After weeks of negotiations and delayed voting, the United Nations Security Council overwhelmingly agreed to sanction Jimmy Cherizier and other gang leaders accused of raping and terrorizing Haitian people.
The sanctions were approved on Oct. 21 in a resolution led by the United States and Mexico, one week after a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN mission in Haiti (Binuh) accused the gangs, who control 60 percent of Port-au-Prince, the capital, of using recorded videos of rapes to threaten the families of victims to pay ransoms.
Cherizier, who is known as Barbeque, heads a coalition of gangs — “G9 Family and Allies” — who are blocking the Varreux Terminal, where most of Haiti’s fuel is stored, preventing the supply of water and essential medical supplies to the Haitian people. The sanctions agreed on by the 15-seat Security Council asks that all UN member states stop Barbeque as well as other individuals and entities perpetrating or financing criminal activities in Haiti from leaving the country, freezing their assets and curbing the supply of illicit arms into Haiti.
A committee would be set up to identify the other people and organizations of interest. A panel of four experts would also be chosen to do the groundwork of reviewing the effectiveness of the one-year restrictions and feeding the committee with real-time data to determine if any circumstances necessitate the temporal or permanent freeze of the embargoes. The experts would also recommend if the sanctions should be renewed by September 2023.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US envoy to the UN, said that the sanctions are “sending a clear message to the bad actors that are holding Haiti hostage. The international community will not stand idly by, while you wreak havoc on the Haitian people.”
The US and Mexico said they were also drafting a Security Council resolution to authorize a “non-UN international security assistance mission” to Haiti to help mitigate the chaos engulfing the capital and ensure humanitarian aid delivery. The security force was requested by acting Prime Minister Ariel Henry of Haiti and recommended by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in a letter dated Oct. 8, seen by PassBlue to the Council. He wrote that such a “rapid action force” would work with the Haitian National Police — already stretched thin — in the capital to secure “the free movement of water, fuel, food, and medical supplies” from the main ports and airports to communities and health care centers.
Helen La Lime, the UN special envoy for Haiti and head of Binuh, also advised the Security Council on Oct. 17 not only to consider a draft resolution to sanction gang leaders but also to approve a resolution to send an international strike force.
Yet it is unclear if such a draft resolution on the latter has been circulated to Council members; the press office for the US mission to the UN said in an Oct. 24 email to PassBlue that they were “working on the draft with our co-penholder Mexico.” PassBlue emailed the Mexican mission to the UN requesting information, but it went unanswered.
Calls by the Haitian public for Henry to resign, coupled with objections from the Montana Group, a body of influential civic, religious and political organizations and leaders in Haiti, to a security force could complicate action by the Council. No country in the body or the greater UN membership has offered publicly so far to send troops to Haiti, and the UN is not sending peacekeepers, given its controversial history of peace operations in the country. Brazil — which is a Council member and has provided troops to UN peacekeeping missions in Haiti in the past — could be a potential source for a security force, but it is unlikely that such a deployment would happen soon, a Brazilian political analyst told PassBlue.
Thomas-Greenfield said that an “international security assistance mission” would be a “limited, carefully scoped, non-UN mission led by a partner country with the deep, necessary experience required for such an effort to be effective.” Canada and the US have delivered tactical and armored vehicles and other supplies to the Haitian National Police to “counter gang violence and re-establish stability and security under the rule of law,” Thomas-Greenfield also said on Oct. 17. China’s deputy ambassador, Geng Shuang, threw cold water on the proposal, asking if a foreign force would be welcomed by Haitians. Russia raised similar concerns.
Despite major media coverage of the sanctions regime being slapped on the gang leaders, little attention has been devoted to the extent of kidnappings and rapes carried out by the G9 and other gangs in the country. Data are not systematically gathered by any national or international body, but the report prepared by Binuh and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights verified 537 kidnappings in the first three months of 2022. At least 20 percent of those abducted were women or girls. Within the same period, gangs killed or caused the death of at least 826 people and injured 518 others.
Sometimes, the gangs did not need to send coercive rape videos to the families of victims but did it live. “Children as young as 10 and elderly women were subjected to collective rapes for hours in front of their parents or children by more than half a dozen armed elements during attacks against their neighborhoods,” the report said. In certain instances, those raped who were perceived to be unsympathetic to the attacking gang or were residents of communities controlled by rival criminals mutilated afterward.
“In addition to the trauma of being kidnapped and sexually abused, some of the victims contracted HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs),” the report found. “Others also became pregnant. Many victims experienced guilt as the ransom paid for their release drove their families into economic and social destitution.”
The report highlighted the use of rape for territorial control, but the problem goes deeper. The gangs are using rape, abuse and torture to assert their influence in the communities under their grip. Women and girls receive protection from rape by becoming sexual partners to gang leaders. Dating a gang leader is the key to accessing food and water for vulnerable families. Sexual violations are not limited to girls and women. Men and boys are also victims. Some of them are kept by gangs and forced to carry out domestic roles.
Rejecting the cultural respect for the elderly in Haitian society, they rape older people as well. Haunted by shame, one woman who was sexually attacked told the UN research team that she was beaten and robbed instead of revealing the full truth of what happened.
Thomas-Greenfield said that part of the humanitarian aid that could now flow more freely to Haiti would need to involve psychosexual support. Guilt and trauma prevent victims from reporting their abuse or going to the hospital. Even if they seek proper medical care from a clinic, there is a 50 percent chance that they will not be attended to properly, the report said. It found that half of the hospitals in Haiti had stopped offering emergency services since the cordoning of the Varreux terminal.
The country is not just dealing with a sexual violence scourge, but a cholera epidemic is looming, too. La Lime of Binuh told the Council on Oct. 17 that Haiti had recorded its first case of cholera in three years. (UN peacekeepers from Nepal inadvertently introduced cholera to the island nation in 2010; it took years to eradicate it and at least 9,000 people died.)
“Within weeks, dozens more cases have been confirmed,” she said. “More than half resulted in death, with hundreds more suspected in the West and Centre Departments. Twenty-five of those deaths were in the prison of Port-au-Prince alone.” Unicef said that as of Oct. 22, the Ministry of Health reported 1,752 suspected cases and 40 deaths of cholera in Haiti, with nearly half of the cases reported in the urban-poor area of Cité Soleil in the capital. It is feared that the actual number is significantly higher because of underreporting.
La Lime also elaborated to the Council how Haiti, considered the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, is facing security, economic, health and political crises.
She and the high commissioner for human rights office said that the Haitian National Police and state government institutions are unable to operate in gang-controlled areas.
“Given that state authorities are not here, the gang leader is the chief, the police and the judge,” Haitians interviewed by the UN human-rights team said.
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Damilola Banjo is a staff reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.
Sanctions do not seem like the answers; nor do watching the situation for another year to determine if the sanctions work. More effort needs to be taken to ensure Haitians have life basics, security, and medical care.