According to a UN report issued Tuesday, there has been a rise in gang violence in Haiti’s central rural region, an area previously considered safe from the increased instability in the country. The report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights includes a call for the urgent deployment of the multinational security support mission, as well as reinforcement of local police forces.
For the past year, Haiti has seen a sharp rise in killings, kidnappings and sexual violence at the hands of criminal groups in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas. Following pleas from the Haitian government, the UN Security Council authorised the support mission on October 2, expressing their concern “at the increasingly violent actions taken by armed groups and criminal networks.” They hoped that the deployment would set up an oversight mechanism which would prevent human rights violations and provide “operational support to the Haitian National Police, including building its capacity through the planning and conduct of joint security support operations.” However, the implementation of the mission has been beset with difficulties. While Kenya had initially stepped forward to send a force of 1,000 officers, there were delays in passing the deployment through Parliament.
This latest report from the UN highlights how far and fast the violence is spreading and the shift of gang-related activities from the main cities, like Port-au-Prince to more rural areas like the Artibonite plain. According to the report, between January 2022 and October 2023, 1,694 people were killed, injured or abducted in the area, with more than 80 percent of those deaths occurring in 2023. The report goes on to document the brutal activities of gangs, which sweep through the villages, executing local people and using sexual violence against women and children with impunity.
About twenty groups including gangs and vigilante groups operate within the Artibonite region and have been able to expand their reach due, in part, to a lack of police presence. The report asserts that some of these groups may have come about in response to the gang violence, as a way for communities to protect themselves. As well as the brutal attacks on civilians, the gangs attack rural infrastructure and public institutions. Several NGOs operating in the region had warehouses set on fire, losing valuable supplies. These activities have meant that vulnerable communities have been denied humanitarian aid.
The report calls on the international community to continue the fight against gang violence through the deployment of the multinational security support mission as well as sanctions directed towards the perpetrators of human rights abuses.
As well as calling on international players, the report makes several recommendations to the government of Haiti itself. It asks for the government of Haiti to fight against impunity through adequately supporting every part of their justice system to “prosecute the perpetrators of crimes, as well as those who support and finance them.” This echoes other similar calls by human rights NGOs, who have been concerned for some time over Haiti’s barely-functioning judicial system.