As deadly gang violence unfolds against another Port-au-Prince neighborhood and another police officer lost his life trying to help the public fend off armed attacks, Human Rights Watch is calling on the international community to act urgently to support Haiti in overcoming its security crisis and ensuring a transition to democracy.
The call from the international rights group comes as United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres is due to present options to the Security Council on how to fight Haiti’s criminal groups and as the government of Kenya prepares to send a team to New York and Port-au-Prince to weigh leading a multinational force into the country.
It also comes as residents in metropolitan Port-au-Prince continue to be victims of killings, kidnappings and sexual violence at the hands of armed groups. Last week, residents in the Carrefour Feuilles neighborhood found themselves under siege from a fresh round of attacks, and on Sunday many spent the night fleeing heavily armed men.
“Urgent action is needed to address the extreme levels of violence and the palpable fear, hunger, and sense of abandonment that so many Haitians experience today,” said Nathalye Cotrino, crisis and conflict researcher at Human Rights Watch. “International security support may be needed, but it will likely only help with a new transitional government in place and as part of a multi-faceted response with robust human-rights safeguards.”
Should the U.N. Security Council authorize the deployment of an international force to Haiti, it should ensure that it’s based on clear human-rights protocols and has adequate funding and robust oversight mechanisms, Human Rights Watch said, adding that there should be provisions for humanitarian aid and other basic services provided to those in need.
“The ongoing legacies of past abusive foreign interventions in Haiti should not be an excuse for inaction,” Cotrino said. “It should instead be a call to action to right past wrongs and to support Haitian efforts towards true democratic governance, respect for basic human rights, and an end to the deadly cycles of violence and abuse.”
On Monday, Human Rights Watch published a new 98-page report, “Living a Nightmare: Haiti Needs an Urgent Rights-Based Response to Escalating Crisis.” The report provides a list of recommendations for both the Haitian government and foreign nations involved in Haiti, including the United States, Canada, France and the Caribbean community as well as the United Nations. It also documents some of the horrific abuses committed by criminal groups, showing the state’s inaction — from no response by police and government authorities to the lack of response by the judiciary. Based on available information, there have been no prosecutions or convictions of those responsible for killings, kidnappings, and sexual violence, or their supporters, since the start of 2023, the group said.
“The Haitian government has failed to protect people from the violence of criminal groups,” the report said. “To those living in affected areas, the police and other authorities scarcely exist.”
The report calls on the administration of Prime Minister Ariel Henry to urgently address the crisis in the judicial system and to engage with a diverse group of Haitian social and political actors to craft a solution to the country’s crises with clear objectives and a precise timetable.
It also calls on U.S. and others in the international community to facilitate the establishment of a transitional government to restore basic security and ensure adherence to fundamental human rights.
“Nearly all Haitian civil society representatives and victims of abuse interviewed said that the situation had deteriorated so drastically that an international response is needed, including a security component. Many highlighted the need to avoid more harm and abuses now, with adequate safeguards to avoid the serious abuses that resulted from past international interventions,” the report said. “Haitian civil society representatives also said that other countries should stop supporting Prime Minister Henry, whom they see as heading an illegitimate and corrupt government with alleged links to criminal groups.”
Citing the U.N.’s Integrated Office in Haiti, Human Rights Watch says more than 2,000 people have been killed in Haiti by criminal groups between January and June of this year, a 125% increase compared to the same period last year. At the same time, the U.N. said at least 1,015 kidnappings have been reported for the same period.
During the violence and kidnappings, women and girls are also raped, some repeatedly, as sexual violence increasingly is used by criminal groups to terrorize and control the population.
The new report documents some of the abuses committed by criminal groups in four communities in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince — Cabaret, Cité Soleil, Croix-des-Bouquets and the city of Port-au-Prince itself. The areas have caught in the middle of a gang war between two rival armed alliances, the powerful G-9 led by former policemen Jimmy “Barbecue” Chérizier, and G-Pèp, led by Gabriel Jean-Pierre, who views himself as a community leader rather than a gang chief.
“For several years, residents of Brooklyn and other areas controlled by the G-Pèp have been besieged and attacked by G9 members who want to gain control of all of Cité Soleil,” the report notes.
In June, the two gang alliances and two other leaders aligned with them entered a truce. But that truce, Human Rights Watch said, remains “shaky” as neighborhoods remain under gang control and reports of abuses continue to mount.
“Residents still struggle to send their children to school, and many can often only eat one meal every two or three days,” the report said.
During a visit to Haiti earlier this year, Human Rights Watch said it interviewed 21 victim and witnesses, mostly from the Brooklyn area of Cité Soleil. They described how people were killed, raped or injured between mid-March and late April by members of the G9 coalition on a block known as Carrefour la Mort, or the Crossroads of Death, and another area, Dèyè Mi, Behind the Wall, which leads to the rest of the capital.
One resident of Brooklyn, 34-year-old Anne J., whose brothers were shot by armed men, told the organization that “the rapes and killings happen every day at Dèyè Mi…. [T]he bandits have us cornered. When we have to go out to look for food or money, they rape and shoot us; there is no police or anyone to help us.”
She described being sexually assaulted by five men at the same location after they dragged her inside an abandoned house. Her assailants, she said, were members of the G-9 federation.
“They told me that this was happening to me because I was one of Gabriel’s women,” she said, a reference to the leader of the G-Pèp. “My 29-year-old sister was also raped on the same day by three G9 members.”
Others shared similar stories about being repeatedly raped or watching as men were killed with machetes and guns in front of them.
While Human Rights Watch says it documented 35 killings in the area, a local community organization documented the killings of more than 100 people and over 100 cases of sexual violence during the period.
In the report, Human Rights Watch states that political and security experts along with government officials and Haitian civil society representatives asserted a link between the increase in violence and upcoming elections that have been promised by Henry, who took power after the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021.
The report notes that the dire security situation is exacerbated by Haiti’s intense deadlock, dysfunctional judicial system and long-running impunity for human-rights abuses. People are increasingly at risk of starvation and more than 195,000 Haitians have been internally displaced since last year due to the violence.
Among its recommendations, the report said governments, institutions and donors should stop supporting political actors in Haiti who are credibly implicated in supporting criminal groups.
This story was originally published by the Miami Herald on August 14, 2023
Jacqueline Charles has reported on Haiti and the English-speaking Caribbean for the Miami Herald for over a decade. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for her coverage of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, she was awarded a 2018 Maria Moors Cabot Prize — the most prestigious award for coverage of the Americas.
Featured image: A marcher walks ahead of the large crowd of about 3,500 North Miami residents and members of the South Florida Haitian community as they joined Haitians across the U.S. and the world on Sunday, July 9, 2023 to demand relief for Haiti. CARL JUSTE