UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. special envoy for Haiti on Wednesday urged the immediate deployment of a specialized international force to counter escalating gang violence and develop the Caribbean nation’s understaffed and ill-equipped police force.
But the United States and Canada again showed no interest in leading a force and neither did any member of the U.N. Security Council.
Maria Isabel Salvador, who took over the U.N. job this month, warned that delays could lead to a spillover of insecurity in the Caribbean and Latin America.
She told the council that gang violence in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country is expanding at an alarming rate in areas previously considered safe in and outside the capital, Port-au-Prince. She cited police and U.N. figures to illustrate “the shocking increase in criminality in Haiti”: Criminal incidents — which comprise homicides, rapes, kidnappings and lynchings — more than doubled to 1,647 in the first quarter of 2023 from 692 in the same period in 2022.
Salvador stressed that without restoring a minimum level of security, it is impossible to move forward toward elections.
She told reporters afterward that she was disappointed that no country has offered to lead a force since U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued an urgent appeal last October for international help at the request of Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the country’s Council of Ministers.
At Wednesday’s council meeting, neither the United States, which has been criticized for previous interventions in Haiti, nor Canada, which the U.S. tried to convince to head the force, showed interest in taking the lead. The international community has instead opted to impose sanctions and send military equipment and other resources.
U.S. deputy ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis said the Biden administration is “deeply concerned about the rise in violent gang activity” and noted Haiti’s request for international support to address violence and insecurity.
“The United States continues to work with a growing number of international partners to support the urgent security needs in the country,” he said, adding that the Security Council needs to do its part by imposing additional sanctions against Haitians financing and fomenting violence.
Canada’s U.N. Ambassador Robert Rae also cited sanctions as “one important tool to break the power of armed gangs.” He said Canada is convinced that it’s vital to take action and told the council his government has decided to increase support for training and new equipment for Haiti’s National Police Force this year.
Neither DeLaurentis nor Rae mentioned contributing to an international stabilization force.
Salvador, a former Ecuadorian government official and business executive, told the council “we need to find innovative ways to define the force to support the Haitian National Police.”
Expanding on this idea to reporters later, the U.N. envoy said the international force, comprising police personnel, should help Haitian officers separate gangs and little by little restore security in the country.
She said she would like to see countries in Latin America and the Caribbean get more involved and lead the force, noting that some have past experience. “Regional crises require regional reactions and actions,” she stressed.
Salvador lamented that this takes time, “and the Haitian people cannot wait.”
The spillover from the escalating violence is already having an impact in the neighboring Dominican Republic and the region including Colombia, Ecuador and Peru where Haitians fleeing the country have arrived, she said, adding that increasing gang violence will worsen the impact.
In a report to the Security Council this week, the secretary-general urged the immediate deployment of an international armed force in Haiti to stem escalating gang violence and the country’s worst human rights crisis in decades, warning that insecurity in the capital “has reached levels comparable to countries in armed conflict.”
Haiti’s National Police Force is facing increasing attacks with 22 officers killed by gangs this year and increasing numbers of officers abandoning their posts, absent, retiring and more recently applying to humanitarian parole programs in the United States, the U.N. chief’s report said. The programs are open to Haitians seeking safe haven due to conditions in the country.
Salvador said this has cut the Haitian force’s operational strength from 14,772 to about 13,200 personnel, but she said only approximately 9,000 perform police tasks, and just 3,500 are on public safety duty at any given time throughout the country. At the same time, she said, recruitment of new officers has been halted because of deteriorating security and “”logistical constraints.”
Since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, Haiti’s gangs have grown more powerful and violent. In December, the U.N. estimated that gangs controlled 60% of Haiti’s capital, but most people on the streets in Port-au-Prince say that number is closer to 100%.
Compounding the gang warfare is the country’s political crisis: Haiti was stripped of all democratically elected institutions when the terms of the remaining 10 senators expired in early January.