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Haitian gangs move into rural areas as UN official calls for new force to be deployed

Published:Tuesday | November 28, 2023 | 6:43 PM
Gangs in Haiti. - CMC photo

UNITED NATIONS, CMC – Gang violence in Haiti is on the rise with new alliances being forged and expansion into rural areas previously considered safe, according to a new report issued by the United Nations on Tuesday.

The report was published on Tuesday by the UN human rights office (OHCHR) and the UN political mission in Haiti.

The report notes that greater efforts will need to be made to strengthen the institutions of the rule of law in Haiti, in particular the police, the judiciary and the penitentiary system.

The report focuses on the Bas-Artibonite district, located in central Haiti, about 100 kilometres from the capital Port-au-Prince, which has seen a significant increase in gang violence over the past two years.

Between January 2022 and October 2023, at least 1,694 people were killed, injured or kidnapped in Bas-Artibonite.

It says kidnappings for ransom by criminal groups have become a constant fear for public transport users in the district.

The story of Darleine, a 22-year-old woman, is just one of many. She was dragged off a bus in March this year by gang members, who held her captive for more than two weeks and repeatedly beat and raped her.

A few weeks after her release, she committed suicide.

The report documents criminal groups that ransack “rival” villages, executing the local population and resorting to sexual violence against women and even very young children.

The groups are also looting farmers' properties, crops and livestock and destroying irrigation systems, contributing to the displacement of more than 22,000 people from their villages.

The has significantly reduced the amount of farmland, thus increasing food insecurity.

As of September, more than 45 per cent of the population of Bas-Artibonite was acutely food insecure. Gang violence has also left many farming families unable to pay off debts or access basic services.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has warned that across Haiti, at least 3,960 people have been killed, 1,432 injured and 2,951 kidnapped in gang-related violence this year alone.

“The situation in Haiti is cataclysmic. We continue to receive reports of killings, sexual violence, displacement and other violence, including in hospitals,” he said.

“In the face of the horrific violence against the population that is spreading, inside and outside Port-au-Prince, and the inability of the police to stop them, the much-needed multinational security support mission must be deployed to Haiti as soon as possible.”

The High Commissioner said that the support mission must include internal control mechanisms and other safeguards to ensure its compliance with international human rights norms and standards.

In light of the escalating violence and following October's report of the UN Group of Experts on Haiti, the new report also calls on the Security Council to update the list of individuals and entities subject to UN sanctions.

“The focus must continue to be on the implementation of the arms embargo and sanctions targeting those responsible for this untenable situation,” said the High Commissioner, who also called on the Haitian authorities “to fulfill their international human rights obligations but also to put in place robust measures to strengthen the country's institutions and improve governance, including by fighting corruption and impunity.”

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