© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The UN says an outside force is needed in Haiti, but countries are reluctant to intervene


United Nations officials have been calling for member nations to help Haiti, where gangs control the streets and the government is barely functioning. Aid workers need more security to deliver assistance to the Haitian people. But countries that could step in are reluctant to send peacekeepers because earlier interventions have failed. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: There are as many as 300 gangs in Haiti, and they control much of the capital, Port-au-Prince. That's according to Ulrika Richardson, who runs the U.N.'s humanitarian operations in Haiti. She says people are living in fear.

ULRIKA RICHARDSON: There are people being stoned to death in the middle of the day in the streets, and children are being - witnessing these situations. And you can just imagine the trauma that children sort of live with. And also children are increasingly used by gangs in their operations.

KELEMEN: She says she recently met with traumatized students who saw some gang members burned to death in front of their school. Haitians, she says, are taking justice into their own hands. She's heard harrowing stories about rape and says Haitians keep asking her what it will take for the international community to step in.

RICHARDSON: One young man - he said to me, simply, I was just dreaming of being able to go to sleep and to wake up without the sound of bullets. And also the fear of going home and not knowing if your family member would have been kidnapped or killed.

KELEMEN: Richardson was here in Washington to brief U.S. lawmakers and State Department officials. The U.S. and the U.N. imposed sanctions last year on the gangs and on those who financed them. She says that led to a decrease in violence, but only for a short time before another escalation.

RICHARDSON: When the escalation happened, we saw an increase in the kidnapping. So it could be that kidnappings is now, let's say, the primary source of revenue.

KELEMEN: U.N. officials say what's really needed is an outside force, but no country has offered to lead such a mission. Jamaica is one of the few countries that has offered to contribute troops. Its prime minister, Andrew Holness, says he's also trying to push forward political talks in a country that is still reeling from the assassination of Haiti's president in July of 2021.


PRIME MINISTER ANDREW HOLNESS: I take the view that with greater effort, we can see a breakthrough towards a better and broader consensus towards a solution in Haiti. The inescapable fact, however, is that Haiti needs security support.

KELEMEN: Standing alongside the Jamaican prime minister recently, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres renewed his appeal for an international force for Haiti.


ANTONIO GUTERRES: And I want to once again ask the international community to understand that an effective solidarity with Haiti is not only a matter of generosity, is essentially a matter of enlightened self-interest, because the present situation of Haiti reflects a threat to the security of the whole region and further afield.

KELEMEN: A past U.S. peacekeeping operation brought cholera to Haiti, and the country has had many failed interventions in the past. So Haitians have been skeptical. But Richardson, the U.N. official based there, says that attitude is changing.

RICHARDSON: People mostly want assistance because they see that as it is now, life is not livable.

KELEMEN: And they can see that Haiti's national police force is outgunned and outnumbered by the gangs.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.