July 19, 2024

Haiti’s escalating gang violence now permeate all levels of the society, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said Thursday as he urgently called for the deployment of a multinational force to the volatile Caribbean country to help police quell the violence.

The appeal from High Commissioner Volker Türk comes as gang violence has spread from Port-au-Prince, the capital, to the center of the country and a mid-July truce between two main gang coalitions fell apart.

The recurrent attacks from armed groups has led to the death of thousands and forced tens of thousands out of their homes. Among the victims are women and girls who are brutally raped and murdered.

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

On Wednesday there was heavy gunfire in Cite Soleil in the capital, after a gang truce between the G-9 and G-pèp-la coalitions fell apart after gang leaders shot a member of the G-9. The incident comes on the heels of other violent confrontations that have spread to Haiti’s Central Plateau.

The United States and Ecuador have authored a draft resolution before the Security Council to deploy a security mission to Haiti to assist the Haiti National Police in tackling organized crime, armed gangs and international arms and human trafficking. The resolution was expected to be voted on this week, but as of Thursday it had not yet appeared on the Security Council’s public calendar.

The High Commission’s latest report highlights the gravity of the human rights situation in Haiti and stresses that the deployment of a multinational security mission, which Kenya has agreed to lead, is essential to assist the Haiti National Police.

The report is based on a visit to Haiti in June by William O’Neill, the U.N.’s designated independent human-rights expert on Haiti. He toured the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince and the Central Prison in Cap-Haïtien. At both prisons, he observed prisoners 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 says, calling on Haitian authorities to deal with the the prison overcrowding.

Gang violence has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis and now permeates all facets of life in the societ, the report says. Gang firefights and roadblocks in the capital have disrupted the movement of goods and services and are contributing to a 49% inflation rate in January.

“Essential goods and services had become unaffordable to many, with the price of basic food items going up by as much as 87% in the last year, forcing poor households to spend a large proportion of their income on food,” the report said.

O’Neill also highlighted attacks against medical staff and faciliites, which have led some institutions, including those run by international groups, to temporarily suspend or scale back their activities. On Tuesday the University Hospital in Mirebalais was attacked by gangs. Though none of the 350 patients were injured, the attack underscored how the violence is no longer just isolated to the capital or the Lower Artibonite Valley to the north.

“While insecurity and lack of resources are real, it does not impede the State to respect its human rights obligations, including to exercise due diligence and do everything in its capacity to protect all persons,” the report states. “The State must do more to protect human rights…. Increasing accountability for human rights violations and abuses, fighting corruption and impunity and implementing efficient governance will be the key to success.”

More than 2,400 Haitians have been killed since January, and more than 950 have been kidnapped, the report states.

“Gangs have shown increasing brutality, mutilating and burning bodies in public and then sharing the horrific images on social media,” the High Commissioner said in a press statement. “Women and girls are particularly exposed to gang violence, including sexual violence, such as collective rape. Gangs continue to recruit children and use them as lookouts or messengers, as well as involving them in kidnappings and robberies.”

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