Haiti: Human rights deteriorating as gang violence spreads

UN NEWS—The already dire human rights situation in Haiti has deteriorated even further amid unrelenting and expanding gang violence, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk warned on Friday. 

At least 806 people not involved in violent gang wars were killed, injured, or kidnapped in January – the bloodiest month in more than two years.

Additionally, some 300 gang members were killed or injured, bringing the overall total of people affected to 1,108 – more than three times the number recorded in January 2023 – and each day brings more casualties.

Deploy multinational mission 

“Now, more than ever, Haitian lives depend on the deployment, with no further delay, of the Multinational Security Support Mission in Haiti (MSS), to support the National Police and bring security to the Haitian population, under conditions that comply with international human rights norms and standards,” he said, referring to the mission authorized by the UN Security Council last October.

Gang members continue to clash for control of territory in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and have escalated their activities in areas outside the city. 

The intensity of the fighting, lasting several hours in some cases, may indicate that some gangs have recently received new ammunition, according to the UN human rights office (OHCHR). 

Sexual violence as a weapon 

Gangs also continue to use sexual violence against women and girls as a weapon, and spread fear by using local social media to share gruesome photos and videos of killed individuals and women being raped. 

The growing and widespread insecurity – which Mr. Türk described as a “torrent of violence” – has sparked anti-government street protests and civil unrest, supported by opposition political parties, in at least 24 towns.  

At least 16 people were killed and 29 injured in recent weeks, mainly in the context of clashes between protesters and police.

Concern for children 

The UN human rights chief also voiced particular concern over the situation of children, noting that 167 boys and girls were killed and injured by bullets last year.  

Some were executed by gangs or so-called “self-defence” groups for their suspected support for rivals, while the recruitment of children into gangs remained extremely worrisome. 

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called for all parties to safeguard Haiti’s youngest citizens amid the latest unrest.  

“Children and families are already enduring relentless waves of brutal violence perpetrated by armed groups in their neighbourhoods, with each day bringing new horrors, the loss of loved ones, homes being destroyed by fires or bullets, and an ever-present shadow of fear,” Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative in Haiti, said in a statement on Thursday. 

Haitians are facing some of the worst human rights violations and threats in the country’s recent history, he noted. 

Cease the violence

Years of political turmoil, poverty, institutional and socioeconomic crises, disease outbreaks, increased rates of malnutrition, disasters and escalating armed violence have left over three million children in need of humanitarian assistance, and many more will join them if the situation deteriorates further. 

As the unrest has already led to the interruption of essential social services such as education, health, and protection, the UNICEF official urged all stakeholders, including authorities at all levels, “to cease the violence and focus on safely reopening and providing essential social services for children where they were previously nonfunctional.” 

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