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Haiti crises have reached ‘a critical point’: UN envoy

Displaced women and children are now living in a school in  Port-au-Prince after fleeing their homes during gang attacks.
© UNOCHA/Giles Clarke
Displaced women and children are now living in a school in Port-au-Prince after fleeing their homes during gang attacks.

Haiti crises have reached ‘a critical point’: UN envoy

Peace and Security

More than 8,400 people were victims of gang violence in Haiti last year, including killings, injuries and kidnappings a 122 per cent increase over 2022, the UN Special Representative for the country told the UN Security Council on Thursday. 

I cannot overstress the severity of the situation in Haiti, where multiple protracted crises have reached a critical point,” said Maria Isabel Salvador, presenting the latest report of the UN political office there, BINUH

The Caribbean country remains plagued by mounting violence and insecurity at the hands of armed gangs against a backdrop of political, humanitarian and socioeconomic challenges. 

Violence spreading 

About 83 per cent of the unprecedented surge in killings and injuries occurred in the capital, Port-au-Prince, but violence has spread elsewhere, specifically Artibonite, the largest of Haiti's 10 departments.

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South of the capital, gangs conducted large-scale attacks to control key zones and continue to systematically use sexual violence in areas under their control, putting women and girls as young as 12 at risk.

Ms. Salvador said that since her last briefing in October, at least 75 people were reported killed by civilian vigilante movements that have emerged as collective defence against the gangs.

Support Haiti’s police 

Meanwhile, BINUH has continued efforts to enhance the capacity of the Haitian National Police (HNP), but high attrition rates have further diminished the force’s ability to counter gang violence and maintain security.

The Haitian Government and the international community have stepped up support to the HNP over the past few months, she added.

This has included a 13 per cent increase allocated under the national budget for this fiscal year and the supply of individual protection equipment, armoured vehicles, motorcycles and weapons.

Last October, the UN Security Council authorized the deployment of a multinational security support mission (MSS) to back Haiti’s beleaguered police force, which Kenya offered to lead. A 2022 sanctions regime targeting gang leaders and their financiers was also renewed later that month.

Ms. Salvador said she will continue to encourage all stakeholders to effectively prepare for the mission's deployment and again appealed for countries to contribute generously towards this end.

Break the cycle 

While improving the security situation is essential to break the cycle of overlapping crises besetting Haiti, she stressed that long-term stability can only be achieved through a nationally owned and inclusive political process.

Echoing the UN Secretary-General, she urged all political actors and stakeholders “in and for Haiti” to unite in prioritizing and upholding the interest of the people above all.  She noted that “new violent actors have been gaining prominence” in recent months, sparking concerns over their potentially destabilizing role. 

“The continuous support to the Haitian National Police, the rapid deployment of the MSS, effective sanctions and a sustained political process" which results in “credible, participatory and inclusive elections” are essential, she said. 

These are “fundamental elements to restore security and stability in Haiti, where, consequently, the rule of law, democratic institutions and sustainable development become a reality for its people,” she added. 

Arms trafficking ‘blind spot’ 

The head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Ghada Waly, also updated the Council on arms trafficking and illicit financial flows in Haiti.

A UNODC report last October had identified four major sea and land routes being used for illicit firearm and ammunition flows, mainly from the US. 

The latest report, published on Wednesday, found that there are 11 recorded informal or clandestine airstrips spread out across Haiti.

“They represent a blind spot that is possibly being used by traffickers and smugglers, bearing in mind that smaller aircraft flying directly between the United States and Haiti are difficult to monitor,” Ms. Wady said. 

A regional concern 

Regional dynamics are also important as the deepening crisis in Haiti is not occurring in a vacuum, she added, noting that illicit firearms are a growing concern across the Caribbean, “feeding gang-related activity and drug trafficking in a vicious circle”. 

The report also documents action to combat corruption and illicit financial flows, “which are major factors enabling violence and organized crime and plaguing Haiti’s own justice institutions”.

“Nevertheless, anti-corruption efforts continue to be impeded by insufficient capacity, lack of forensic equipment and limited expertise in conducting complex investigations,” she said.

The next UNODC report will focus on a detailed analysis of gang dynamics in Haiti.