Growing gang violence is devastating Haitians, with major crime at a new high, UN envoy says

The U.N. special envoy for Haiti says growing gang violence is devastating the lives of its people, with major crimes rising to a new high

Edith M. Lederer
Tuesday 24 October 2023 01:43 BST
Haiti UN Armed Force
Haiti UN Armed Force (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Growing gang violence in Haiti is devastating the lives of its people, with major crimes rising to a new high, the U.N. special envoy for the conflict-wracked Caribbean nations said Monday.

Maria Isabel Salvador told the U.N. Security Council that every day sees gangs engaging in killings, sexual violence including collective rapes and mutilation, and kidnapping.

She pointed to last week's incident in which gang members dressed as police officers kidnapped the secretary general of the High Transitional Council, which is responsible for ensuring that long-delayed elections are held.

Salvador said the security crisis is even more complex because vigilante groups that have taken to fighting the gangs are still active. Between April 24 and Sept. 30, she said, the U.N. political mission “registered the lynching of at least 395 alleged gang members across all 10 departments of Haiti by the so called `Bwa Kale’ vigilante movement.”

Catherine Russell, head of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, echoed Salvador, telling the council: “The crisis in Haiti grows worse by the day.”

An estimated 2 million people, including 1.6 million women and children, live in areas under gang control, she said, and children are getting killed and injured in crossfire, some on the way to school.

“Others are being forcibly recruited or they are joining armed groups out of sheer desperation,” Russell said.

She said half of Haiti’s population, including 3 million children, need aid — and half of those in need aren’t getting it because of insecurity and a lack of funding. So far, this year, she said, the U.N. has received barely 25% of the $720 million it needs for humanitarian needs in the country.

Since 2022, Russell said, UNICEF has seen “an unprecedented 30% increase in the number of Haitian children suffering from severe wasting” — to more than 115,000. Severe wasting is the most lethal type of malnutrition, in which food is so lacking that a child’s immune system is compromised, according to UNICEF.

“The malnutrition crisis coincides with an ongoing cholera outbreak — in which nearly half of the more than suspected cases are children under 14,” Russell added.

Salvador stressed “the enormous significance” of the Security Council’s Oct. 2 approval of a resolution authorizing a multinational force led by Kenya to deploy in Haiti to help combat gangs. Kenya’s Cabinet gave its approval Oct. 13, but its Parliament still must sign off.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a report to the council circulated Monday welcomed Kenya’s offer and thanked Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas and Jamaica for publicly committing to contributing personnel to the mission.

The council’s approval came nearly a year after Haiti’s prime minister called for the immediate deployment of an armed force, in hopes it could quell gang violence and restore security so Haiti can hold elections.

Haiti lost its last democratically elected institution in January, when the terms of 10 remaining senators expired, leaving not a single lawmaker in the House or Senate. Since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, Prime Minister Ariel Henry has been governing with the backing of the international community.

Salvador told the council she continues to engage with a wide range of Haitians, “encouraging their full commitment to national dialogue efforts to get onto a path to elections to fully re-establish democratic institutions and the rule of law.”

But, she said, “significant differences persist, all of which are critical to placing Haiti on a clear path to elections,” adding that “the efforts towards elections are not moving at a desired pace.”

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