United Nations (United States) (AFP) – Gang violence in crisis-torn Haiti is expanding at “an alarming rate” in areas previously considered quite safe, the UN’s envoy to the country told a Security Council meeting Wednesday.
Maria Isabel Salvador said that since her predecessor last briefed the 15-member council in January there had been a “shocking increase” in gang criminality.
“Gang violence is expanding at an alarming rate in areas previously considered relatively safe in Port-au-Prince and outside the capital,” she said.
The diplomat cited figures from the Haitian National Police and the United Nations that showed the number of reported violent crimes — including murders, rapes, kidnappings and lynchings — more than doubling in the first quarter of 2023.
She said 1,647 such incidents were recorded, compared to 692 in the same period in 2022.
“The horrific violence in gang-ridden areas, including sexual violence, particularly against women and girls, is emblematic of the terror afflicting much of Haiti’s population,” Salvador added.
She told the meeting that some residents — faced with increasingly violent armed gangs vying for control of neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince and with little to no police presence — “have begun to take matters in their own hands.”
On Monday, more than a dozen suspected gang members were stoned and burned alive in the capital by residents, according to police and witnesses.
“These dynamics lead indefectibly to the breakdown of social fabric with unpredictable consequences for the entire region,” Salvador said.
In a report released this week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that insecurity in Port-au-Prince “has reached levels comparable to countries in armed conflict.”
Salvador added that interviews carried out by the UN “indicate that gangs continue to use sexual violence, including multiple perpetrator rape, to terrorize and inflict pain on populations living in areas under the control of their rivals.”
She said children are among the victims “of the most heinous crimes, including killings, kidnappings, and rape.”
“Over the last three months, school children have been hit by bullets while sitting in their classrooms and kidnapped when being dropped off at school,” Salvador told diplomats.
She repeated a call made by Guterres for months asking the Security Council to send a specialized international armed force to help police restore order.
While some countries have indicated a willingness to participate, none have come forward to take the lead.
“Time is of the essence, and the Haitian people deserve your urgent action. If not supported, the vicious circle of violence, political, social, and economic crisis, in which the people struggle every day, will continue to turn,” Salvador said.