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UN Envoy Urges International Solidarity With Haiti As Gang Violence Spirals

As gang violence increases in Haiti, the international community must continue to stand in solidarity with the population, the UN Special Representative for the country told the Security Council on Monday.

“Today, it pains me to note that all speeches and callings had not avoided that some of the worst scenarios for Haiti have become realities in recent months and weeks,” said Maria Isabel Salvador, who also heads the UN mission in Haiti, BINUH.

Speaking from the capital, Port-au-Prince, she said it was impossible to overstate the increase in gang activity in the city and beyond, along with the deterioration of the human rights situation and the deepening of the humanitarian crisis.

Last October, the Security Council authorized the deployment of a Multinational Security Support mission (MSS) to assist Haiti’s embattled police force.

Although more than five million people, roughly half the population, are going hungry and hundreds of thousands have been displaced, a $674 humanitarian appeal for Haiti is less than nine per cent funded.

Attacks and confrontations

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Ms. Salvador recalled that in early March, gangs mounted coordinated attacks against key state infrastructure, including several police stations and two of the main prisons in Port-au-Prince, as well as educational and health facilities, and religious sites.

They also launched several attacks against the Presidential Palace, sparking violent clashes with the Haitian National Police (HNP), leading to multiple casualties. Furthermore, gang confrontations around the international airport have forced all commercial airlines to halt services.

She noted that roughly 2,500 persons were killed or injured due to gang violence during the first quarter of the year. This represents a 53 per cent increase over the previous reporting period, making it the most violent quarter since BINUH began recording statistics two years ago.

Deploy Multinational Support Mission

Ms. Salvador said the national police - assisted by Haiti’s “modest” Armed Forces and advised by BINUH and other international partners - have deployed immense efforts to contain the violence while being targeted by the gangs.

“Nevertheless, the severity of the current crisis underscores the gaps in capacity within the national structures and the urgent need for international assistance, namely through the immediate deployment of the MSS,” she said.

On the political front, she noted that Haitian stakeholders have worked to put their differences aside in efforts to find a common path towards restoring democratic institutions, including establishing a Transitional Presidential Council following the resignation announcement by Prime Minister Ariel Henry in March.

Security critical for progress

A number of other bodies are also expected to be established, including a National Security Council and a Provisional Electoral Council “which is urgently required to set plans in motion for the organization of elections.”

Ms. Salvador noted that despite the recent positive developments on the political front, improving the security situation remains a condition sine qua non for further progress.

“I cannot stress enough the need to assist Haiti with its efforts to reestablish security,” she said.

“One and a half years since Haiti requested assistance to enhance security and more than six months since this Council authorized the deployment of the MSS, we must continue to stress the importance of its urgent deployment.”

Children in the crosshairs

Catherine Russell, head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), appealed for greater support for the humanitarian plan for Haiti. Of the roughly 5.5 million Haitians who need assistance, three million are children.

She said boys and girls are being injured or killed in the violence each day. Some are being recruited, or join armed groups out of sheer desperation. Recent UNICEF data indicates that anywhere from 30 to per 50 cent of armed groups have children in their ranks.

"Women and girls continue to be targeted with extreme levels of gender-based and sexual violence,” she added.

“Last year, thousands of cases of sexual violence were reported, many of which were perpetrated against children. The true number of cases is likely much higher.”

Humanitarian activities have also fallen victim to the violence as access to the port in the capital has been cut off because of armed group operations in the area.

Ms. Russell said nearly 300 containers of humanitarian supplies are now stranded, including 17 UNICEF containers loaded with nutrition supplements, as well as neonatal, maternal and medical supplies.

Stand with Haiti

The Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Ghada Waly, said the violence "is made possible by the continued influx of guns into Haiti and is supported by corruption."

Recent events also suggest concerning signs of collusion between different gangs, she added.

The latest wave of violence saw reported fighting between gangs, but also signs of collaboration between certain groups to carry out attacks.

Furthermore, the attacks targeting key infrastructure were another reminder of the significant increase in firepower that the gangs possess, as weapons continue to flow into Haiti.

“We must stand with Haiti’s institutions and citizens in confronting violence, corruption, and chaos, and in working for a more stable and secure future for the people of Haiti,” she said.

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