Haiti: International support needed now to stop spiralling gang violence
© UNICEF/U.S. CDC/Roger LeMoyne People walk through Turgeau district, one of the neighbourhoods of Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, most affected by gang violence.
In the month of April alone, more than 600 people were killed in violence in the country’s capital, according to information gathered by the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH). This follows the killing of at least 846 people in the first three months of 2023.
BINUH said that overall, the number of victims of killings, injuries and kidnappings increased by 28 per cent in the first quarter of the year, with a total of 1,634 cases reported.
Rise in vigilantism
Mob killings and lynchings of alleged gang members are also on the rise, as “vigilantes take the law into their own hands”, the UN human rights office (OHCHR) said. At least 164 such murders were documented in April.
The latest report from OHCHR and BINUH points to the emergence of vigilante groups, “following calls by some political figures and journalists for citizens to form self-defence organizations to fight gang violence”.
Commenting on the findings, the UN rights chief stressed that vigilantism will only “fuel the spiral of violence”.
The report notes that gangs use snipers on rooftops to “indiscriminately shoot people carrying out their daily activities”. In some instances, gang members burst into neighbourhoods on a killing spree, “burned people alive in public transportation vehicles” and executed “everyone perceived to be opposed to the gang”.
The report also documents the use of sexual violence, including collective rape, “to terrorize and inflict pain” on populations under the control of rival gangs.
According to a local human rights organization quoted in the report, at least 652 women and girls were “subjected to individual and collective rape in gang-controlled areas over the past year”.
Root causes of a ‘human rights emergency’
The UN rights chief underscored that poverty and the lack of basic services were among the root causes of the gangs’ stranglehold over the country.
Earlier this year, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) had warned that half the population of Haiti, or some 4.9 million people, were struggling to access food.
“The Government, with support from the international community, must do its utmost to comply with its obligation to provide people with regular and unimpeded access to clean water, food, health and shelter,” Mr. Türk said.
He said a “robust response” was needed to what he billed as a “human rights emergency”.
‘Coordinated international action’ required
Mr. Türk reiterated his call on the international community to “deploy a time-bound, specialized and human rights-compliant support force, with a comprehensive action plan to assist Haiti’s institutions”.
Last month, the country was on the agenda of the Human Rights Council, which adopted a resolution calling for the appointment of an independent rights expert on Haiti.
Sponsored by Haiti itself, the resolution called for “coordinated and targeted international action”.
In line with the resolution, the duties of the new independent expert on human rights in Haiti, William O’Neill, include focusing on the situation of children and of human trafficking and providing advice and technical assistance to the Haitian Government, national human rights institutions and civil society organizations to help promote and protect human rights.
Independent rights experts appointed by the United Nations rights chief in accordance with Human Rights Council resolutions are not UN staff nor are they paid for their work.