The United Nations human rights office (OHCHR) warned on Tuesday that increasing political tensions in Haiti coupled with insecurity and structural inequalities could result in protests followed by violent crackdowns by authorities.
According to the office, criminal activities, such as kidnappings, gang fights and widespread insecurity have increased, with “almost total” impunity.
OHCHR spokesperson Marta Hurtado told reporters at a regular briefing in Geneva that added to the volatile mix is resurging political tensions over the timing and scope of elections and a constitutional referendum proposed by the government.
“Calls for mass protests have been growing,” she said. “This, in turn, raises concerns of renewed human rights violations by security forces during the policing of protests as seen during the months-long protests in 2018 and 2019, as well as during demonstrations in October and November of last year.”
According to an OHCHR report on the unrest, protests started relatively peacefully in July 2018 but became increasingly violent over time, with many violations and abuses of the rights to life, security of the person and effective remedy.
The report also documented violations of the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.
In 2019 demonstrations, the UN said barricades were set up that blocked people’s access to hospitals and the passage of ambulances.
Health facilities were also attacked, severely impacting the daily lives of people in Haiti, particularly those in a vulnerable situation, the UN said.
In addition, it said protesters and criminal elements imposed “passage fees”, further impeding the movement of people and goods, and exacerbating economic hardship.
“The report shows a pattern of human rights violations and abuses followed by near lack of accountability,” Hurtado said.
The OHCHR spokesperson called on Haitian authorities to take “immediate action” to avoid repetition of such violations and abuses by ensuring that law enforcement officers abide by international norms and standards regarding the use of force when dealing with protests; as well as ensuring that gangs do not interfere with people’s right to demonstrate peacefully.
She also urged the government to guarantee accountability for past violations and abuses, ensuring justice, truth, and reparations.
Additionally, she said, Haiti should take steps to address people’s grievances and the root causes that fuelled the protests.
“OHCHR stands ready to continue supporting State authorities in their fulfillment of human rights international obligations [and] expresses its willingness to continue working towards the establishment of a country office,” said Hurtado, welcoming commitments made by the Haitian National Police to reform practices documented in the report.