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UN Chief: Haitians 'Trapped in Living Nightmare' of Gang Violence

A police officer pats down a motorcyclist at a checkpoint in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 1, 2023.
A police officer pats down a motorcyclist at a checkpoint in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 1, 2023.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday that the Haitian people are "trapped in a living nightmare" caused by violent armed gangs who have a stranglehold on the island nation, and he reiterated his call for an international armed force to help support the national police.

"Port-au-Prince is encircled by armed groups that are blocking roads, controlling access to food and health care, and undermining humanitarian support," he said of the capital, which he visited on Saturday.

Guterres told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that Haiti needs humanitarian and security assistance, as well as a political path out of the crisis.

Last October, Haiti's government requested the U.N. Security Council authorize an international force to assist the national police in eliminating the threat from the gangs that are terrorizing the population and preventing their access to food, clean water, education and many basic services.

"We are not calling for a military or political mission of the United Nations," Guterres emphasized. "We are calling for a robust security force deployed by member states to work hand-in-hand with the Haitian National Police to defeat and dismantle the gangs and restore security across the country."

The police also need financing, training and equipment in order to restore state authority and services.

But nine months later, the Security Council is no closer to authorizing a force and no country has stepped up to lead it.

Haiti's foreign minister, Jean Victor Geneus, came to the council on Thursday to reiterate the urgency of the government's appeal, saying the council has a moral responsibility to prevent "the shipwreck" of his country.

"The council understands perfectly that the situation is unprecedented and catastrophic in the country; the council also understands that it needs to act," Geneus said. He added that the government is flexible and open to all options that the Security Council would consider.

Caribbean bloc CARICOM held its summit earlier this week and discussed the deteriorating situation in Haiti. Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness briefed the council on behalf of CARICOM. He said the group is sending a panel of former prime ministers to Haiti in the coming weeks. He also urged the council to act.

"While we all express solidarity, it is meaningless without urgent action," he said.