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Rights chief calls for international help to provide ‘way out of chaos’ in Haiti

Displaced people shelter in a boxing arena in downtown Port-au-Prince after fleeing their homes during gang attacks in August 2023.
© Giles Clarke
Displaced people shelter in a boxing arena in downtown Port-au-Prince after fleeing their homes during gang attacks in August 2023.

Rights chief calls for international help to provide ‘way out of chaos’ in Haiti

Human Rights

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, on Thursday called for a multinational security support mission to assist the Haitian National Police (HNP) and combat the alarming escalation of violence and insecurity there.

“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. With international support and resolve, the Haitian people can tackle this grave insecurity, and find a way out of this chaos,” Mr. Türk said.

The High Commissioner’s latest report on the human rights situation in Haiti stresses that the deployment of a multinational security support mission is essential to assist the HNP in tackling organized crime, armed gangs and international trafficking in arms, drugs and people.

The report details the findings of the High Commissioner’s Designated Expert on the human rights situation in Haiti, William O’Neill, who visited the country in June 2023.

Detainees in a Haitian prison
Detainees in a Haitian prison

Haitian Prisoners

According to the report, Haiti’s prisons are inhumane and the situation of detainees epitomizes the continued erosion of the rule of law in the Caribbean country. 

At the end of June 2023, Haitian prisons held 11,810 inmates, more than three times their maximum capacity. Nearly 85 per cent of those in detention were awaiting trial.

During his visit to the National Penitentiary in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince and the Central Prison in the northern city of Cap-Haïtien, Mr. O’Neill observed detainees 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 reads.

“Lives are at stake,” Mr.Türk said. “Time is of the essence – we need to comprehend the sense of urgency this crisis demands.”

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Escalating violence

The latest report from the UN Secretary-General on Haiti says that “Haiti faces a multidimensional crisis, with gang violence at its centre, which undermines State institutions.” 

Armed gangs control or exercise influence over about 80 per cent of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, with gang violence affecting all neighbourhoods. 

According to the report, “violence is also spreading to departments beyond the capital. Over the past few months, a significant increase in serious crimes, such as homicide, kidnapping and rape, has been reported. Indiscriminate, large-scale attacks against entire neighbourhoods and their residents have displaced almost 130,000 people.” 

The spread of gang violence has provoked popular protests against the Government and a rise in vigilante groups and related violence, including killings and lynchings, which has further frayed social cohesion. 

In April 2023, an anti-gang vigilante movement, commonly known as “Bwa Kale”, emerged in Port-au-Prince. 

The Secretary General stressed that “the prevalence of armed violence has a significant impact on socioeconomic activities. Freedom of movement is impaired as gangs extort, hijack or rob commercial and public vehicles transiting through arterial roads.” 

“Schools have been forced to close as a result of escalating violence, with children being exposed to the risk of recruitment by gangs. 

Gangs have managed to isolate entire neighbourhoods, predominantly for economic gain. They intimidate the local population through violent means, including the targeting of critical infrastructure.” 

Humanitarian crisis

Insecurity has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis. The number of people in need of humanitarian aid has nearly doubled over the past three years. Attacks against schools by gang members have increased ninefold in the past year, and many health workers have left the country.

Once the security situation is stabilized, there needs to be investment in the development of socio-economic opportunities to enable the people of Haiti to access better living conditions and ensure lasting stability and prosperity of the country, according to the Un chief.

Strengthening State institutions 

In Haiti, impunity and decades of poor governance and corruption have contributed to the current crisis. 

“The cycle of violence never ends because rarely is anyone held to account,” said the Secretary-General. “It [the State] must hold accountable both those responsible for crimes and its own officials in the police, courts and prison system to provide security for and deliver justice to the population.”

This week, members of the UN Security Council are expected to continue negotiating a draft resolution authorizing the deployment of a non-UN multinational security support mission to Haiti.