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The United Nations representative for Haiti reaffirms the importance of elections in the face of increasing violence from gangs.
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The United Nations representative for Haiti reaffirms the importance of elections in the face of increasing violence from gangs.

She stated that elections are necessary for Haiti to regain its democratic institutions. Without democracy and the rule of law, Haiti cannot move towards development and growth.

The ambassador, who is also in charge of the United Nations Office in Haiti (BINUH), emphasized the great importance of the Council’s recent decision to authorize a multinational support mission to aid the national police. Additionally, the ambassador welcomed another resolution regarding an arms embargo.

Haiti is facing a major crisis due to widespread gang violence, particularly in the capital city of Port-au-Prince. This adds to the already difficult situation in the country, where almost half of the population, about five million individuals, rely on humanitarian assistance. In addition to this, Haiti has also been struck by various disasters such as a cholera outbreak, earthquakes, and cyclones, and most recently the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021.

Serious crime increasing

Ms. Salvador stated that there has been a significant increase in major crimes, with incidents reaching all-time highs. These include the recent kidnapping of the head of the High Transitional Council, who was taken in broad daylight by individuals posing as police officers.

“According to her, gangs are still using violence such as murder and sexual assault, including group rape and disfigurement, on a daily basis. This is happening despite inadequate aid for victims and a lacking legal response.”

The actions of vigilante organizations have only made the security situation more complicated. BINUH has reported that almost 400 suspected gang members were killed by the self-proclaimed ‘Bwa Kale’ group from late April to the end of September.

Journey to the voting station.

Ms. Salvador remains committed to achieving “a pathway to holding elections in order to fully restore democratic institutions and the rule of law.” While consultations between Haitian parties have resumed with the support of regional group CARICOM, she expressed concern that progress towards elections is not happening quickly enough.

She emphasized the importance of the Haitian National Police regaining control before a fair and inclusive election can take place. The arrival of a multinational force offers hope for improvement.

She stated that the Haitian National Police must restore public security and the State must resume its duties, particularly in underprivileged areas where gang activity is common, in order to achieve sustainable outcomes.

Child recruitment and sexual violence

During the briefing to the Council, the director of UNICEF stated that approximately two million individuals in Haiti reside in regions that are under the authority of armed factions, which are increasing their activities.

Catherine Russell stated that kids are getting hurt or killed during the fighting, even while going to school. Some are being forced to join gangs or doing so out of sheer desperation, and women and girls are experiencing high levels of gender-based and sexual violence.

Rape ‘now commonplace’

In June of last year, Ms. Russell traveled to Haiti and encountered an 11-year-old girl who was pregnant at a center for victims of sexual violence. The girl had been kidnapped by five men while walking on a street and was repeatedly raped by three of them.

“Multiple women at the center recounted incidents of armed individuals forcibly entering their homes, sexually assaulting them – with one instance occurring in front of their children – and subsequently setting their residences ablaze. These abhorrent acts and offenses have unfortunately become all too frequent in certain regions,” stated Ms. Russell.

Food and nutrition crisis 

Militant organizations have also blocked important roads connecting the capital to other parts of Haiti, where the majority of the population lives. This has resulted in the disruption of daily life and limited access to necessary resources and services.

Ms. Russell stated that a dangerous combination of circumstances has resulted in a crisis concerning food security and nutrition. This crisis is worsening, with over 115,000 children experiencing severe malnutrition – a 30% rise compared to last year.

Approximately 25% of children in Haiti suffer from chronic malnutrition, and the current cholera epidemic is exacerbating the already precarious situation for young lives.

A child eats ready-to-use therapeutic food at a health and nutrition centre in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

© UNICEF/Georges Harry Rouzier

A young individual is consuming pre-prepared therapeutic sustenance at a health and nutrition facility in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Humanitarian response continues 

Despite the ongoing violence, Ms. Russell stated that UNICEF and its partners are still able to provide aid in Haiti. Recently, they successfully negotiated the release of almost 60 children who were being held by armed groups at a school in Port-au-Prince.

She stated that the international assistance operation will have a crucial impact on enhancing security and encouraged the team to prioritize the safety of children, women, individuals with disabilities, and other vulnerable populations.

Illicit weapon flows

Gada Waly, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), informed the Council that the use of illegal “sophisticated firearms” is fueling gang violence in Haiti.

The demand for illegal drugs is connected to criminal organizations who seek to profit from their illicit trade. The country is mainly used as a stopover for the trafficking of cocaine and cannabis.

“It is crucial for the Haitian government to take action in stopping the illegal influx of firearms and implementing a strong system of regulations for firearms in order to regain control and bring back stability,” she stated.

By land and sea 

Ms. Wady urged the international community to support Haiti in achieving these aims, in parallel to the deployment of the multinational support mission.

The most recent UNODC report has identified four primary routes, both by sea and land, used for the illegal transportation of firearms and ammunition into Haiti. These routes primarily originate from the United States and include direct shipment in containers to Port-au-Prince.

Weapons are transferred from the US to northern areas, then transported by land to coastal cities, and finally delivered to ports that are under the control of criminal organizations or smugglers before reaching the capital.

A different way to travel is by using two border checkpoints between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, primarily for the purpose of smuggling ammunition. The last option is to go through Cap-Haitien, a city located on the northern coast, where smaller amounts of weapons are concealed within the belongings of individuals crossing the border in vehicles or on foot.