Gang violence is surging to unprecedented levels in Haiti, UN envoy says

Jan 25, 2024, 2:58 PM

Residents of the Solino neighborhood, who were displaced from their homes due to clashes between ar...

Residents of the Solino neighborhood, who were displaced from their homes due to clashes between armed gangs, seek shelter as they walk along a street in the Carrefour community of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

(AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — An unprecedented surge in gang violence is plaguing Haiti, with the number of victims killed, injured and kidnapped more than doubling last year, the U.N. special envoy for the conflict-wracked Caribbean nations said Thursday.

In a grim briefing, Maria Isabel Salvador told the U.N. Security Council, “I cannot overstress the severity of the situation in Haiti, where multiple protracted crises have reached a critical point.”

She said the 8,400 victims of gang violence documented by her U.N. office last year — a 122% rise from 2022 — were mainly targeted by gangs in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Some 300 gangs control an estimated 80% of the capital, and accounted for 83% of last year’s killings and injuries, Salvador said. But, she added, their tentacles have reached northward into the Artibonite region, considered Haiti’s food basket, and south of the capital “gangs conducted large-scale attacks to control key zones,” systematically using sexual violence to exert control.

The briefing came more than three months after the Security Council approved the deployment of a multinational armed force led by Kenya to help bring gang violence under control.

But the deployment of Kenyan security officers has faced a series of hurdles. It finally got a green light from Kenya’s parliament. And Kenya’s U.N. ambassador, Martin Kimani, told the council a court verdict in a case brought by an individual seeking to block the deployment would be announced Friday.

If the court allows the deployment, Kenyan authorities told The Associated Press last month that the first group of about 300 officers was expected to arrive in Haiti by February. Kenya’s contribution would eventually rise to 1,000 officers at the head of a 3,000-strong multinational force. Burundi, Chad, Senegal, Jamaica and Belize have pledged troops for the multinational mission.

Haiti’s National Police are no match for the gangs. Less than 10,000 officers are on duty at any time in a country of more than 11 million people. Ideally, there should be some 25,000 active officers, according to the U.N.

Salvador told the council that although 795 new recruits will join the force in March, about 1,600 police officers left the force in 2023, according to data gathered by her office, further diminishing the Haitian police’s ability to counter gang violence and maintain security.

Haitian Foreign Minister Jean Victor Génus said the country stands “at a decisive crossroads on which the hopes for Haiti’s future are pinned.”

“The Haitian people have had enough of the armed gangs savagery,” he said, adding that the gangs have stepped up their activities, perhaps concerned that the multinational mission is going to arrive any day.

“Every passing day that this long-awaited support has not yet arrived is one day too many — one day too many that we’re being subjected to the hell imposed on us by the gangs,” Génus said. “Given that time is of the essence, we would like to see a swift and effective deployment.”

Kenya’s ambassador said the government has made ”significant progress” preparing for the deployment, while awaiting the court decision, including making assessment missions to Haiti.

Kenya is preparing for a planning conference with other police contributing countries in mid-February, Kimani said, and it is engaging with partners to prepare a pledging conference to mobilize funds for the mission.

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Gang violence is surging to unprecedented levels in Haiti, UN envoy says