seen in decades.   

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Turf wars involving two gang coalitions, namely the G9 coalition and G-Pep, reached unprecedented levels in several neighbourhoods of Cité Soleil.  

“This violence is part of well-defined strategies designed to subjugate populations and expand territorial control,” she said, citing the deliberate killing of men, women and children with snipers positioned on rooftops. 

Brutal tactics 

Dozens of women and children as young as 10 years old have also been brutally raped as a tactic to spread fear and destroy the social fabric of communities under the control of rival gangs. 

In addition, she said, gangs are besieging and displacing whole populations who already live in extreme poverty, by intentionally blocking access to food, water and – amidst a cholera outbreak – health services.   

Nearly five million people face conditions of acute hunger across Haiti, and while most schools are now operating, thousands of children, especially those living in gang affected areas, have yet to start their school year. 

Support ‘yet to materialize’ 

Against that backdrop, the Special Representative reiterated her calls for the deployment of an international specialized force to assist the Haitian National Police (HNP).  

That force was first requested by the Government in October, but has yet to materialize. 

“Haitians overwhelmingly want this assistance so they can go about their daily lives in peace,” she said. 

In a December briefing to the Security Council, Ms. La Lime stressed that, despite Government investment, the HNP “continues to be under-resourced and insufficiently equipped to address the enormity of the task ahead.” 

Sanctions on spoilers 

Nevertheless, the Special Representative welcomed the Council’s adoption of a new sanctions regime on those who support criminal activities and armed  group violence in the country, as well as new bilateral sanctions.  

She also praised incremental progress towards holding critical elections by February 2024. 

“[Haiti] urgently needs to see those in positions of influence and leadership – whether at the national, or local levels, and including the diaspora – put aside their differences and do their part for the restoration of legitimate state institutions,” she said.