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‘Cataclysmic Situation’ in Haiti Leaves 1,500 Dead in Gang Violence

Gang violence has killed more than 1,500 people in Haiti so far this year, the United Nations human rights office reported on Thursday, the result of what it described as a “cataclysmic situation” in the country.

Corruption, impunity and poor governance, together with increasing levels of gang violence, have brought the Caribbean nation’s state institutions “close to collapse,” the agency said.

The U.N. human rights office reported that gang violence had left 1,554 people dead and 826 injured this year, as of March 22, A new report released by the agency described a surge in sexual violence by gang members, including rapes of women, often after having witnessed the killing of their husbands.

There is also widespread, deadly vigilantism, with community groups — some calling themselves “self-defense brigades” — attacking people suspected of petty crime or gang affiliation. Last year, 528 people were reported killed in that way, and 59 more so far this year, the U.N. said.

Armed gangs have taken control of most of the capital, Port-au-Prince, destroying police stations and government offices, as well as looting banks and hospitals, and killing and kidnapping dozens of people. The violence spurred the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who became stranded outside the country in early March.

William O’Neill, a U.N. human rights expert who has worked extensively in Haiti, told a news conference in New York on Thursday that the current situation was the worst violence he had seen in Haiti since the early 1990s military dictatorship, when rapes and execution were commonly used against opponents of the government.

“The numbers are all going very much in the wrong direction, very quickly,” he said.

Haitians are trapped in “an open prison,” cut off from the world by air, land and sea, Mr. O’Neill said. Leaving their homes to go to the market “is a life-threatening venture for them,” he said.

U.N. officials are warning that the Haitian police may not be able to resist the onslaught of the gangs much longer. “I don’t know how much longer Haitians can wait,” said Mr. O’Neill.

The State Department announced this week it was sending $10 million in equipment, including weapons and ammunition, to Haitian security forces “as they fight to protect people and critical infrastructure against organized and targeted gang attacks.”

The head of the U.N. human rights office in Haiti, Arnaud Royer, said in an interview that only 600 to 700 Haitian police officers were currently working in Port-au-Prince, with only 9,000 police active across the whole country, less than half the U.N.’s recommended policing level. Against the gangs, the police are outnumbered and outgunned.

“It’s nearly over for the police. They are on the edge,” said Mr. Royer. “Morale is extremely low, and they cannot keep up with all alerts they have been receiving. There is nobody who is safe now in this city,” he added.

The police were up against gangs “who have demonstrated extensive sophisticated weapons capabilities,” Lewis Galvin, a senior Americas analyst at Janes, the defense intelligence firm, said in an email, including various makes of assault rifles as well as sniper rifles equipped with hollow-point ammunition.

An international arms embargo has failed to block the supply of illegal weapons and ammunition getting into Haiti, the U.N. report said. “It is shocking that despite the horrific situation on the ground, arms keep still pouring in,” Volker Turk, the U.N. human rights chief, said in a statement on Thursday. “I appeal for a more effective implementation of the arms embargo,” he added.

In a rare public appearance via a video statement on Thursday, Frantz Elbe, the head of the Haitian National Police force, tried to reassure the population, standing before fellow officers and wearing a protective vest.

“Our society is going through a political crisis linked to a security crisis that the country has never experienced before,” he said, vowing that the police would “continue the fight so that you return to your neighborhoods and to your family.”

Amid the ongoing violence, the creation of a presidential transitional council has been delayed after more than two weeks of negotiations. The council will be tasked with appointing an acting prime minister to head a new government and hold new elections, while also paving the way for the deployment of a U.N.-backed international police mission. But the makeup of the body has been delayed after several names were withdrawn because of personal security fears and ethical issues.

While the violence in Port-au-Prince had subsided somewhat in recent days, local humanitarian agencies have reported a shortage of food and fuel after the capital’s main port was shut down. Several countries, including the United States, Canada and France, have evacuated hundreds of stranded citizens on emergency flights.

The World Food Program said this week that Haiti was now suffering its worst levels of food insecurity on record after the gangs took over farmland and blocked the roads in and out of the capital, extorting people on buses and trucks delivering goods.

Andre Paultre contributed reporting.

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Nathan
Nathan

Nathan is an experienced journalist. He's covered a broad spectrum of topics, including politics, culture, and human interest stories, always aiming to engage and inform his audience. Nathan has a degree in Journalism and upholds the highest standards of integrity and accuracy in his work.

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