Haiti: an unexpected civil war
According to the UN report published on 24th April, the Haitian population is suffering from one of the worst human rights crises in decades and a serious humanitarian emergency. Gangs are causing increasingly serious violence, including murders, rapes, kidnappings and lynchings. On 14th-19th April alone, fighting between rival gangs resulted in 70 deaths in Port-au-Prince, where some 200 criminal gangs operate freely and with impunity.
The Caribbean country is going through a dramatic social-political situation, the picture of which has been drawn by a combination of factors. For centuries, in fact, Haiti has been the victim of interference by foreign countries, which have exploited the territory and the population. Moreover, for decades the country has been administered by corrupt and dictatorial governments. Numerous natural disasters have repeatedly disrupted the economic and social fabric. The situation worsened with the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021, which created a power vacuum in the country, making the already complex control of the territory even more difficult. The de facto leader of Haiti is Ariel Henry, but the Prime Minister has never been able to gain any legitimacy as he only came to power by being chosen by Moise as his successor.
The human rights of the people living in gang-controlled areas are systematically violated: access to health facilities is very often impossible, many schools are closed because they are stormed by the gangs and food insecurity is rampant. The population of Port-au-Prince feels under siege and people cannot and do not want to leave their homes any longer for fear of gun violence and gang terror.
The situation is so bad that the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, recently stated that insecurity in Port-au-Prince “has reached levels comparable to countries in armed conflict”, adding that “since the beginning of 2023, 22 police officers have been killed by gangs”. Many international organisations have launched initiatives to help the Haitian people cope with this unprecedented humanitarian crisis. However, the efforts made so far have not been sufficient to alleviate the emergency situation. According to a report by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), in 2021 there were more than 100,000 people forced to leave their homes due to the violence of criminal gangs. Many Haitians are forced to live in makeshift
shelters, without access to sanitation and basic resources.
Gang violence has also had a negative impact on the country’s economic situation. Many businesses have closed or reduced their activities due to insecurity, leading to a decrease in employment and income. Moreover, the insecurity situation has made access to humanitarian resources and essential services for the population, such as drinking water, food and medical care, difficult. In this context of humanitarian crisis, humanitarian organisations have sought to increase their efforts to alleviate the suffering of the Haitian population. However, difficulties on the ground, including the lack of resources and adequate infrastructure, make the relief operation very difficult.
The situation in Haiti is dramatic and requires a strong commitment from the international community to put an end to criminal gang violence and to ensure a better future for the Haitian people. Only through collaboration between the government, humanitarian organisations and the international community will it be possible to address the country’s difficulties and build a more just and peaceful society.
Carlo Vittorio Matrone