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NAIROBI – Kenya’s president committed his country to leading a multinational force in Haiti to combat gang warfare even as residents of both countries question the plan being pushed by the United States government.
President William Ruto spoke Wednesday at a ceremony establishing diplomatic ties with the Caribbean nation. Haiti’s prime minister, Ariel Henry, attended. Henry requested the immediate deployment of such a force a year ago.
“As the leading nation in the U.N.-backed security mission in Haiti, we are committed to deploying a specialized team to comprehensively assess the situation and formulate actionable strategies that will lead to long-term solutions,” Ruto said.
Gangs have overpowered Haitian police, with experts estimating they now control some 80% of the capital, Port-au-Prince, since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.
Schools in some areas have closed because warring gangs are raping and killing people. The violence has displaced nearly 200,000 Haitians whose homes have been burned.
The U.S. has praised Kenya for even considering leading the United Nations-backed force while other countries hesitated, and the U.S. is drafting a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing it. No timetable has been given for submitting and voting on it. Bahamas and Jamaica have offered 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, who have long been accused by watchdogs of deadly force, torture and other abuses.
“In the past year we have witnessed a wave of punitive policing during protests, extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, deliberate torture of children, interference with investigative authorities” and other violations, the Independent Medico-Legal Unit said in a report this month.
The watchdog group, which works with medical and legal experts, said it documented 482 cases of torture, extrajudicial killings and other violations between Oct. 1, 2022, and Aug. 31 of this year — more than double the number in a similar period the year before under former President Uhuru Kenyatta.
This is an “alarming rise” in police abuses, especially against young adults, under Ruto, who had vowed to protect urban youth from police violence, the group said. “Statements that commend law enforcement violations and issuance of shoot-to-kill orders worsen an already critical situation.”
Kenya’s national police inspector general has claimed that dead bodies were planted to accuse officers of using excessive force during recent anti-government protests, which rights groups said left dozens of demonstrators dead.
Police are also refusing to report all deaths and injuries to the government-created watchdog and even refuse to record complaints from victims, the group added.
The U.N. last month said 1,860 people were reported killed, injured or kidnapped in Haiti from April to June, a 14% increase compared with the first three months of the year. Among those killed 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 U.S. Embassy in Haiti urged U.S. citizens to leave the country “as soon as possible” given the security challenges.
An ex-police officer considered by many to be Haiti’s most powerful gang leader — Jimmy Chérizier, known as “Barbecue” — has warned he would fight any international force deployed to the country if it committed any abuses.
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