UN deputy urges countries to consider armed force for Haiti

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N.’s deputy secretary-general urged every country “with capacity” to urgently consider the Haitian government’s request for an international armed force to help restore security and alleviate a humanitarian crisis in the Caribbean nation, which is in “a deepening crisis of unprecedented scale and complexity that is cause for serious alarm.”

Amina Mohammed also reiterated Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for international support for the beleaguered Haitian National Police.

“Insecurity has reached unprecedented levels and human rights abuses are widespread,” she told the U.N. Security Council. “Armed gangs have expanded their violent criminal activities, using killings and gang rapes to terrorize and subjugate communities.”

Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the country’s Council of Ministers sent an urgent appeal Oct. 7 calling for “the immediate deployment of a specialized armed force, in sufficient quantity” to stop the crisis caused partly by the “criminal actions of armed gangs.” But more than two months later, no countries have stepped forward.

Meanwhile, the already terrible situation in Haiti has gotten worse.

Helen La Lime, the U.N. special envoy for Haiti, told the council that gang violence has increased to “alarmingly high levels,” marked by spikes in kidnappings, killings and rapes.

“November witnessed 280 intentional homicides, the highest on record,” she said. Reported kidnappings for ransom have exceeded 1,200 cases so far this year — double the number recorded in 2021 — “making every commute for the average Haitian an ordeal.”

La Lime said the increase in reported rapes reflects the “horrendous” use of sexual violence by gang members “to intimidate and subjugate whole communities,” and the brutality of this violence “has become a badge of notoriety for perpetrators.”

Compounding the plight for millions of Haitians, the gangs control all main roads in and out of the capital, Port-au-Prince, which has created a “catastrophic economic situation” because trade is now stymied, she said.

“Close to half the population are food insecure, with some 20,000 people facing famine-like conditions,” thousands are displaced and 34% of schools remain closed, La Lime said, and the number of suspected cholera cases has increased to 15,000.

She said the Haitian National Police force continues to shrink, with its operational strength down to 13,000 personnel, with fewer than 9,000 available as active-duty officers.

While police have carried out some effective operations against gangs in Port-au-Prince, La Lime said, they need a specialized force as secretary-general Guterres outlined in October.

Many Haitians have rejected the idea of another international intervention, noting that U.N. peacekeepers were accused of sexual assault and sparked a cholera epidemic more than a decade ago that killed nearly 10,000 people. The United States has led several interventions in Haiti, including in 1994 and 2004, and there is also opposition to another American military foray.

Some opponents claim Henry hopes to use foreign troops to keep himself in power. He assumed the premiership last year after the still-unsolved assassination of President Jovenal Moise. Many consider Henry is illegally in the position because he was never elected nor formally confirmed in the post by the legislature.

Henry has failed to set a date for elections, which have not been held since 2016, but has pledged to do so once the violence is quelled.

Haiti’s Foreign Minister Jean Victor Geneus told the council the circumstances that pushed the government to request an international force to support the police “to eradicate or at least contain the phenomenon of armed gangs” and restore order haven’t changed much. He said the Haitian people “in their vast majority” favor an international force “no matter what some say.”

Geneus said Henry met civic, business and political leaders Wednesday morning to sign a “National Consensus” document that will establish a transitional council to move toward organizing elections “in the course of next year.”

U.S. Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood said because of the upsurge in gang activity the United States continues “to advocate for international security support, including a non-U.N. multinational force as requested by the Haitian government.”

He made no mention of countries that might lead or participate in such a force but said the U.S. has provided more than $90 million in security support to Haiti in the past 18 months and will continue to provide “critical support.”

Canada’s U.N. Ambassador Robert Rae, whose country has been mentioned as a possible leader of a multinational force, told the council: “The solutions must be led by Haiti, not by Canada, not by the United States, not by anyone here, not by any country, not by the U.N.”

He said the plans have to come from within the country after “a deep and sustained political dialogue” and “we need to make a concerted effort to understand the needs of Haitians and to support the country’s plans.”

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