BY ALEX BALUKU
Baluku is a distinguished Fellow of the Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists, currently reporting from the United States of America on the 78th UN General Assembly. With a keen eye for global affairs and a commitment to delivering insightful coverage of UN activities, Baluku brings a unique perspective to the world of international journalism.
NEW YORK, OCT 23, 2023 – In a recent Security Council briefing, the UN Special Representative in Haiti, María Isabel Salvador, emphasized the gravity of the security situation in the country as gang violence continues to escalate. Salvador made it clear that elections are essential for reestablishing the rule of law and democratic institutions in Haiti, as only democracy and a robust legal framework can pave the way for the nation’s development and growth.
With nearly half of Haiti’s population, approximately five million people, currently dependent on humanitarian aid, the rising gang violence, primarily affecting the capital, Port-au-Prince, has created a significant challenge. The country has been grappling with a series of crises in recent years, including a cholera epidemic, earthquakes, cyclones, and the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021.
María Isabel Salvador reported that major crimes are surging and have reached record highs. The situation includes incidents such as the brazen daylight kidnapping of the head of the High Transitional Council, a body tasked with preparing long-overdue elections, by gang members posing as police officers. Gangs have been using extreme forms of violence, including killings, sexual violence, and mutilation, often in the absence of effective support for victims and a robust justice response.
Furthermore, vigilante groups have complicated the security crisis, with the so-called ‘Bwa Kale’ movement allegedly lynching nearly 400 alleged gang members between late April and the end of September.
Salvador is actively engaging in efforts to establish a path toward elections that will fully restore democratic institutions and the rule of law in Haiti. While inter-Haitian consultations have resumed under the guidance of the regional bloc CARICOM, there is concern that these efforts are not progressing at the desired pace.
The UN Special Representative stressed that regaining control through the Haitian National Police is a prerequisite for holding a credible and inclusive vote. The recent authorization of a multinational support mission to assist the national police offers hope that the security situation will improve, allowing for progress towards democratic elections.
The crisis also takes a significant toll on Haiti’s population, with roughly two million people living in areas under the control of armed groups, leading to an expansion of their operations. This dire situation has resulted in children being injured or killed in crossfire, forced recruitment of children into gangs, and extreme levels of gender-based and sexual violence against women and girls.
Additionally, armed groups have disrupted major routes connecting the capital to the rest of Haiti, impacting livelihoods and access to essential services. This has led to a deepening food security and nutrition crisis, with over 115,000 children suffering from severe malnutrition, a 30 percent increase compared to the previous year. A significant portion of Haitian children also suffer from chronic malnourishment, with the ongoing cholera outbreak further endangering young lives.
While the violence has complicated the work of humanitarian workers on the ground, organizations like UNICEF and their partners continue to deliver aid in Haiti. Last week, they successfully secured the safe release of nearly 60 children held by armed groups occupying a school in Port-au-Prince.
Gada Waly, the head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), highlighted that the gang violence is exacerbated by the illicit flow of “sophisticated firearms” into Haiti, often brought in illegally. These illicit weapons are in high demand, particularly among criminal groups involved in the illegal drug trade, as Haiti serves as a transit destination for cocaine and cannabis.
To tackle this issue, Waly urged the international community to support Haiti in halting the illicit firearms flow, establishing a robust regulatory framework for firearms, and taking steps to reassert control and restore normalcy within the nation.
As the situation in Haiti continues to worsen, the imperative role of elections in reestablishing stability and democracy in the country cannot be overstated. Haiti faces multifaceted challenges that require concerted efforts at both the national and international levels to address the security crisis and provide hope for the nation’s future.