Haitian gang leader warns potential foreign force against any abuses

Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Cherizier says Haitians will rise up against international force if human rights abuses committed.

Haitian gang leader Jimmy 'Barbecue' Cherizier
A former police officer, Jimmy 'Barbecue' Cherizier leads the G9 Haitian gang alliance [File: Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters]

A powerful Haitian gang leader has warned any potential foreign force sent to Haiti against committing human rights abuses in the Caribbean nation, promising to “fight against them until our last breath”.

Jimmy “Barbecue” Cherizier, leader of the G9 Family and Allies gang alliance, issued the warning as escalating violence in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, renewed calls this week for the deployment of an international mission to restore order in the country.

Cherizier said on Wednesday that Haitians would rise up if any international force repeated the actions of previous United Nations peacekeepers, including committing sexual abuses and being linked to a deadly cholera outbreak.

“We will fight against them until our last breath,” he said. “It will be a fight of the Haitian people to save the dignity of our country.”

In October, Haiti’s de facto leader, Prime Minister Ariel Henry, called on the international community to help set up a “specialised armed force” to quell a surge in gang violence that has disrupted daily life for millions of Haitians.

The request enjoyed the backing of the United States and the UN, but a deployment has been stalled for months because no country had agreed to lead such a mission to Haiti.

Civil society groups also have rejected the prospect of foreign intervention, saying past missions have brought more harm than good, and instead called on countries to bolster the Haitian police force and stem the flow of weapons into the country.

However, last month, Kenya said it was prepared to lead a “multinational force” in Haiti – provided the mission gets a mandate from the UN Security Council – to help train and assist the Haitian police to “restore normalcy”.

A Kenyan delegation is expected to travel to Haiti soon to assess a possible deployment.

Kenya’s pledge has raised new questions as watchdog groups expressed alarm about the human rights track record of police in Kenya and warned that the force may export its abuse.

Kenyan police have been long accused of killings and torture, including gunning down civilians during the COVID-19 curfew. One local group said officers fatally shot more than 30 people during protests in July, all of them in Kenya’s poorest neighbourhoods.

The possible deployment also was met with scepticism among Haitians, but some have said they believe the country has little choice than to accept outside help.

“It will never be better [than past interventions], but the Haitian people don’t have a choice at this point,” Florence Casimir, an elementary school teacher, told The Associated Press news agency earlier this month.

She said that while past international interventions have damaged the country, their abuses don’t compare to the brutality of Haitian gangs, which kidnap her students and force parents to pay hefty ransoms. “The Haitian people can’t fight it on their own.”

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Cherizier, a staunch opponent of Henry, said he would welcome a foreign force if it were to arrest the prime minister and other people he described as corrupt politicians.

“If the foreign force comes to help and provide security for life to start over again, we will also applaud,” he said.

Cherizier has presented himself as a revolutionary, fighting a system of inequality and the elites who control it.

“We are fighting for another society – another Haiti that is not only for the 5 percent of the people who keep all the wealth, but a new Haiti where everyone can have food and clean water, so they can have a decent house to live, another Haiti where we don’t have to leave the country,” he told Al Jazeera in an interview that aired in October 2021.

But he has been sanctioned by the US, Canada, United Kingdom and the UN, with the UN Security Council saying he “has engaged in acts that threaten the peace, security, and stability of Haiti and has planned, directed, or committed acts that constitute serious human rights abuses”.

A former officer with the Haitian National Police, Cherizier has been linked to human rights violations and deadly attacks against civilians, according to multiple reports by media outlets, international observers and rights groups.

The gang alliance he leads also blocked a major fuel terminal in Port-au-Prince last year, which forced hospitals to cut back on services and pushed the country towards a humanitarian disaster.

It remains unclear when a resolution would be put forward at the UN Security Council to consider a possible foreign mission to Haiti.

The US Department of State said in late July that it would introduce such a motion alongside Ecuador in the near future, but no clear date has been set.

A State Department spokesman said this week that Washington would make “significant financial contributions” to a multinational force in Haiti and participate in Kenya’s assessment trip to the country.

“We are actively engaging international partners to contribute funding, equipment, training and personnel to this effort as well, and our hope is – is that after this trip concludes, will be another important step in the progress,” Vedant Patel told reporters.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies