Saturday, October 28, 2023

UN Haiti envoy warns of alarming violence surge


The United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) has reported a significant increase in violent crimes in the country. BINUH chief Maria Isabel Salvador revealed that there were 1,674 homicides, rapes, kidnappings, and lynchings in the first quarter of 2023, more than double the number of incidents reported during the same period last year. The rise in criminal activity is particularly concerning as it is occurring in areas that were previously considered safe. Salvador highlighted that gang violence is expanding at an alarming rate, with sexual violence, particularly against women and girls, becoming increasingly common.

The surge in violence has been attributed to a political crisis that has engulfed the country since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021. The power vacuum created by Moise’s death has led to a crisis of legitimacy for Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who was chosen for the post just days before Moise was killed. Attempts to chart a political transition for Haiti have failed, and the country’s virtually non-existent government system has made it difficult to stem the attacks.

The violence has had a devastating impact on the country’s population, with access to healthcare facilities impeded, schools and clinics forced to close, and food insecurity worsening as residents of gang-controlled areas are cut off from critical supplies. Fighting between rival gangs in the Port-au-Prince neighbourhood of Cite Soleil left nearly 70 people dead between April 14 and 19, according to the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Haiti, Ulrika Richardson. The situation has left the population feeling under siege, with many unable to leave their homes for fear of gun violence and gang terror.

The Haitian National Police (HNP) has been severely understaffed and ill-equipped to address the violence, according to Salvador. Deaths, dismissals, and increased resignations among officers have made these deficiencies worse. The need for urgent international support to the police to address the rapidly deteriorating security situation cannot be over-emphasised, she said. Last October, Prime Minister Henry called on the international community to help set up a specialised armed force to quell the violence in Haiti, a demand that has the backing of the UN and the United States.

However, many Haitian civil society leaders have rejected the prospect of international intervention, saying history has demonstrated that foreign forces bring more problems than solutions. Efforts to set up the international armed force have stalled, with no country agreeing to lead such a mission. Instead, the US and some of its allies, notably Canada, have focused on providing equipment and training to the Haitian National Police and sanctioning individuals accused of enabling and profiting from the instability.

The situation in Haiti is dire, and urgent action is needed to address the rising violence. The international community must work together to provide support to the Haitian National Police and find a way to bring an end to the political crisis that has engulfed the country. Failure to act could have devastating consequences for the people of Haiti, who are already suffering from the impact of the violence on their daily lives.

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