April 27, 2023 -The head of the United Nations Office in Haiti, Wednesday warned the United Nations Security Council that the people in the French-speaking CARICOM country needed help now as the country slides deeper into violence.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), Maria Isabel Salvador, said that gang violence is expanding at an alarming rate in areas previously considered relatively safe in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
The UN said that compared to the first quarter of 2022, criminal incidents, including homicide, rape, kidnappings and lynching, more than doubled in the same period in 2023 to 1,647.
Some residents have begun to take matters in their own hands, as two days ago, a group of civilians seized 13 suspected gang members from police custody, beat them to death and burned their bodies.
The police have since pledged to crack down on unrelenting gang violence and pleaded with Haitians to end a string of grisly vigilante killings.
“If anyone hears anything, please advise the police,” Garry Desrosiers, spokesman for Haiti’s National Police, told a news conference Wednesday, adding “do not take justice into your own hands”.
He said the police are mobilised and that anti-gang operations will continue.
But Isabel Salvador said that the Haitian National Police (HNP) force is severely understaffed and ill-equipped to address the violence and criminality, with deaths, dismissals and resignations cutting it from 14,772 to about 13,200 personnel and requiring urgent international support.
She said despite steps towards the establishment of a Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), a critical milestone for eventual elections, Haitians continue to suffer one of the worst human rights crises in decades, with gangs using sexual violence to terrorise populations, and children among the victims of killings, kidnappings and rape.
She further noted that nearly half the population, estimated at 5.2 million people, needs humanitarian assistance, with the internal displacements increasing by 50 per cent in the commune of Port-au-Prince compared to November 2022.
Isabel Salvado called on the Council to work urgently to break the vicious circle of violence.
“The Haitian people cannot wait, we need to act now”, she added.
The Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Ghada Fathi Waly,noted the flow of illicit firearms and drugs into Haiti are fuelling violence, with heavily armed criminal gangs targeting critical infrastructure such as ports, grain storage facilities, police stations, court houses and prisons, and gaining control of major highways to the capital.
Fathi Waly said these challenges make Haiti an attractive hub for drug traffickers, undermining prospects for the political process not to mention the catastrophic implications for acute hunger and access to essential services.
She called on the international community to support large-scale actions to assist law enforcement and border management. She noted that UNODC has successfully carried out assessments of six border points and is cooperating with the Organization of American States to strengthen Haiti’s capacity to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption, money-laundering and economic crimes.