UN calls for foreign intervention in Haiti as violence surges

<span>Photograph: Odelyn Joseph/AP</span>
Photograph: Odelyn Joseph/AP

The United Nations has called for the deployment of an international “specialized support force” to impede Haiti’s accelerating tumble into extreme violence after more than 530 people were killed in the opening weeks of this year.

“Clashes between gangs are becoming more violent and more frequent,” the spokesperson for the UN human rights office, Marta Hurtado, warned on Tuesday, voicing “grave concern” that the security situation was spiraling out of control.

The UN agency said that already this year its staff had counted 531 killings, 300 injuries and 277 kidnappings in gang-related incidents, mostly in Haiti’s gang-throttled capital, Port-au-Prince.

At least 208 of those killings and 101 of the kidnappings took place in the first half of this month. “Most of the victims were killed or injured by snipers who were reportedly randomly shooting at people in their homes or on the streets,” Hurtado said.

Haiti’s collapse will reportedly be on the agenda when the US president, Joe Biden, visits Canada this week, with Washington reportedly seeking to persuade Ottawa to spearhead a security intervention aimed at stabilizing the violence-stricken Caribbean nation.

Another country the US has reportedly sought to enlist for such a role is Brazil, which helped lead the 2004-2017 UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti, Minustah. However, speaking to the Guardian at the start of this year, Brazil’s new foreign minister, Mauro Vieira, appeared to rule out the South American country’s participation in a military response to what he admitted was a “massive, worsening crisis” in Haiti.

“I think we need to seek other solutions – I don’t know if sending troops or a peacekeeping operation is the solution,” Vieira said. “And I think other countries could also take part.”

Haiti’s long-running crisis intensified after the 2021 assassination of its president, Jovenel Moïse, at his Port-au-Prince residence. Since then, politically connected gangs have seized control of more than 60% of the capital, Haitian politics has been plunged into a morass of infighting, the resource-starved police force has mutinied, and an already dramatic humanitarian crisis has intensified.

“You cannot imagine. It’s living hell,” the UN’s high commissioner for human rights, Volker Türk, said while visiting Haiti last month. “Twenty thousand people are in catastrophic famine-like situation.”

Related: ‘Warfare is encroaching’: aid groups may have to cut back services in Haiti as violence grows

The catastrophic track record of foreign interventions in Haiti, stemming back to the 19th century, makes many people – in Haiti, and abroad – profoundly wary of yet more international interference.

“You won’t go there for three months or six months,” Gilles Rivard, a former Canadian ambassador to Haiti, told the Washington Post this week. “You will go there for at least a couple of years.”

Yet the scale of the current disaster means prominent members of the international community have backed such a deployment, originally request by Haiti’s embattled prime minister, Ariel Henry, last October.

Last year the UN secretary general, António Guterres, called for a “rapid action force” to help police tackle the gangs. On Tuesday, the UN human rights office urged the world to consider what it called “a time-bound specialized support force”.