Gang violence in Haiti is escalating and spreading with a significant increase in killings, UN says

Sep 27, 2023, 7:29 PM

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Gang violence in Haiti is escalating and spreading from the capital Port-au-Prince through the center of the country to its two other major cities, Gonaives and Cap-Hatien, with a significant increase in killings, kidnappings and rapes in the past few months, the U.N. chief said in a report circulated Wednesday.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in the new report to the U.N. Security Council that 2,728 intentional killings were recorded between October 2022 and June 2023 including 247 women, 58 boys and 20 girls.

The continuing rise in homicides is attributed to the emergence of a vigilante movement, known as “Bwa Kale,” in the capital in April which has gone after the gangs, he said. The U.N. chief also reported an increase in kidnappings for ransom during that time with 1,472 reported, though he said the actual number is almost certainly higher because families often do not report missing members to authorities out of fear for the victims’ safety.

Gang members also continue to use sexual violence including collective rape “to terrorize populations under the control of rival gangs,” Guterres said, pointing to 452 rape cases reported during the October-June period.

The secretary-general’s report on progress toward meeting key benchmarks in the Security Council resolution adopted last October that imposed sanctions against a powerful gang leader was issued as council members were negotiating a new U.N. resolution that would authorize a non-U.N. multinational force led by Kenya to combat the gangs.

Diplomats said the resolution is expected to be voted on later this week or next week.

Political instability has simmered in Haiti since the 2021 still-unsolved assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, who had faced protests calling for his resignation over corruption charges and claims that his five-year term had expired.

Gangs have grown more powerful since his assassination, and Guterres said they now control or exercise influence over 80% of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area and their violent activities have expanded especially to the central Artibonite Valley and the regions of major cities Gonaives in the northwest and Cap Hatien in the north.

He said indiscriminate attacks have displaced almost 130,000 people.

Guterres said there had been little or no progress on the benchmarks in the October resolution: a judicial system that can handle gangs and criminal-related activities, a progressive reduction in gang violence, improvements in human rights, a decrease in illicit arms trafficking and financial flows, and an increase in arms seizures.

Thee gangs “have overwhelmed already weak national institutions, including the judiciary, the national police and the prison administration directorate,” he said.

“Corruption remains endemic,” impunity remains pervasive and 84% of inmates in Haitian prisons are in pretrial detention and the conditions they face are “alarming,” the secretary-general said. And a recent vetting exercise lifted the certification of about one-third of the country’s judges and prosecutors “due to a lack of moral integrity, invalid credentials or unlawful release of criminals,” he said.

The police have been unable to deal with the powerful gangs despite an increase in their budget, Guterres said, and they are “grappling with a constantly declining workforce due to resignations, dismissals, retirements and fatalities in the line of duty.” While 714 new police officers were selected in December, 774 officers, representing more than 5% of the force, left in the first six months of this year, he said.

Over the past year, the secretary-general said, the human rights situation also continued to deteriorate, with escalating gang attacks including the use of snipers on rooftops “to indiscriminately shoot people carrying out their daily activities.”

In some instances, gangs have attacked entire neighborhoods, firing guns indiscriminately, “burning people alive and executing individuals perceived as being opposed to them,” he said.

Since the sanctions resolution was adopted last October, and despite a targeted arms embargo, Guterres said, “experts assess that the illicit trafficking of weapons and ammunition has continued unabated due to poor border control, limited capacity for seizures and weak weapons management systems.”

The U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime assesses that increasingly sophisticated and high-caliber weapons and ammunition are being trafficked into Haiti, the secretary-general said, and most are from the United States and make their way to gang members through intermediaries.

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Gang violence in Haiti is escalating and spreading with a significant increase in killings, UN says