Haiti: International community must act now to avert tragedy

The content originally appeared on: Caribbean News Service

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker T?rk today warned that unremitting armed violence has precipitated Haiti’s descent into the worst human rights and humanitarian situation in decades. Urgent solutions to this “protracted, multifaceted crisis” must be found, he stressed.

“People are being killed by firearms, they are dying because they do not have access to safe drinking water, food, healthcare, women are being gang raped with impunity. The levels of insecurity and the dire humanitarian situation have been devastating for the people of Haiti,” T?rk said.

For the last two months, heavily armed gangs have been blockading access to the country’s main fuel terminal and seaports, severely hampering access to drinking water, food and medicine. Food insecurity is on the rise, with a record 4.7 million – nearly half of the population – facing acute hunger. Poor sanitation and lack of safe water supplies have led to a cholera outbreak. To date, 2,600 suspected cases of cholera have been reported, half of them children, and claimed dozens of lives.

Gang violence continues to expand across the capital and in other regions of the country. In just over a week in mid-October, more than 71 people were killed, a dozen women were raped and hundreds of residents were forced to flee their homes, as a result of turf wars between rival gangs in Croix-des-Bouquets, one of the main communes of the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, according to the Human Rights Service of the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH).

“Kidnappings and sexual violence by gang members are being used as weapons to inflict severe pain and instil fear among the population,” the High Commissioner said.

“There is a desperate need to tackle the root causes of inequality and violence, including systematic corruption and rampant impunity that have crippled the country’s development for decades.”

The latest Security Council resolution 2653 (2022), establishing a sanctions regime targeting individuals and entities engaging in or supporting criminal activity and violence and imposing a targeted arms embargo, is an important step.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been demonstrating since late August to protest against Government policies, the rising cost of living and the increasing insecurity. According to information received, at least 54 people were killed during protests, most of which allegedly because of disproportionate use of force by police officers. Political violence has also been documented with the killing of prominent political leaders and journalists.

“Police must respect the principles of precaution, necessity and proportionality at all times when using force,” the UN Human Rights Chief said. “Prompt, thorough and effective investigations need to be established and those responsible for unnecessary or disproportionate use of force must be held accountable.”

T?rk called on the Government to commit firmly to strengthening the judicial sector and other accountability mechanisms, including by establishing specialized judicial divisions to address financial and gang-related crimes.

“In this context, it is clear that the systematic violations of rights in Haiti, do not currently allow for the safe, dignified and sustainable return of Haitians to the country,” warned the UN Human Rights Chief.

International human rights law prohibits refoulement and collective expulsions without an individual assessment of all protection needs prior to return, T?rk pointed out, calling for solidarity to ensure all those who wish to seek asylum have access to fair and efficient asylum procedures, regardless of their reasons for leaving their country.

“I also encourage Governments across the region to ensure that all Haitians have access to legal status, protection and support services regardless of their reasons for leaving their country,” he said.

“Haiti is on the verge of an abyss. We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past. While urgently tackling violence is a priority, Haiti’s future and sustainable recovery requires urgent and sustained action to tackle the root causes of this multifaceted crisis, and the Government’s firm commitment to accountability and the rule of law,” High Commissioner T?rk stressed.

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