SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — U.N. human rights officials denounced Friday what they called the “extreme brutality” of gangs in Haiti, with thousands fleeing several neighborhoods in the country’s capital this week amid a surge in violence.
The killings have intensified in recent weeks as a reconnaissance mission from Kenya composed of nearly a dozen senior police officers was expected to arrive in Haiti on Friday, Kenyan media reported.
The eastern African country has offered to lead an international force to help Haiti’s understaffed and under resourced police department quell gang violence, with only about 10,000 officers for the Caribbean nation’s more than 11 million people.
Deputy Inspector General of Administration Police Noor Gabow, who is leading the Kenyan mission, did not return a message seeking comment.
Earlier this month, the U.S. said it would introduce a U.N. Security Council resolution that would authorize Kenya to lead a multinational police force and provide 1,000 officers. No timetable for the resolution has been given.
Kenya’s announcement raised concerns, given that its police force has been criticized for alleged killings and torture. On Wednesday, a former police officer considered to be Haiti’s most powerful gang leader warned he would fight any foreign armed force if it committed any abuses.
From January 1 until Aug. 15, more than 2,400 people in Haiti were reported killed, more than 950 kidnapped and another 902 injured, according to Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Among those killed this week is a local municipal representative, his wife and child, she said.
Shamdasani noted that the Grand Ravine gang began attacking several neighborhoods last week, killing some people for supporting a violent uprising by civilians that targets suspected gang members.
Since late April to mid-August, more than 350 people have been lynched as part of the movement dubbed “bwa kale.” Among them are 310 alleged gang members, 46 members of the public and a police officer, she said.
Haiti’s National Police forced the gang out of one area on Tuesday, Shamdasani said.
“However, the situation remains extremely insecure as the police subsequently withdrew and gang members are still operating in surrounding areas,” she said.
The violence forced some 5,000 people to flee their homes this week. They joined more than 200,000 others who have done the same since last year, with many staying in makeshift and extremely unsanitary shelters.
Overall, at least 15 people were killed from Aug. 13-16 during the attack by the Grand Ravine gang, including two police officers and two children, according to the Center for Analysis and Research on Human Rights, a Haitian nonprofit. More than two dozen homes also were torched, the group said.
On Thursday, Jerry Chandler, Haiti’s civil protection director, held a press conference to provide limited details on those affected by the recent surge in violence.
“Unfortunately, the Civil Protection cannot for the moment draw up an exhaustive assessment because we do not have access to the areas,” he said.
Chandler added that the government is distributing water and hot meals to those displaced.
Haitian gangs have grown more powerful since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, and they are estimated to now control up to 80% of the capital of Port-au-Prince.