UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, says armed violence has reached “unimaginable and intolerable levels” in Haiti and that the surge in violence is being fueled by heavily armed gangs in Port-au-Prince.
“It is crucial for urgent steps to be taken to restore the rule of law, to protect people from armed violence and to hold to account the political and economic sponsors of these gangs,” Bachelet said, urging the Haitian authorities, with the support of the international community, to promptly restore the rule of law and protect people from the fighting.
The UN said that, between April 24 and May 16, at least 92 people unaffiliated with gangs, and some 96 alleged gang members, were reportedly killed during coordinated armed attacks in the sprawling Haitian capital.
Another 113 were injured, 12 reported missing, and 49 kidnapped for ransom, according to figures corroborated by UN human rights officers, although the actual number of those killed may be much higher.
The UN said some of the brutal violence includes beheadings, the burning and dismemberment of bodies, along with the killing of minors accused of being informants for rival gangs.
Sexual violence, including gang rape of children as young as 10, has also been used by armed gang members to terrorize and punish people living in areas controlled by rivals, according to the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), adding that child gang recruits have also been reported.
The UN said that, over the past three weeks, thousands of people, including children, have been forced to abandon their homes and find shelter in temporary sites or host families in other areas of the country.
“Gang violence has had a severe impact on the most basic human rights of people. Dozens of schools, medical centers, businesses and markets remain closed, and many people are struggling to find basic products including food, water and medicines,” Bachelet said.
At the same time, she said movement along the two main national roads connecting the capital to the rest of the country has been seriously compromised, as gangs exert control in areas under their influence.
“Such restrictions on the movement of people and goods could also have long-term devastating impacts on the already difficult economic situation in Haiti,” Bachelet said, noting the fragility of state institutions, in particular the police and judiciary, fueling the lawlessness, expressing fear that the violence will only escalate as ongoing police operations have yet to re-establish public order.
Moreover, there have been reports of some human rights violations during these operations, the High Commissioner said.
“State institutions need to be strengthened to combat impunity and corruption. The authorities have a duty to protect life from all reasonably foreseeable threats, including from threats emanating from private individuals and entities, such as armed criminal gangs.”
Despite its multiple and long-standing challenges, Bachelet said “Haiti should not be forgotten and should remain a priority for the international community.
“I urge the international community to redouble its efforts to prevent the situation from spiraling further out of control,” she said.
In the coming weeks, the UN Security Council is due to debate the future mandate of the UN presence in Haiti.
“It is paramount that human rights of Haitians be at the heart of the international response, including on issues related to sexual and gender-based violence,” Bachelet said.