UN warns of growing power of gangs in Haiti igniting tensions across the Caribbean

The head of the UN Drug and Crime Office (UNODC) Ghada Waly, briefed the UN Security Council Thursday raising concerns about increasing gang violence in Haiti leading to increasing violence across the Caribbean.

Waly told the Security Council that there has been a marked uptick in gang violence in Haiti, spurred on by arms trade disputes between gangs. Waly stated that this has the nation trapped in a “vicious cycle” where gangs continue to increase in power and start conflict within to increase their power. Waly also expressed concern that some effects of the increased violence are spilling out across the Caribbean.

According to a 2023 UNODC report, most of the guns that have been smuggled into Haiti are being trafficked from the US. According to the report, many of the southern US states with easy access to firearms such as Florida, Texas and Georgia are also within proximity to Haiti by boat, allowing small independent smugglers to make trips back and forth. According to the report, the smugglers then sell these guns to criminal gangs across Haiti, which has allowed these gangs to have far greater influence over areas of the island. The report also outlined that there are several major routes used by smugglers by sea as well as almost a dozen airfields specifically for smuggling weapons into the nation. The violence has become particularly grave in the rural areas of the island according to a 2023 UN report.

Waly’s speech comes as violence in Haiti has reached an all-time high. In early 2023, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk called for a “time-bound specialized support force” to stop the escalating gang violence on the island. Then  National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH) raised alarms after a record 40 abductions and 75 murders in two months. The UN later reported that over 350 were lynched, many whom were local gang members lynched by “self-defence” groups. In response to the violence, the UN Security Council deployed a one year stabilization mission to Haiti, coordinated by the Kenyan government.