UN decries rising death toll, rights violations in Haiti

The UN says at least 234 people were killed or injured in gang-related violence from July 8 to 12 in Port-au-Prince.

A motorcycle taxi driver carries clients past a burning barricade
A motorcycle taxi driver carries clients past a burning barricade set by taxi drivers to protest against the country's fuel shortage in Port-au-Prince [Odelyn Joseph/AP Photo]

The United Nations human rights office has expressed concern about rising violence around Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, saying 99 people have been reported killed in recent fighting between rival gangs in the Cite Soleil district alone.

The warning on Saturday came hours after the UN Security Council unanimously approved a resolution renewing the mandate of a UN office in the Caribbean nation and calling on all countries to stop the transfer of small arms, light weapons and ammunition to anyone there supporting gang violence and criminal activity.

UN humanitarian agencies said they were ready to help embattled communities once it is safe to do so.

“We have so far documented, from January to the end of June, 934 killings, 684 injuries and 680 kidnappings across the capital,” Jeremy Laurence, spokesman for the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees, said on Saturday.

In addition, “Over a five-day period, from 8-12 July, at least 234 more people were killed or injured in gang-related violence in the Cite Soleil area of the city.”

He said most of the victims “were not directly involved in gangs” but were targeted by them.

Separately, the UN’s humanitarian affairs office reported that 99 of the recent casualties in Cite Soleil were deaths.

A woman with her son walks past a barricade
A woman with her son walks past a barricade that was set up by demonstrators to protest against the country’s fuel shortage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti [Odelyn Joseph/AP Photo]

Laurence called on gangs to halt the violence while also urging Haitian authorities to ensure that fundamental human rights are “placed at the front and centre of their responses to the crisis”. “The fight against impunity and sexual violence, along with the strengthening of human rights monitoring and reporting, must remain a priority,” he said.

The Security Council resolution drafted by the United States and Mexico was approved 15-0 on Friday. It demanded an immediate cessation of gang violence and criminal activities — a point stressed by China.

“The heavily armed gangs are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their actions, conducting simultaneous, coordinated and organised attacks in different areas,” Laurence said.

The government, he said, has a duty to protect citizens’ right to life even from threats that come from private entities.

The UN agencies said some gangs even deny access to drinking water and food in order to control the population, aggravating malnutrition.

US Deputy Ambassador Richard Mills said the new resolution will allow the UN mission to promote political dialogue and bolster the capacity of the Haitian National Police to control gang violence and protect human rights.

A year after the unsolved assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, gang violence has grown worse and many Haitians have tried to flee a country that seems to be in economic and social freefall. Attempts to form a coalition government have faltered, and efforts to hold general elections have stalled.

The UN has been involved in Haiti on and off since 1990, and the last UN peacekeeping mission was in the country from 2004 until October 2017. The political mission now there advises Haiti’s government on promoting political stability and good governance.

Source: AP