UN warns Haitian gangs take over country, more police support not enough

UN Special Representative Haiti warned on Wednesday that the ongoing training and resources the international community is providing to the Haitian National Police are not enough to deal with increasingly violent gangs.

Helen La Lime, head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti, unexpectedly joined the meeting of the Organization of American States in Washington, DC, saying it was time to consider new partnerships as she once again called for the deployment of a dedicated foreign force.

“We can’t get the job done,” she said. “We need to rebuild this country.”


Powerful gangs have infiltrated once peaceful communities in the Haitian capital and beyond, and experts estimate they now control about 60% of Port-au-Prince. They looted neighborhoods, raped adults and children, and kidnapped hundreds of victims, from American missionaries to street vendors of hot dogs, in an attempt to control a large area, with the violence escalating after the assassination of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021.

“The OAS urgently needs … to understand that the deterioration of the security situation on the ground has reached its peak, and armed gangs are now roaming the country unhindered,” said Haitian Foreign Minister Victor Geneus.

High-ranking Haitian officials, including Geneus and Prime Minister Ariel Henry, have repeatedly turned to international authorities for help. The request was first made in October but fell on deaf ears of the UN Security Council, which instead imposed sanctions, as did the US and Canada.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau told reporters that the sanctions target “elite families in Haiti who are responsible not only for funding gangs, but also for destabilizing the political world and their economy in Haiti, which has cost the Haitian people dearly.”

He said Canada also continues to assist the Haitian National Police and other agencies, noting that previous outside intervention has not helped create long-term stability in Haiti.

“Clearly what is needed is a fresh approach to Haiti that actually puts the Haitian people in the driver’s seat in creating strong opportunities for them and a strong democracy,” Trudeau said.

The United Nations has warned that Haitian gang violence is likely to engulf the entire country, despite the police force being better funded and present in greater numbers.

The United Nations has warned that Haitian gang violence is likely to engulf the entire country, despite the police force being better funded and present in greater numbers. (AP Photo/Odelin Joseph)

But senior Haitian officials disagree.

“Haiti does not have the means to resolve this crisis on its own,” Geneus said at the OAS meeting.

The Haiti National Police has just 9,000 active officers in a country of more than 11 million people, and officials say the department remains under-resourced and manpower despite international assistance.

“It is not enough to have weapons. It is not enough to strengthen the national police and army,” said Léon Charles, Haiti’s permanent representative to the OAS and the country’s former police chief.

According to human rights activists, at least 78 police officers were killed by gangs that seized control of police departments in some areas and were burned to death in others.

The surge in violence has also left tens of thousands of Haitians homeless and sparked mass migration to the United States and other islands in Caribs, with an increase in the number of voyages aboard rickety boats that are becoming deadly. Meanwhile, officials in countries like the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands are cracking down on migrants and complaining about the strain they are putting on public services.

“The security issue of Haiti poses a threat to the entire region,” Geneous said.

The OAS has convened a meeting to review what assistance is needed and where Haiti can finally hold the long-awaited general election.

Before the OAS members went behind closed doors to continue discussions, La Lime said that Haiti urgently needed a safer environment ahead of the elections.

UN condemns upsurge in banditry in Haiti

“Nothing will move if the situation on the ground…does not change,” she said. “Without additional security assistance…they won’t survive.”

The meeting took place on Wednesday when a delegation of UN officials visited Port-au-Prince to meet with Prime Minister Ariel Henry and observe what they called “the scale and severity of the humanitarian crisis” and provide support to humanitarian operations.

Tarek Talahma of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said they were seeking $700 million to help at least 3 million of the 5 million Haitians who are in need of humanitarian assistance.

So far, he says, funding promises have not met expectations, “and that’s why we’re here.”


“Haitians are very decent people, and humanitarian aid is not the only thing they are waiting for. This community is looking for peace, security and protection, and this is important and should be a priority.” Talakhma said.