Haitians ‘cannot wait’ for reign of terror by gangs to end: Rights chief

Human Rights

“The scale of human rights violations is unprecedented in Haiti’s modern history,” Volker Türk said in a video statement to the UN Human Rights Council, part of an interactive dialogue on his most recent report on the Caribbean country. 

“This is a humanitarian catastrophe for an already exhausted people.”

State of emergency 

Speaking in French, Mr. Türk said the already alarming situation in Haiti has deteriorated in recent week as gangs launched attacks against police stations, prisons, critical infrastructure and other public and private facilities.

A state of emergency is in effect but while institutions are collapsing, a transitional government is not yet in place following the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry three weeks ago.  

“The Haitian population cannot wait any longer,” he said.

Record violence 

Meanwhile, escalating violence has had devastating impacts on the population, with a shocking increase in murders and kidnappings.

Between 1 January and March 20 alone, 1,434 people died and 797 others were injured in gang-related violence. Mr. Türk said this was the most violent period since his office began monitoring gang-related killings, injuries, and kidnappings more than two years ago. 

Sexual violence, particularly against women and girls, is pervasive and has most likely reached record levels. 

More than 360,000 Haitians are now displaced, and roughly 5.5 million, mainly children, are dependent on humanitarian aid. Although 44 per cent of the population is facing food insecurity, delivery of additional aid is becoming almost impossible.

Mr. Türk recalled his visit to the capital Port-au-Prince just over a year ago, where he met two young girls. One had been gang-raped and the other had survived a bullet to the head. He warned that an entire generation is at risk of being victims of trauma, violence and deprivation. 

“We must end this suffering. And we must allow the children of Haiti to know what it is to feel safe, to not be hungry, to have a future,” he said. 

Protect people, ensure aid access 

In his report, the High Commissioner called for restoring some degree of law and order as an immediate priority to further protect Haiti’s people from violence and ensure access to humanitarian assistance. 

This will require close cooperation with the Multinational Security Support (MSS) Mission, authorized by the UN Security Council last October, whose deployment he hoped was imminent. 

“All measures taken to restore security must fully comply with human rights standards,” he said, adding that “humanitarian corridors must be established as soon as possible.” 

Give Haitians hope 

Mr. Türk urged all stakeholders in Haiti to put the national interest at the heart of their discussions so that agreement can be reached on the arrangements for the transitional government. 

“The transitional authorities must strive to create the conditions necessary for free and fair elections to be held. They must also begin the process of strengthening police and judicial institutions in order to reestablish the rule of law and, therefore, put an end to impunity,” he said. 

The protection of children must also be an absolute priority, including those recruited by armed gangs.  In this regard, he highlighted the need for reintegration programmes, including prolonged psychosocial support as well as guaranteed access to quality education and healthcare.

He also called for the international community to take stronger measures to prevent the illicit supply, sale, diversion or transfer to Haiti of light weapons, small arms and ammunition. 

It is time to end the political impasse, urgently rebuild peace, stability and security in the country, and give Haitians the hope they so desperately need,” he said. 

Turn words to action: Haiti representative 

The Permanent Representative of Haiti to the UN in Geneva, Justin Viard, hailed the High Commissioner’s report and underscored the deep challenges that Haitians are facing. 

He stressed that the international community and Haiti must act together to address both the gangs and the root causes of the crisis, which include widespread unemployment, a failing educational system and food insecurity. 

We must move from words to concrete actions,” he said. “We cannot allow for Haiti to one day show up in a page of history as an example of the powerlessness of the international community or the abandonment of the population of a UN Member State.” 

More to follow… 

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