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Haiti: Un Human Rights Chief Urges International Policing ‘Lifeline’ To Help Way Out Of Security Crisis

GENEVA (28 September 2023) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, today issued a clarion call for a multinational security support mission to help the Haitian National Police (HNP) combat the cycle of violence which has permeated all levels of society and exacerbated a dire security and human rights crisis.

“Every day the lives of Haitian people become even harder, but it is vital that we do not give up. Their situation is not hopeless. With international support and resolve, the Haitian people can tackle this grave insecurity, and find a way out of this chaos,” Türk said.

The High Commissioner’s latest report on the human rights situation in Haiti stresses that the deployment of a multinational security support mission is essential to assist the HNP in tackling organized crime, armed gangs and international trafficking in arms, drugs and people.

It details the findings of the High Commissioner’s Designated Expert on the human rights situation in Haiti, William O’Neill, who visited the country in June 2023. He observed the gravity of situation on the ground and the importance of first stabilizing security.

The report emphasises that any such multinational security support mission must observe and adhere to international human rights laws and standards, and include internal oversight mechanisms to report on the performance and prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse.

Between 1 January and 15 August 2023, at least 2,439 people were killed, 902 injured and 951 kidnapped, the report states. The alarming escalation of the violence registered since the start of 2023 is now affecting all communes in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, including some considered safe until recently.

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Gangs have shown increasing brutality, mutilating and burning bodies in public and then sharing the horrific images on social media.

Women and girls are particularly exposed to gang violence, including sexual violence, such as collective rape. Gangs continue to recruit children and use them as lookouts or messengers, as well as involving them in kidnappings and robberies.

Insecurity has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis that has reached new depths over the past few years, the report states. The number of people in need of humanitarian aid has nearly doubled over the past three years. Attacks against schools by gang members have increased ninefold in the past year, and many health workers have left the country.

Once the security situation is stabilized, there needs to be investment in the development of socio-economic opportunities to enable the people of Haiti to access better living conditions and ensure lasting stability and prosperity of the country, the report says.

Strengthening State institutions is another priority, it states. In Haiti, impunity and decades of poor governance and corruption have contributed to the current crisis. “The cycle of violence never ends because rarely is anyone held to account,” the report says. “It [the State] must hold accountable both those responsible for crimes and its own officials in the police, courts and prison system to provide security for and deliver justice to the population.”

The High Commissioner urges the authorities to exercise strict oversight of public spending to prevent corruption and to support all efforts by the judiciary to investigate and prosecute those suspected of corruption.

The situation of Haitian detainees epitomizes the continued erosion of the rule of law. The report states that Haiti’s prisons are inhumane. At the end of June 2023, Haitian prisons held 11,810 inmates, which is more than three times their maximum capacity. Nearly 85 per cent of those held were pretrial detainees.

During his visit to the National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince and the Central Prison in Cap-Haïtien, the Designated Expert observed detainees crammed into small cells, in stifling heat, with limited access to water and toilets. “They must endure a suffocating smell and, in the capital, mounds of rubbish, including human excrement, add to the squalor. The detainees must take turns sleeping because there is not enough room for them to lie down at the same time,” the report reads.

“Lives are at stake,” Türk said. “Time is of the essence – we need to comprehend the sense of urgency this crisis demands.”

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