Haiti declares state of emergency amid violence Haiti declares state of emergency amid violence 

Haitian Justice and Peace Director: Gang violence in Haiti has gone too far

In an interview with Vatican News, Joceline Colas Director of the Haitian Bishops’ Commission for Justice and Peace speaks about he dramatic security situation in Haiti following last weekend’s mass jailbreak in which over 4,000 inmates escaped.

By Jean-Benoît Harel and Lisa Zengarini

Gang violence is not new in Haiti, but today it has reached intolerable levels, sparing no one, not even State and Church institutions, says the Director of the National Commission for Justice and Peace, Joceline Colas.

Speaking to Vatican News' Jean-Benoît Harel in the wake of last weekend’s mass jailbreak from two major prisons stormed by armed gangs in the capital Port-au-Prince and in nearby Croix des Bouquets, Ms. Colas confirmed that gang-related violence has increased since the beginning of this year and the security situation is out of control.

Nearly 5,000 killed in Haiti by gang violence in 2023 according to U.N.

The U.N. estimates the conflict with gangs killed nearly 5,000 people in 2023 and has driven some 300,000 from their homes. In January this year, more than 100 people were killed, and February reached a new record of 176 killed, mostly by gunfire.

“The country has been in the grip of violence for years, but now armed groups are attacking institutions," said Ms. Colas. “This is too much. Enough is enough!”

Church targeted by gangs

The Church is also increasingly targeted by gangs, who attack parishes and kidnap priests and religious men and women.

The Justice and Peace director said that there is still no news about the six Brothers of the Sacred Heart kidnapped on 23 February in Port-au-Prince. A priest who was abducted on the same day has been released.

“Gangsters attack everyone. They attack everything and almost all institutions, directly or indirectly. And lately the Church has become the target.”

Catholic schools forced to close

The ongoing insecurity has forced Church institutions, including the Justice and Peace Commission, to change their habits. “We are forced to work at home and very rarely we go to our offices for fear of being kidnapped," Ms. Colas explained.

Also, many Catholic schools have been forced to close.

In the interview, the Haitian Justice and Peace Director lamented “the inaction” of the Haitian authorities despite repeated calls from the Church to take on their responsibilities to address the crisis.  She suggested that political leaders in Haiti are using gangs to remain in power. “They don't do anything, so they let it happen,” she said.

“The Haitian crisis has more to do with politics and we are under the impression that the authorities in power are using armed groups to stay in power.”

She noted that the explosion that on 28 January injured Bishop Pierre-André Dumas, the vice-president of the Haitian Bishop Conference, confirms that the Church has become a direct target of the gangs. Bishop Dumas, who is now recovering in a hospital in Miami, Florida, has been a vocal critic of the Haitian authorities for not addressing the crisis.

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Catholic hospital attacked in Port-au-Prince

Meanwhile, the violence continues two rage the country despite the declaration of the state of emergency and the 72-hour curfew imposed  by the government after the attack on the two prisons in which over 4,000 inmates managed to escape.  Gangs are now attacking airports, several public buildings, including hospitals. Among them the Catholic hospital "St. Francis de Sales" in Port-au-Prince,  as reported by a local Church source to Fides Agency, who described the situation as "terrifying."

The Haitian bishops have repeatedly pleaded for the restoration of security in Haiti and, in a recent statement, joined in calling Prime Minister Ariel Henry to step aside “for the good of the Nation,” while urging Haitians not to yield to violence.

Henry who became prime minister in 2021 after President Jovenel Moise’s assassination, has been under fierce criticism in the past weeks also for postponing the elections which were due to be held this year. Early in February he announced that he would hold the polls by August 2025 once the situation was more stable. The last election took place in 2016.

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05 March 2024, 16:18