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5 Apr, 2024 00:40

‘Apocalyptic situation’ on Caribbean island – UN expert

Haiti has descended into “unprecedented” levels of violence and cruelty, a top human rights observer has claimed
‘Apocalyptic situation’ on Caribbean island – UN expert

A top UN human rights expert has likened conditions in Haiti to the “worst of times” in Somalia, saying the Caribbean nation has descended into unprecedented violence and chaos since gangs took over much of the capital last month.

“I’m running out of words, frankly, at this point,” human rights observer William O’Neill told the UN Human Rights Council earlier this week. “It’s apocalyptic, it’s like the end of times.” He added that the capital, Port-au-Prince, is suffering “a level of intensity and cruelty in the violence that is simply unprecedented in my experience in Haiti.”

Healthcare and other public services have been shattered by gang violence, and schools, hospitals, banks, and other institutions have come under frequent attacks. The international airport has been closed since last month, and the gangs control access to all major roads in and out of the capital, O’Neill said. The gangs have charged fees on every vehicle and person moving through the areas that they control, he added.

The gang uprising started on February 29, forcing Prime Minister Ariel Henry to resign while taking refuge in the US territory of Puerto Rico. Haiti, which has not had a president since Jovenel Moise was assassinated in 2021, currently has no elected leaders. A transitional council is being set up to form a new government.

O’Neill has previously worked in humanitarian crises in countries such as Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, and Nepal. “Here, I think what’s different is that the state is virtually absent,” he said. “There is no state, and that’s almost like a Hobbesian world where it’s really survival of the fittest … and unfortunately, the fittest right now are the gangs.”

Thousands of people have fled Port-au-Prince in recent weeks. Gangs already control about 90% of the capital, and if they ramp up violence in other parts of the country, they could trigger a massive exodus of refugees to the US and the Dominican Republic, O’Neill warned.

The human rights expert lamented that Washington has not disrupted the smuggling of US-made weapons into Haiti. “I’m amazed that you can’t get food or medicine into Haiti, but you still get guns and bullets coming in,” he said. “I can’t believe my government can’t inspect those boats leaving from the Miami River and pull out every rifle and bullet because Haiti doesn’t produce any guns or bullets.” He added, “If the gangs don’t have their guns or bullets, they lose all their power.”