Haiti declared an ‘open-air prison’ as gang violence reaches ‘apocalyptic’ levels

By Charlie Bradley

Haiti’s crisis has got so bad that the country has now been described as an “open-air prison” as armed gangs continue to kill unarmed civilians and the humanitarian crisis deepens.

In recent weeks, the gangs have ramped up their violence as they forced Prime Minister Ariel Henry to resign.

A transitional government has been formed to run the country before elections are held, but the gangs continue to cause chaos on the streets of the capital Port-au-Prince.

A United Nations report has outlined how more than 1,500 Haitians have died due to gang violence this year so far.

The report adds that children are among the most impacted, often caught in crossfire or being kidnapped by gangs as they aim to raise funds from ransoms. Sexual violence has also made the streets incredibly unsafe for women.

William O’Neill, the UN’s designated independent expert on human rights, based in New York, said: “Schools, hospitals, key government institutions, everything now is at risk.

An aerial view of the slums in Port-au-Prince

An aerial view of the slums in Port-au-Prince (Image: Getty)

Gangs are shooting unarmed civilians in the street

Gangs are shooting unarmed civilians in the street (Image: Getty)

“Port-au-Prince and the surrounding area is essentially an open-air prison. There’s no way out — air, land, or sea. In fact, it’s not even so open-air anymore because people are afraid to leave their houses.”

He added the situation in Haiti is “frightening” with “apocalyptic and catastrophic” scenes on the streets.

Mr O’Neill continued: “I’ve talked to Haitians who remember the Duvalier dictatorship, both father and son, Francois and Jean-Claude. They say it’s much worse than under Duvalier. That really is saying something. ”

On gangs recruiting children, he said: “This is extremely alarming. The gangs have turned their violence towards people that for whatever reasons they see as a threat to their continued control of the territories they control.”

The police have lost control of the capital Port-au-Prince

The police have lost control of the capital Port-au-Prince (Image: Getty)

Many in Haiti are now going without essentials, including food. Gang violence has also seen over 350,000 people displaced in their own country.

Mr O’Neill continued: “The key overriding issue is security. It’s got to be established to some minimal level. It is now almost non-existent in almost all of the capital and the surrounding area… [and[ also in the Lower Artibonite Valley, which is the breadbasket.

“Gangs in the Artibonite department have attacked farm properties and also stolen hundreds of livestock belonging to residents, assets which often represent farmers’ life savings.”

The United Nations report said: “Furthermore, along the northern coast of the Arcahaie and Léogâne communes, the Village de Dieu gang continues to use motorboats to … attack, loot, and steal from residents, local businesses, and humanitarian actors.

“To pay the ransoms demanded by gangs for the liberation of kidnapped family members, many have been forced to sell their homes and take out loans,” the report added. “Others have lost all their possessions and savings as they fled imminent gang attacks.

“Corruption, impunity and poor governance, compounded by increasing levels of gang violence, have eroded the rule of law and brought State institutions… close to collapse. The impact of generalized insecurity on the population is dire and deteriorating… and the population is severely deprived of enjoying its human rights.”


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