In one attack, gang members opened fire on people called to a protest by a church leader. In another, they set seven people on fire. And after months of escalating violence in Haiti, hundreds if not thousands have been killed — spurring a desperate vigilante movement against the gangs and a mass flight from Haiti’s cities.
Now the United Nations Security Council is expected on Monday to debate a Kenyan plan to beat the gangs back, in what would be the first time an African country led such a mission in Haiti.
Gang rule and vigilante violence in Haiti
For over a year, armed gangs have left Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and other parts of the country in scenes of bloody chaos, with frequent killings and abductions, bodies left on the streets and police forces in retreat.
From January through the first half of August, more than 2,400 people in Haiti were reported killed, and more than 950 others kidnapped, according to the U.N.
With gangs taking over much of the capital, a movement made up mostly of ordinary Haitians coalesced this year to fight back, often with machetes instead of guns. From April to June, at least 238 suspected gang members, including some seized from police custody, were killed in lynchings, the U.N. says.
But gangs have surged again, and they are believed to control about 80 percent of the capital. Aid workers estimate that large numbers of people have fled their homes to escape the violence. Nearly 200,000 people are displaced across the country, most in Port-au-Prince, according to the International Organization for Migration.
Kenya’s plan to quell the gangs
Haiti’s prime minister, Ariel Henry, appealed last year for foreign troops to help, but the two largest countries in the Americas, the United States and Brazil, have been reluctant to lead such a mission.
The United Nations, too, has been wary in the wake of its ill-fated earthquake relief mission in 2010. Investigations into that mission found cases of sexual abuse committed by peacekeepers, and concluded that poor sanitation caused one of the deadliest cholera outbreaks of modern times.
Kenya’s plan calls for the deployment of 1,000 Kenyan police officers and several hundred officers or soldiers from Caribbean countries. That would be smaller than past interventions in Haiti, a Caribbean island nation that has long suffered from economic misery, political instability and human rights abuses.
About 21,000 people were sent on the United States-led intervention of 1994, and about 13,000 in a force led by Brazil in the early 2000s.
Kenya’s foreign minister, Alfred N. Mutua, said that although operational details had not yet been finalized, he expected the Kenyan police to train their Haitian counterparts, patrol with them and protect “key installations.” He said he hoped the Kenyan officers would deploy to Haiti by the end of the year.
Support and doubts about Kenya’s plan
The Biden administration is backing the plan, and last month pledged $100 million to support it with logistics like medical supplies, transport and communications. Several Caribbean nations, including Jamaica and the Bahamas have said they would send personnel to join Kenya’s forces.
Kenya’s security forces have long participated in troop deployments abroad, serving in Lebanon, Sierra Leone and South Sudan. Kenyan troops also serve as part of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, and under a new regional force deployed in the volatile eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But some Haitians, human rights experts and former U.S. officials have expressed doubt about Kenya’s security forces, both for their ability to wrest control from the gangs and their own record of rights abuses and graft. Kenyan law enforcement officers have also been accused of excessive force, extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests.
Mr. Mutua has dismissed those concerns, saying he is confident that the Kenyan force would help stabilize Haiti.