Haiti: Bachelet deeply disturbed by human rights impact of deteriorating security situation in Port-au-Prince

GENEVA (17 May 2022) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Tuesday said she was deeply disturbed about the severe human rights impact of the surge in violence involving heavily armed gangs in Port-au-Prince. She urged the Haitian authorities, with the support of the international community, to promptly restore the rule of law and protect people from armed violence.

Between 24 April and 16 May, at least 92 people unaffiliated with gangs and some 96 alleged to be gang members were reportedly killed during coordinated armed attacks in Port-au-Prince. Another 113 were injured, 12 reported missing, and 49 kidnapped against ransom, according to figures corroborated by UN human rights officers. The actual number of people killed may be much higher.

Extreme violence has been reported, including beheadings, chopping and burning of bodies, and the killing of minors accused of being informants for a rival gang. Sexual violence, including gang rape of children as young as 10, has also been used by armed gang members to terrorize and punish people living in areas controlled by rival gangs. Sources also reported the presence of minors in the gangs.

“Armed violence has reached unimaginable and intolerable levels in Haiti,” Bachelet said. “It is crucial for urgent steps to be taken to restore the rule of law, to protect people from armed violence and to hold to account the political and economic sponsors of these gangs.”

Thousands of people, including children, have been forced to abandon their homes over the past three weeks and find shelter in temporary sites or host families in other areas of the country.

“Gang violence has had a severe impact on the most basic human rights of people. Dozens of schools, medical centres, businesses and markets remain closed, and many people are struggling to find basic products including food, water and medicines,” the High Commissioner said.

Movement along the two main national roads connecting the capital to the rest of the country has been seriously compromised as gangs have controlled access to areas under their influence.

“Such restrictions on the movement of people and goods could also have long-term devastating impacts on the already difficult economic situation in Haiti,” the High Commissioner added.

The High Commissioner said the fragility of State institutions, in particular the police and judiciary, has fueled the lawlessness and expressed fear that the violence will only escalate. Ongoing police operations have not managed to re-establish public order and protect the local population, and there have been reports of some human rights violations during these operations.

“Despite its multiple and long-standing challenges, Haiti should not be forgotten and should remain a priority for the international community. I urge the international community to redouble its efforts to prevent the situation from spiraling further out of control,” Bachelet stressed. “State institutions need to be strengthened to combat impunity and corruption. The authorities have a duty to protect life from all reasonably foreseeable threats, including from threats emanating from private individuals and entities, such as armed criminal gangs.”

In the coming weeks, as the UN Security Council debates the future mandate of the UN presence in Haiti, it is paramount that human rights of Haitians be at the heart of the international response, including on issues related to sexual and gender-based violence, Bachelet stressed.