UN: Haitian police need immediate help as violence escalates

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A UN special envoy warned Thursday that Haitian police need immediate help to fight crime and violence, noting that gangs have become so powerful that they have recently took over a local courthouse.

Helen La Lime, the top UN official in Haiti, said insecurity was rapidly deteriorating in the country of more than 11 million people, with an average of nearly seven reported kidnappings a day.

In May alone, she said more than 200 murders and 198 kidnappings had been reported. Those kidnappings included two buses full of children and three UN staff and their dependents, with one local staff member killed in a gang firefight, according to a UN Security Council report. .

“The pervasive and growing sense of insecurity, exacerbated by the apparent inability of the (Haitian National Police) to deal with the situation and the manifest impunity with which criminal acts are committed, poses a dangerous threat to the State of right,” said La Lime, who spoke. during a meeting of the UN Security Council on Thursday.

The warning comes just days after a gang targeted the trial court in the capital Port-au-Prince, looting and burning records and evidence, she said. Authorities identified the gang as “5 seconds”, which supposedly represents the time it takes them to commit a crime. They control the Village of God slum located across from the courthouse they targeted.

Government Commissioner Jacques Lafontant told The Associated Press that he was still waiting for the Haiti National Police to come to the courthouse to assess the damage and the current situation.

“Right now, it’s clear the place is under the control of the gang,” he said.

Lafontant added that while services at the magistrates’ court were interrupted after the gang broke into the courthouse on Friday, they have temporarily resumed at another government building in the capital.

Meanwhile, Aine Martin, who oversees the Haitian Association of Court Clerks, told the AP the gang had destroyed documents and barred lawyers and judges from their offices. He said authorities are still trying to remove a huge safe from the courthouse that contains important documents and evidence, including firearms and cash. He declined to provide details of the records, including whether they relate to the investigation into the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, which remains stalled.

“These groups are guided by an invisible hand to destroy sensitive documents,” he said, declining to identify who he believed could be giving orders to the gangs.

Fondasyon Je Klere, a Haiti-based human rights group, said employees, lawyers, defendants and others were able to save themselves by scaling the walls and receiving help from police on the day. where the gang attacked the courthouse.

The organization added that one person was shot and injured as gangs stole seven cars and equipment including computers, chairs and air conditioners.

Three days later, the furniture was seen displayed along a nearby street for sale, the rights group said.

He noted that the court takeover occurred days after criminals took over the nearby building of the Center for Planning Techniques and Applied Economics.

Before the gang broke into the courthouse, lawyers’ unions and others protested what they said was a lack of security as they demanded more protection. Meanwhile, clerks launched a nationwide strike in mid-April that lasted more than a month.

UN officials note that Haitian police arrested hundreds of suspected gang members and killed more than 120 others, as well as seized several hundred firearms and increased checkpoints and patrols. They added that while various countries, including the United States, have provided training and equipment, the department remains understaffed and underfunded, with only 12,800 active police officers for a country of more than 11 million. inhabitants.

La Lime, the UN official, said gangs are creating a “state of terror” in Haiti and attributed the current instability to what she called a “prolonged institutional vacuum”.

Haiti has not had a functioning parliament for more than two years and has yet to hold a general election after its president was killed in his private home. La Lime also warned that proposals to move the country forward are crumbling and that the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti known as BINUH is trying to revive dialogue between all parties.

“It is highly unlikely that elections that would usher in a return to democratic governance will take place this year,” she said, adding that the creation of a new Provisional Electoral Council is “still a frustrating distant prospect.”

Thousands of people continue to flee Haiti as the country’s economy erodes and violence increases, with gang wars displacing at least 17,000 people.

A growing number of Haitians are embarking on deadly journeys in an attempt to find a better life in neighboring Caribbean islands or the United States. Last month, 11 Haitian women died after an overloaded boat they were on capsized. At least a dozen migrants are still missing and 38 others have been rescued, including 36 Haitians. Also last month, more than 840 Haitians aboard a boat disembarked in Cuba, the largest such arrival in recent history.

Additionally, UN officials said some 40,000 Haitian and Haitian-origin nationals were expelled from countries in the Americas region from September 2021 to March 2022, compounding humanitarian challenges.

Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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