UNITED NATIONS – A fund set up by the United Nations to build peace, prevent violence, reinforce justice, strengthen the rule of law and security institutions, and boost resilience amongst Haiti’s most vulnerable people, is supporting government efforts to restore security and stability.
On Saturday, the UN said that the Peacebuilding Fund (PBF), which emphasizes the role of women and youth in peacebuilding efforts through their meaningful participation, began work in Haiti in 2019 in response to needs identified by the government.
Ahead of the International Day of Peace, marked annually on September 21, UN Secretary-General António Guterres described PBF as “a critical vehicle to support resilience and prevention.”
Between 2006 and 2021 the UN said PBF allocated US$1.67 billion to 65 countries to sustain peace efforts, while Haiti has received around US $20 million for nine projects.
“These interventions focus broadly on implementing and sustaining peace agreements, dialogue and peaceful coexistence and re-establishing basic services that can contribute to building peaceful societies,” the UN said.
“Instability and insecurity, propelled by stark inequalities, have been long-standing problems in Haiti and are the key reasons why the Government (of Haiti) called for the support of the PBF,” it added.
“The assassination of the Haitian president in July 2021 and a destructive earthquake in the south of the country a month later compounded the insecurity caused by the growing presence and influence of gangs,” the UN continued.
It said this insecurity has worsened in the capital, Port-au-Prince, over the past year, as gang violence, exacerbated by the proliferation of illicit weapons and ammunitions, has intensified.
The UN said the number of cases of kidnapping for ransom has also escalated.
In the commune of Cite Soleil, one of the capital’s poorest neighborhoods, the UN said 99 people were killed and 133 injured during one particularly violent week of clashes in July between gangs vying for control of territory.
This led to the destruction of hundreds of houses and thousands of people fled to safer localities, many of whom were supported by the United Nations.
Edwin, whose last name was omitted, a youth leader living in Cite Soleil and who is part of a group of young people supported by the PBF, told the UN that he witnessed heavy fighting in the streets.
“I go to bed and wake up to the sound of gunfire, which is very stressful,” he said.
The UN said the group brings youth together from neighborhoods where rival gangs are active.
“We want our voices to be heard outside Cité Soleil, because if no-one hears us nothing will change,” Edwin said.
The UN said gang violence is only one very tangible manifestation of insecurity and the lack of peace, but added that the lives of Haitians are being impacted in countless other ways.
In Cite Soleil, roughly 95,000 school children in over 300 schools had their education disrupted by violence.
More than 2,500 people fled the commune and had to seek support from the UN.
The global body said the blockading of roads to the south has stopped the free flow of people and services in both directions, making it difficult for farmers to get their crops to market in Port-au-Prince and for aid and reconstruction materials to be delivered to the earthquake-affected southern peninsula.
“Reducing violence and conflict, accessing justice and establishing lasting peace and stability are the priorities of the UN’s Peacebuilding Fund,” said Ulrika Richardson, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti. “It is through the leadership of a broad range of local and national actors, that we envision accompanying Haiti in building a peaceful and prosperous society for all Haitians.”
Without stability, security and justice, the UN said economic progress is near impossible.
“This is unfortunately becoming increasingly clear with the continued slow-down of the Haitian economy whose effects are most felt by the most vulnerable and marginalized individuals and communities,” the UN said.
It said the PBF has played a particularly important role in Haiti following the closure of the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSTAH, in 2017.
The UN said the PBF is one of the few resources available to the United Nations to scale up efforts in areas previously covered by the mission or areas requiring renewed attention.
The fund has focused on a number of key areas including community violence reduction, with an emphasis on supporting and promoting participation at the community level with a focus on the youth, the UN said.
It said the fund has also promoted social cohesion and mental health, especially for women and girls, “and it is supporting activities to prevent election-related and political violence, again with a special emphasis on protecting and empowering women.”
The UN said strengthening the justice system, including providing legal aid to vulnerable populations while reinforcing coordination between judicial actors and the penal system, is also a PBF priority.
As a 15-year-old, Renel, last name also omitted, was held in detention without trial for three years in a prison in Les Cayes after being wrongfully accused by a shopkeeper of stealing two ducks, the UN said.
His case drew the attention of the United Nations and was referred to a legal aid office, established by the UN Development Program (UNDP), the UN’s political mission in Haiti, BINUH and the Haitian Ministry of Justice and Public Security and funded by PBF.
The UN said Renel, along with 67 other individuals, was released from detention.
“Kids should be in school, not in jail,” Renal told the UN.
Sylvie, whose name is also omitted, participates in a PBF-supported group in the gang-affected Martissant neighborhood, which seeks to prevent and resolve disputes at the community level, the UN said.
With a focus on women’s empowerment and countering sexual violence she told the UN that “the situation may not be resolved tomorrow, but we are hopeful that we will see changes in the longer-term.”
The theme for International Day of Peace is “End racism. Build peace.”