Bold action needed now to address ‘cataclysmic’ situation in Haiti

  • UN News

Corruption, impunity and poor governance, compounded by increasing levels of gang violence, have eroded the rule of law in the Caribbean country and brought state institutions close to collapse.

The impact of generalised insecurity on the population is dire and deteriorating, severely affecting human rights.

Prevent further suffering

“Tackling insecurity must be a top priority to protect the population and prevent further human suffering. It is equally important to protect institutions essential to the rule of law, which have been attacked to their very core,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk.

The report covers the period from 25 September 2023 to 29 February 2024 and includes information provided by both the Human Rights Service of the UN’s special political mission in Haiti, BINUH, and the High Commissioner’s designated expert on the human rights situation in the country, William O’Neil.

Killings and sexual violence

The number of casualties of gang violence significantly increased in 2023, with 4,451 people killed and 1,668 injured. The number of victims skyrocketed in the first three months of this year, with 1,554 killed and 826 injured up to 22 March.

Gangs continued to use sexual violence to brutalise, punish and control people, the report found. Women have been raped during gang attacks on neighbourhoods, in many cases after seeing their husbands killed in front of them.

Some women are forced into exploitative sexual relations with gang members. In addition, the rape of hostages continues to be used to strongarm families into paying ransoms. Sexual violence remains severely underreported and largely unpunished.

Gangs recruit children

Gangs continue to recruit and abuse children – both boys and girls – who are unable to leave their ranks for fear of retaliation. In some instances, young gang members have been killed for trying to escape. Daily life is also disrupted by restrictions imposed by gangs on the movement of people, goods and services.

With gang violence intensifying, and the national police unable to counter it, so-called “self-defence brigades” have continued to emerge and take justice into their own hands, the report said. At least 528 cases of lynching were reported in 2023 and a further 59 this year.

Additionally, despite an arms embargo, there is a reliable supply of weapons and ammunition for the gangs coming through porous borders, resulting in the groups often having superior firepower to the police.

Deploy multinational mission

The report calls for tighter national and international controls to stem weapons and ammunition trafficking into Haiti and reiterates the need for the urgent deployment of a multinational security support (MSS) mission to back up the police force.

The UN Security Councilauthorised the mission’s deployment in October 2023, and Kenya has offered to lead it.

“It is essential that the mission effectively integrates human rights into the conduct of its operations and establishes a compliance mechanism to mitigate and minimise harm,” Mr. Türk said.

Call for accountability

However, enhancing security alone will not bring long-lasting solutions, according to the report, which called for policies aimed at restoring the rule of law and preventing violence.

Widespread corruption and dysfunction of the justice system greatly contribute to the pervasive impunity for grave human rights violations, and they need to be addressed urgently,” said Mr. Türk.

“Accountability is paramount to restore public trust in the rule of law and the state institutions,” he added.

Children in crisis

Separately, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned this week that the armed violence is deepening the nutrition crisis for Haiti’s youngest citizens.

Recent findings from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis revealed an alarming 19 per cent increase in the number of children estimated to suffer from severe acute malnutrition.

Additionally, 1.64 million people are facing emergency levels of acute food insecurity, which increases the risk of child wasting and malnutrition, especially in eight areas of the country.

Education under fire

UNICEF strongly condemned an arson attack by armed groups on a school in the capital, Port-au-Prince, on Monday. The school was left burnt, depriving over 1,000 children of their right to education.

The number of schools forced to close due to violence and insecurity has risen in recent months, UNICEF Representative in Haiti Bruno Maes said in a statement the following day.

As of the end of January, a total of 900 schools had temporarily closed, affecting roughly 200,000 children. Threats to school security are particularly acute in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince and in the northern part of nearby Artibonite province.

"In a country facing increasingly complex conflicts and instability, education can never be considered merely an option; it must be acknowledged as a necessity, a matter of survival, and a key to social stability,” he said.

UN support continues

UNICEF and other agencies are continuing their lifesaving operations in Haiti.

The UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, reported that more than two million litres of water have been distributed over the past month to displaced people, and more than 263,000 hot meals have been provided since the end of February.

The UN sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA, continues to offer integrated services through mobile clinics. For example, 230 people, including 130 women, received services at one its mobile clinics held on Tuesday.

UNFPA has completed a needs assessment in supported health facilities in Ouest and Artibonite provinces.

Plans are underway to deploy medical equipment to 14 health facilities next week, including ultrasound scanners, electrosurgical units, anaesthesia machines and delivery tables.

The two provinces will also receive emergency reproductive health kits covering post-rape treatment, midwifery supplies, reusable equipment, repair of cervical and vaginal tears, among others, in future deployments.

A $624 million humanitarian appeal for Haiti, announced last month, is only around seven per cent funded.

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