NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenya’s president has committed his country to lead a multinational force in Haiti to combat gang warfare, even as residents of both countries question the plan being pushed by Washington.
President William Ruto spoke on Wednesday at a ceremony establishing diplomatic ties with the Caribbean nation, held on the sidelines of the annual United Nations gathering of world leaders. Haiti’s prime minister, Ariel Henry, attended. Henry requested the 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 United States 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. The U.S. has said it will provide direct financial assistance along with training, logistical and material support.
On Thursday, Ruto met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who thanked Kenya for being a strong partner on Haiti. “We are here to have a conversation on the how, the nitty-gritty, so that we can be able to make a useful contribution,” Ruto said.
Kenya sent an assessment team to Haiti weeks ago with the idea of deploying 1,000 of its police. Kenyan officials haven’t responded to questions about the mission. Bahamas and Jamaica have offered support to 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 using 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 Kenya-based Independent Medico-Legal Unit said in a report this month.
The watchdog, 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 United Nations 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 that he would fight any international force deployed to the country if it committed any abuses.
AP diplomatic writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.