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UN chief calls on world to make troubled Haiti ‘top priority’

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to the media during his quick visit to Port-au-Prince on July 1, 2023
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to the media during his quick visit to Port-au-Prince on July 1, 2023 - Copyright AFP Richard PIERRIN
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to the media during his quick visit to Port-au-Prince on July 1, 2023 - Copyright AFP Richard PIERRIN
Richard PIERRIN with Amélie BOTTOLLIER-DEPOIS at the United Nations

On a visit to spotlight violence and chaos in Haiti, the UN secretary-general on Saturday called for a robust international effort to help the beleaguered national police in fighting rampant criminal gangs.

“We must put Haiti on the international political map, and make the tragedy of the Haitian people the international community’s top priority,” Antonio Guterres said during the visit, his first to the impoverished Caribbean country as head of the UN.

“I met Haitians, and I felt the exhaustion of a population that has been facing a cascade of crises and unbearable living conditions for too long,” he said.

“This is not the time to forget about Haiti,” Guterres said after meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Henry, and other political and civil society leaders. 

Guterres urged the UN Security Council, which is due to discuss the Haiti situation later this month, “to authorize the immediate deployment of a robust international security force.”

In October, he relayed Henry’s request for a non-UN force to support police overwhelmed by ever-increasing gang violence.

But the call has gone unheeded. A few countries have indicated their willingness to participate, but none has volunteered to lead an operation in a country where multiple past foreign interventions have become mired.

“I call on those states that have the capacity to provide a robust security force to stop hesitating and be ready to follow a Security Council decision,” Guterres said.

“Every day counts. If we don’t act now, instability and violence will have a lasting impact on generations of Haitians.”

– ‘Widespread sexual violence’ –

UN officials in recent months have offered increasingly grim assessments of the impact of gang shootings, kidnappings and rapes.

“Port-au-Prince is surrounded by armed gangs blocking the main roads leading to the northern and southern departments, controlling access to water, food and health care,” Guterres said during his visit Saturday.

He condemned “in the strongest possible terms the widespread sexual violence used by armed gangs as a weapon to instill fear.”

Earlier in the week, UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell said the “horrors” inflicted on civilians have never been greater.

“An 11-year-old girl told me in the sweetest voice that five men grabbed her in the street. Three raped her. She was eight months pregnant when we spoke and gave birth a few days later,” Russell recounted.

Almost half the population, or 5.2 million people, are in need of humanitarian assistance, including almost three million children.

No elections have been held since 2016, and Henry, appointed prime minister just 48 hours before the assassination of the last president Jovenel Moise in July 2021, faces questions about his legitimacy.

After Haiti, Guterres travels to Trinidad and Tobago for a Caribbean Community (Caricom) summit, where issues surrounding Haiti will be discussed.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also will attend the summit.

Guterres said Haitian issues go beyond security and humanitarian concerns to include a return to active democracy.

He called on civic leaders to “overcome their personal interests and make concessions in order to facilitate the emergence of a common vision and a viable and credible electoral path.”

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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