UN agency reports 531 dead in Haiti, calls for international support

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

The OHCHR's logo.
Image: OHCHR.

The United Nations' (UN) Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on March 21 urged the international community to "urgently consider the deployment of a time-bound specialized support force" to Haiti amid gang violence it said has led to 531 deaths since the start of the year.

The agency's spokesperson Marta Hurtado warned: "Clashes between gangs are becoming more violent and more frequent"; she expressed "grave concern" the security situation was spiralling out of control.

Hurtado stated these clashes left at least 208 dead, 164 injured and 101 kidnapped within the first two weeks of March and noted: "Most of the victims were killed or injured by snipers who were reportedly randomly shooting at people in their homes or on the streets".

Hurtado stated, "many children have been forcibly recruited by armed gangs" and connected it to a loss of protection after school closures.

Hurtado said half the population lack sufficient food following a surge in food prices, and 160,000 or more Haitians are living in uncertain conditions, with a quarter in makeshift accommodation with access to sanitation limited.

Since Haitian Prime Minister first Ariel Henry asked a support force be deployed to his nation in October, The Guardian said, the idea has gained traction internationally as the crisis record of failed foreign interventions in Haiti.

The Guardian also reported the US approached Brazil to lead such a force. Brazil co-led a 2004-2017 peacekeeping mission in Haiti; Brazilian Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira told the paper earlier this year: "I think we need to seek other solutions – I don’t know if sending troops or a peacekeeping operation is the solution".

Twenty thousand people are in catastrophic famine-like situation.

—Volker Türk

According to the Agence France-Presse (AFP), a political and economic crisis has been developing in Haiti since the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021 sparked infighting among politicians.

The AFP reported school closures in Haiti after pupils and teachers were caught in crossfire and students and their parents faced kidnappings.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged the formation of a "rapid action force" to aid the Haitian police in 2022.

Visiting Haiti last month, the UN's high commissioner for human rights, Volker Türk, described the situation as "living hell [...] Twenty thousand people are in catastrophic famine-like situation".

Türk has called on officials in Haiti to strengthen the police force and enact judicial reform to address the security issues.