SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A human rights group urged the international community on Monday to intervene quickly to end spiraling violence by gangs in Haiti.
The call by Human Rights Watch comes as Haiti awaits a response from the U.N. Security Council to its request in October for the immediate deployment of an international armed force to fight the surge in violence.
“The longer that we wait and don’t have this response, we’re going to see more Haitians being killed, raped and kidnapped, and more people suffering without enough to eat,” said Ida Sawyer, the group’s crisis and conflict director, who visited Haiti to compile a report on the violence.
The U.S. said earlier this month that it would introduce a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing Kenya to lead a multinational police force to fight gangs in Haiti. However, no timetable for such a resolution was given.
“The main message we want to get across is that Haitian people need support now,” Sawyer said. “We heard again and again that the situation is worse now in Haiti than it’s been at any time people can remember.”
Gangs have overpowered police, with experts estimating that they now control some 80% of Port-au-Prince. There are only about 10,000 police officers for the country’s more than 11 million people. More than 30 officers were killed from January to June, and more than 400 police facilities are inoperative because of criminal attacks, according to Human Rights Watch.
In addition to the ongoing violence, an estimated 5.2 million Haitians are in need of humanitarian assistance, a 20% increase from last year.
Sawyer also called for strict oversight of Kenyan police if they are deployed.
The report was released the same day that protesters were organizing the first of three planned demonstrations in Port-au-Prince to demand the ouster of Prime Minister Ariel Henry amid anger and frustration over the rise in violence and deepening poverty.
Among those planning to march was Cassandre Petit, a 35-year-old mother who owns a small convenience store.
“You don’t know when you’re going to get robbed or shot for bubble gum money that you made that day,” she said in an interview.
Petit accused the government of making empty promises to improve people’s lives and said she rarely sees police patrolling the streets.
She said she hopes an international police force will arrive soon so “I’ll be able to breathe for a little while.”
Human Rights Watch also urged the U.S., Canada, France and other governments to support the creation of a transitional government, with Henry holding power since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
The group also recommended that the U.S. and France recognize their responsibility “for their historic harms and abuses with ongoing impacts and work towards the development of an effective and genuine reparations process led by Haitian people.”
Haiti became the world’s first Black republic in 1804, with France demanding a 150 million gold franc “independence debt” to compensate for lost slaves and land. The debt crippled the country, which finished paying a reduced debt of 90 million gold coins to French and American banks in 1947.
The report details abuse and violence that occurred in four communities in metropolitan Port-au-Prince from January to April of this year, based on interviews with dozens of victims and witnesses.
A 33-year-old mother of four said she was beaten and raped when she left early one morning in April to sell goods at the market. She said her sister, a mother of three children, was with her and was killed because she resisted an attempt to rape her.
“They burned her in my presence, and her corpse was placed in a pile with other corpses,” the woman said.
In another attack, a 30-year-old mother of three said two men shot her father in the head and then began to cut off his arms with a machete. Her 5-year-old son was killed when bandits set fire to her home.
“When I managed to get into my house, he was wrapped in a blanket, totally charred,” she was quoted as saying.
Sawyer said she was most taken aback by the number of sexual violence cases and how nearly all the victims interviewed had not received medical care or reported their cases to police.
Doctors Without Borders said that between January and May of this year, it helped more than 1,000 victims of sexual violence, nearly twice the number in the same period last year.
Kidnappings and killings also have spiked.
More than 2,000 people were killed from January to June, a nearly 125% increase from the same period last year. More than 1,000 kidnappings were reported during those months, according to the U.N. Integrated Office in Haiti.
“The Haitian government has failed to protect people from the violence of criminal groups. To those living in affected areas, the police and other authorities scarcely exist,” Human Rights Watch said.
A spokesperson for the prime minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
More than 190,000 Haitians have been forced to flee their homes since last year, with some leaving the country and many staying in makeshift shelters with deplorable hygiene.
Associated Press reporter Evens Sanon in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, contributed to this report.