More than a dozen suspected gang members in Haiti were lynched and their bodies set on fire by residents in the capital Port-au-Prince, police and witnesses said, as the United Nations warned that insecurity in the city had “reached levels comparable to countries in armed conflict”.
Haiti National Police said in a brief statement that officers in the city’s Canape Vert section stopped and searched a minibus for contraband early on Monday and had confiscated weapons from suspects before they were “unfortunately lynched by members of the population”.
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The statement did not elaborate on how members of the crowd were able to take control of the suspects.
A witness who gave his name as Edner Samuel told The Associated Press news agency that members of the public took the suspected gang members away from police, beat them and stoned them before putting tires on them, pouring gasoline over them and burning them.
An AP reporter at the scene counted 13 bodies burning in a street. Photos by Reuters and video circulating on social media showed several bodies piled on the road, with smoking tires and other objects on top of them. People surround them, shouting angrily. One person can be seen beating the lifeless bodies with a blunt object.
The gruesome killings followed days of confrontations between gang members and security forces.
Gangs in Haiti have grown in strength since the 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise, with residents caught in the middle as large portions of the capital and much of the countryside have become lawless. Bloody gang turf battles have left hundreds dead and thousands displaced.
Criminal groups control about 80 percent of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, where some 200 gangs operate with impunity, according to estimates.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday urged the immediate deployment of an international armed force in Haiti to stem escalating gang violence and the country’s worst human rights crisis in decades.
Guterres reiterated in a report to the UN Security Council that deploying an international force remains “crucial” to help Haitian authorities curb the violence and rights abuses, restore the rule of law, and create conditions for the holding of national elections.
“Since the beginning of 2023, 22 police officers have been killed by gangs,” Guterres said. “These trends are expected to accelerate unless efforts are redoubled to urgently equip and train police, recruit new officers and improve working conditions to retain existing personnel.”
“The human rights situation of those living in gang-controlled areas remains appallingly poor,” he said, pointing to killings, attacks, sexual violence and snipers on rooftops frequently firing at people in their homes and on the streets.
In their pursuit of more territory, he said, gangs also continued to use rape and other forms of sexual violence “to instil fear and assert control over communities,” with women and girls disproportionately affected.
The Security Council is scheduled to discuss the report on Wednesday.