Gang Wars Cripple Haiti

    FeaturesGang Wars Cripple Haiti
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    Gang Wars Cripple Haiti

    A year after Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise was assassinated by armed gangsters, armed gangs are back on the streets and control most of the capital city, Port-au-Prince. Now the UN has appealed to authorities to bring calm.

    Haiti, one of the poorest countries on the planet, is witnessing dark days, a year after President Jovenel Moise was assassinated by armed-to the tooth mercenaries. The country’s capital city, Port-au-Prince is being run by brutal gangs, armed to the teeth.

    The violence broke out on 24 July, a day after Haitians observed the first anniversary of his brutal assassination. By some accounts, the gangs presently control over half the capital city.

    “We have so far documented, from January to the end of June, 934 killings, 684 injuries and 680 kidnappings across the capital,” says Jeremy Laurence, spokesperson of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

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    “Over a five-day period, from 8-12 July, at least 234 more people were killed or injured in gang-related violence in the Cité Soleil area of the city.”

    “Most of the victims were not directly involved in gangs and were directly targeted by gang elements. We have also received new reports of sexual violence.”

    Police vehicles are starved of fuel while as gangsters run amok. The gangsters also outnumber the police and have more money, are well organised and equipped – they have better guns, vehicles, electronic communication equipment and gadgets. Most importantly, they have higher motivation and knowledge of the government machinery – the biggest gang, for instance, is led by a former cop, Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier who openly holds press conferences and asks the government machinery to surrender.

    Banning small arms

    On Friday, the UN Security Council voted unanimously and adopted a resolution to ban the sale of certain weapons to Haiti, calling on UN member states to prohibit the sale of small arms, light weapons and ammunition to Haiti’s “non-state actors”.

    The resolution was proposed by Mexico and the US. However, the Security Council rejected a call by China for a full embargo on weapon sales.

    The UN resolution has urged the Haitian government to immediately strengthen the rule of law. It has also asked the government to work to tackle social and economic problems and initiate violence reduction programs, singling out the need to target sexual violence and manage weapons and ammunition.

    The UN resolution has also called for the illicit trafficking and diversion of arms and illicit financial flows to be urgently addressed.

    Haiti, gangs, gangsters, refuge, food, water

    Vulnerable people

    “The people of Haiti are very resilient because they have experienced all sorts of disasters. But this time, they are scared,” one humanitarian worker told OWSA on conditions of anonymity.

    The source said that people are hungry as the streets are now in the control of the gangs and international humanitarians are asking for peace – “prayers might not help,” he said. “Even the appeals of the archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Max Leroy Mésidor are falling on deaf ears.” The archbishop had appealed after an Italian nun, Sister Luisa Dell’Orto, who was providing care to trapped children was shot dead in June.

    On Friday, the archbishop appealed to police and state authorities and also to the international community for bold and immediate action to stop the gang violence. Violence and insecurity have become a daily curse for people,” he said, pointing out to the absence of State institutions and the international community turning a blind eye.

    Thousands of people are trapped without drinking water, food or medical care, the humanitarian group MSF has said.

    “Along the only road into Brooklyn, we have encountered corpses that are decomposing or being burned,” says Mumuza Muhindo, MSF’s head of mission. “They could be people killed during the clashes or people trying to leave who were shot – it is a real battlefield. It is not possible to estimate how many people have been killed.”

    Aid workers say gunshots have made it difficult for them to serve people holed up in fear.

    Strengthen rights monitoring

    The UN human rights office said on Saturday it was deeply concerned by worsening violence in and around the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince and rising abuse at the hands of heavily armed gangs, against vulnerable local communities.

    Jeremy Laurence urged authorities in Haiti to ensure fundamental rights are protected, and placed at the front and centre of their responses to the crisis.

    “The fight against impunity and sexual violence, along with the strengthening of human rights monitoring and reporting, must remain a priority”, Laurence said.

    OHCHR is calling on gang members and those supporting the violence, to immediately cease their activities, which are impacting many of the most vulnerable citizens, living in extreme poverty.

    “The heavily armed gangs are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their actions, conducting simultaneous, coordinated and organized attacks in different areas”, said Mr. Laurence. “The right to life is the supreme right under international human rights law, and the State has a duty to protect that right, including from threats emanating from private individuals and entities.”

    No food, nor water

    Some gangs are resorting to extreme tactics to control locals such as denying them access to drinking water and food. This has simply made malnutrition worse.

    The violence has also exacerbated fuel shortages, as the main fuel depot is located in Cité Soleil, and transportation costs have risen sharply.

    For months now, the desperate socioeconomic situation coupled with political gridlock, has sparked street protests, adding to the deteriorating security situation, and many residents and businesses have shuttered themselves indoors out of fear, said OHCHR.

    In less than one week and according to a report released by OCHA, at least 2,500 people have also been forced to flee their homes because of the fighting. Twenty people have been reported missing. Every day, with continued fighting, more people will suffer and be forced to flee, often risking their lives, the agency said in a news release on Friday.

    Cité Soleil, with a population of around 300,000 is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the Haitian capital, where gangs have gained more influence over the past several years.

    OCHA said that “a large proportion of the population are trapped in Cité Soleil as gangs attempt to exert their influence,” adding that “the people in some areas have not had access to food or water since July 8.” One child in five is suffering from severe malnutrition “a rate well above emergency thresholds.”

    “As people continue to suffer in Cité Soleil, insecurity is preventing humanitarian agencies from entering the area,” said Ulrika Richardson, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, the organization’s most senior humanitarian official in Haiti.

    “The UN is ready to provide assistance to the many children, women and men caught in the crossfire of gang violence as soon as humanitarian partners can gain access to the affected zones.”


    Image: Monica Chiriac / IOM

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