Haiti, a Caribbean country is fast becoming a major humanitarian crisis as an intense gang war is displacing tens of thousands of citizens and residents.
Independent sources at the weekend claimed that the number of displaced persons including women and children is exceeding 20,000.
Already, Haiti is a matter of concern to the United Nations humanitarian agency, OCHA.
Before now, preliminary estimates from OCHA indicated that an upsurge in deadly clashes between gangs in the capital city, Port-au-Prince, displaced more than 5,000 people since the beginning of the month.
The upsurge of violence in the troubled country is worrisome because against the backdrop of political unrest there, Head of the United Nations Mission in the country told the Security Council in December 2018, Haiti is ”laden with challenges, but also hope.”
Triggered by violent demonstrations and numerous allegations of government mismanagement of public funds, and “worrying episodes” of violence in some Port-au-Prince neighborhoods, Special Representative Helen La Lime said that although progress has been slow, the UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH) has had a positive impact.
Noting progress on “reinforcing rule of law institutions, increasing the capacity of the Haitian National Police, and promoting human rights”, she pointed out that the government now has a dedicated ministerial level focal point for human rights, which “indicates Haiti’s readiness to engage with international human rights bodies and to prepare a national action plan.”
Ms. La Lime said it was encouraging that the national ombudsperson’s office is slowly increasing its influence outside of the capital, Port-au-Prince and that the space for human rights organisations is expanding in general.
She pointed out that at the Prime Minister’s request, a joint commission had been established between MINUJUSTH, his advisers and other UN agencies, to remove bottlenecks in implementing the mission’s mandate and to provide a technical support forum.
Disturbingly, much remains to be done, such as replicating successful pilot projects throughout the country, including one that tackles pre-trial detention in the jurisdiction of Port-au-Prince; and addressing in a systemic manner gang violence which has become endemic to several Port-au-Prince neighborhoods.
“It would behoove not only the government of Haiti, but also the international community to fulfill their commitment to fully fund the five-year HNP [Haitian National Police] Strategic Development Plan, so as to ensure the continued buildup of human, logistical and material capacity of the institution”, she continued, assuring the Council that “MINUJUSTH will focus on fulfilling these objectives.”
She informed the chamber that following a request by the Haitian authorities, a needs assessment mission was recently deployed to Port-au-Prince to determine the UN’s level of technical assistance and logistical support to the country’s upcoming parliamentary and municipal elections.
Ms. La Lime asserted that while all MINUJUSTH benchmarks would not be achieved by October 15, 2019, with responsible planning, the reconfiguration of the UN presence in Haiti to a non-peacekeeping one is “still feasible,” reporting that “this month MINUJUSTH will be reducing the footprint of its Formed Police Units from seven to five.”
Stressing that the mission’s success depends on the Government functioning properly, she noted that over the last weeks she has contacted the President, Prime Minister, political leaders and key private sector players to advocate for a de-escalation of current tensions and respect for constitutional order.
Citing the government’s efficient response to the 6 October earthquake as demonstrating the capacity of a united Haitian State, Ms. La Lime asserted that it was important to collectively assist the country in emerging from the current political impasse.
”Through a constructive and peaceful dialogue, the democratically-elected Government of Haiti could set the stage for the next cycle of elections, and continue to implement programmes that improve the lives of its citizens”, she said.
However, people are fleeing to safer areas to stay with relatives, though many others, including children, are sleeping outside or in informal shelters.
UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said the newly displaced require urgent assistance and protection.
“Priority needs include sanitation, shelter, access to clean water and food”, he told journalists.
“Response efforts are underway to assist some 2,000 of the most vulnerable people. These efforts are led by the Municipality and Civil Protection, with the support of the UN.”
The violence has left several people dead, or injured, as rival gangs battle to exert control over populous areas such as Martissant, Cité-Soleil and Bel Air. Hundreds of homes and small businesses have also been burned.
Police stations attacked
The latest displacement adds to the more than 4,000 people uprooted in the last 12 months due to similar incidents.
OCHA reported that the national police force is often not able to provide security and protection during the clashes, leaving vulnerable populations to fend for themselves.
Police stations have also come under fire. One policeman was killed and another injured when armed assailants attacked all three police stations in Cité-Soleil on Saturday, stealing several weapons.
“The unprecedented level of violence and subsequent displacements is creating a host of secondary issues, such as the disruption of community-level social functioning, family separation, increased financial burdens on host families, forced school closures, loss of livelihoods and a general fear among the affected populations,” OCHA said in a situation report earlier last week.
The UN and partners are closely coordinating with the Haitian authorities to ensure humanitarian access.