Kenya’s president has pledged his country will lead a multinational force in Haiti to fight gang warfare, even as residents of both countries dispute the plan being promoted by the United States government.
President William Ruto spoke on Wednesday at a ceremony to establish diplomatic relations with the Caribbean nation. The Prime Minister of Haiti, Ariel Henry, attended. Henry called for the immediate deployment of such a force a year ago.
“As the lead nation in the UN-backed security mission in Haiti, we are committed to developing a specialized team to comprehensively assess the situation and formulate active strategies that will lead to long-term solutions,” Ruto said.
ITANS MARCH ON PORT-AU-PRINCE BY THE THOUSANDS AGAINST GANG VIOLENCE
Gangs have overwhelmed Haitian police, with experts estimating they now control about 80 percent of the capital, Port-au-Prince, since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
Schools in some areas have been closed as warring gangs rape and kill people. The violence has displaced nearly 200,000 Haitians whose homes have been burned.
The US has praised Kenya for possibly leading the UN-backed force, while other countries have hesitated, and the US is drafting a UN Security Council resolution authorizing it. No timetable has been given for its submission and vote. The Bahamas and Jamaica have provided support to the force.
Kenya sent an assessment team to Haiti weeks ago with the idea of deploying 1,000 of its police. Kenyan officials have not responded to questions, including what the government is being offered in exchange for leading the force.
There are only about 10,000 police officers in Haiti for more than 11 million people.
Some Haitians and Kenyans have expressed skepticism about a multinational deployment led by Kenyan police, which have long been accused by vigilantes of deadly force, torture and other abuses.
“The past year has seen a wave of punitive policing during protests, extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, deliberate torture of children, interference with investigative authorities” and other abuses, the Independent Forensic Unit said in a report.
HAITI EXPRESSES SKEPTICISM ABOUT KENYA’S OFFER TO SEND POLICE TO FIGHT HAITI’S GANG VIOLENCE
The watchdog, which works with medical and legal experts, said it recorded 482 cases of torture, extrajudicial killings and other violations between October 1, 2022 and August 31 this year — more than double the number in a similar period. year before former President Uhuru Kenyatta.
This is an “alarming increase” in police abuses, especially against young adults, under Ruto, who had vowed to protect urban youth from police brutality, the group said. “Statements praising law enforcement violations and issuing shoot-to-kill orders exacerbate an already critical situation.”
The inspector general of Kenya’s national police claimed the bodies were planted to accuse officers of using excessive force during recent anti-government protests, which rights groups said have killed dozens of protesters.
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The police also refuse to report all deaths and injuries to the government-set up watchdog and even refuse to record victims’ complaints, the group added.
The UN last month reported that 1,860 people were killed, injured or kidnapped in Haiti from April to June, a 14 percent increase compared to the first three months of the year. Among the dead were 13 police officers. Another 298 people were kidnapped. Gangs continue to use rape and mutilation to instill fear, the report said.
The report was released a day after the US Embassy in Haiti urged US citizens to leave the country “as soon as possible” given the security challenges.
An ex-policeman considered by many to be Haiti’s most powerful gang leader – Jimmy Chérizier, known as “Barbecue” – has warned that he will fight any international force deployed in the country if it commits any abuses.