Haiti Homicides Double, ‘Difficult To Overstate’ Crisis: UN Chief

(AFP)— Homicides in Haiti more than doubled last year as the Caribbean nation faced a worsening “multidimensional crisis,” with gangs using kidnappings and sexual violence to steadily gain territory, a UN report said Tuesday.

“I am appalled by the staggering and worsening level of gang violence devastating the lives of Haitians, in particular in Port-au-Prince,” United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said.

According to the report, a total of 4,789 homicides were registered in 2023, an increase of 119.4 per cent over the previous year.

“In the same vein, the number of victims of kidnapping rose from 1,359 reported in 2022 to 2,490 in 2023, representing an 83 per cent increase,” it said.

The small Caribbean nation, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, has seen years of mounting insecurity, exacerbated by the assassination of president Jovenel Moise in 2021.

“It is difficult to overstate the gravity of the political, security, human rights and humanitarian situation in Haiti today,” Guterres said.

“Gang killings, kidnappings and sexual violence, notably against women and young girls, among other abuses, continue with widespread impunity,” he warned, calling for plans to “rapidly address” the shrinking numbers in the national police force.

The report said over 1,600 officers had left the service in 2023, while 48 were killed and 75 injured.

The UN Security Council in October approved the deployment of a multinational mission to support Haiti’s overwhelmed police force, which Kenya has agreed to lead.

However, the mission has been delayed pending a legal challenge by a Kenyan opposition lawmaker who has argued the deployment is unconstitutional as it is not backed by any law or treaty. The Kenyan high court is due to rule on the issue by Friday.

Guterres said the support mission “must be accompanied by the strengthening of the judicial and correctional systems,” including “full respect for due process.”

Ulrika Richardson, the United Nations’ resident coordinator in Haiti, has said she hopes the force would deploy “during the first quarter of 2024.”

No elections have taken place in Haiti since 2016 and the presidency remains vacant. Guterres said it was “paramount” that “credible, participatory and inclusive” elections be held as soon as the security situation allows.

More than 5.2 million people, almost half of the population, need humanitarian assistance, including nearly three million children, Richardson told a UN gathering in Geneva last month.

“The magnitude of this multidimensional crisis is eroding the foundations of State institutions and the social fabric,” Guterres said.

Last year, the UN estimated that gangs controlled around 80 per cent of the capital Port-au-Prince.

The report on Tuesday said gangs are using tactics such as “sequential attacks against police stations” to clear areas of security forces, while continuing to “systematically use sexual violence to consolidate control over populations.”

“In gang-controlled areas, women and girls as young as 12 years old are at risk of being ambushed and collectively raped by armed gang members in broad daylight,” the report said.

The UN Security Council is scheduled to hold a briefing on Haiti on Thursday.