At least 42 killed in Haiti protest violence: UN

At least 42 people have been killed and dozens injured during anti-government protests in Haiti since mid-September, the UN’s human rights body said Friday, adding it was “deeply concerned” by the crisis.

Port-au-Prince, Haïti (Picture : Minhustah)

The poorest country in the Americas has been roiled for two months by protests, which were triggered by fuel shortages but have turned violent and morphed into a broader campaign against President Jovenel Moise.

“We are deeply concerned about the protracted crisis in Haiti, and its impact on the ability of Haitians to access their basic rights to healthcare, food, education and other needs,” the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a statement.

It said reports indicate that security forces were responsible for 19 of the deaths, with the remainder of those killed by armed individuals or unknown attackers.

Spokeswoman Marta Hurtado said some 86 people had also been injured in the violence since September 15. The majority were victims of gun shots.

At least one journalist was killed and nine others have been hurt, the UN added, calling for the freedom of the press to be respected.

After analyzing videos of the violence, rights group Amnesty International said security forces directly under Moise’s command had committed some of the abuses.

“The security forces under the command of President Jovenel Moise have used excessive force. Such incidents must be investigated promptly, thoroughly and effectively,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, head of Amnesty’s Americas department.

The group added that it had “verified instances in which police armed with semi-automatic rifles fired live ammunition during protests, in violation of international human rights law and standards on the use of force.”

Amnesty added that they had also seen footage of police “launching tear gas out of a moving police vehicle amidst peaceful protesters, firing on protesters with less-lethal ammunition at extremely close-range, and beating a protester.”

On Friday, video emerged on social media that appeared to show a police vehicle ramming a barricade where an unidentified man had taken cover last Monday. A few minutes later the clip showed an inanimate body being retrieved from the debris and carried away by locals who had tried in vain to rescue him.

At the time and date shown on the video, police had said they were carrying out operations to clear barricades in the neighborhood on the outskirts of the capital Port-au-Prince. Less than two hours after the unnamed man’s alleged death, clashes broke out between locals and police.

“Two police officers were wounded by gunshots to the foot and ankle while trying to clear barricades in the Torcel area on Monday October 28 at around 1810 in the evening,” police said on Monday.

Another police statement later said that local residents had “opened fire and thrown rocks at police, who responded.”

Angry opposition

Since coming to power in February 2017, Moise has had to face the anger of an opposition movement that refuses to recognize his victory in an election widely seen as dubious.

Anger mounted in late August due to a national fuel shortage, and protests turned violent.

But even before this crisis erupted, Moise was accused of corruption.

An auditors’ court probing $2 billion in aid from a Venezuelan oil fund found that companies run by Moise before he became president were “at the heart of an embezzling scheme.”

The protests are spreading: In recent weeks, various professional or social groups have taken to the streets against the president one after another, such as university students and police.

OHCHR’s report said most children had been unable to go to school since the protests began, while roadblocks and violence have meant particularly those outside the capital have had difficulty accessing “food, drinking water, medicine and fuel.”

There is no dialogue under way with the opposition, and the already weak economy is starting to suffer.

Hurtado acknowledged difficulty in bringing the diverse groups together for talks. (AFP)