(CMC) – Amid continuing gang warfare and a vacuum of law and order, Haiti is “on the verge of an abyss” said the United Nations human rights chief Volker Türk on Thursday.
He warned that any hope of a sustainable recovery requires “urgent and sustained action” to tackle the root causes of the overlapping crises afflicting the island nation.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the Haitian Government also needed to provide a firm commitment to accountability, and the rule of law, after decades of “systematic corruption and rampant impunity”, which have led up to the country’s current paralysis.
He warned Haiti has descended into the worst human rights and humanitarian situation in decades. Urgent solutions to this “protracted, multifaceted crisis” must be found, he stressed.
“People are being killed by firearms, they are dying because they do not have access to safe drinking water, food, healthcare; women are being gang raped with impunity. The levels of insecurity and the dire humanitarian situation have been devastating for the people of Haiti,” Türk said.
For the last two months, heavily armed gangs have been blockading access to the country’s main fuel terminal and seaports, severely hampering access to drinking water, food and medicine.
Food insecurity is also on the rise, with a record 4.7 million – nearly half of the population – facing acute hunger. Poor sanitation and lack of safe water supplies have led to a so far uncontrolled cholera outbreak. To date, 2,600 suspected cases of cholera have been reported, half of them children, and claimed dozens of lives.
According to the Human Rights Service of the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) gang violence continues to expand across the capital and in other regions of the country. In just over a week in mid-October, more than 71 people were killed, a dozen women were raped, and hundreds of residents were forced to flee their homes, as a result of turf wars between rival gangs in Croix-des-Bouquets, one of the main communes of the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince.
“Kidnappings and sexual violence by gang members are being used as weapons to inflict severe pain and instil fear among the population,” the High Commissioner said.
“There is a desperate need to tackle the root causes of inequality and violence, including those that have crippled the country’s development for decades,” he added.
Political violence has also been documented with the killing of prominent political leaders and journalists.
“Police must respect the principles of precaution, necessity and proportionality at all times when using force,” said Türk.
“Prompt, thorough and effective investigations need to be established and those responsible for unnecessary or disproportionate use of force must be held accountable.”
In light of the crisis, the UN refugee agency on Thursday called on states in the region and beyond, to suspend the forced return of Haitians to their country.
Given the current situation, High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi said: “I appeal to all States to stand in solidarity with Haiti and urge them not to return Haitians to a country that is extremely fragile.”
The Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Haiti, which meets under the umbrella of the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) also issued a statement calling on the international community to urgently support the country’s efforts to provide lifesaving aid to those in need.