Crisis in Haiti: Human Rights Expert Details Violence

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The ongoing gang violence in Haiti has taken the international spotlight. Experts with the United Nations warn the country is in peril as gangs disrupt daily life, kill, kidnap and even sexually assault Haitians. In this fist segment of our two part series, we speak with an expert on the crisis in Haiti.  

“Haiti is in a catastrophic situation right now,” said Bill O’Neill.  

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights designated O’Neill as the expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti. The Caribbean country has been plagued by violence for years but within the past couple of weeks, Haiti has gained international attention for the increase in gang violence. 

“It’s like a mafia you have to pay for everything,” said O’Neill describing the daily life of many Haitians. “If you go to the water pump to get water because most Haitians don’t have running water, there’s a guy at the pump with his hand out and you have to pay him before you get your water. If you take a taxi or a motorbike from one zone to another there’s a gang checkpoint you have to pay to get in, pay to get out and sometimes women are stopped and raped. Some people are kidnapped and held for ransom.” 

O’Neill said the gangs have compromised people’s access to medical services and food. The World Food Programme said 44 percent, or roughly 4.35 million Haitians, are food insecure because the violence is hindering access to food.  

“Food is very expensive a lot of it is imported and with the [inaudible] and Ukraine and pressures on inflation worldwide, the cost of buying anything even when its available is beyond the reach of many, many Haitians,” said O’Neill “The gangs have only complicated that by adding costs because food comes in either through the ports or the border from the DR [Dominican Republic]. The food that is produced in Haiti go through gang checkpoints. Every checkpoint there’s a charge put on it.” 

“The thing that is worrying me the most is sexual violence and the number of rapes and other attacks on women and girls and sometimes men and boys,” said O’Neill. “It is rampant. The UN actually can’t count the cases, they’ve stopped trying. It’s such a horrible epidemic.” 

Another growing issue: the number of internally displaced people.  

“They’ve been forced to leave their homes because of the gang violence,” said O’Neill. “It’s grown from 50-thousand more or less when I was there on the first mission in July of 2023. When I was there in October and November it had quadrupled to 200-thousand and now the latest reports I’m getting is that is has now doubled.” 

O’Neill said 400-thousand might be a conservative number.  

“A lot of the young women and girls that have been displaced are really exposed because they’re sleeping on the streets or in parks and very unprotected,” said O’Neill. “When night falls its very bad.” 

Our special coverage of this issue will continue in a second segment. We will share how the UN and other countries are working to end the violence, and the roadblocks they face in getting the job done.