U.N. unanimously passes Haiti sanctions, targets gang leader

Former police officer Jimmy "Barbecue" Cherizier, leader of the 'G9' coalition, gives a press tour of the La Saline shanty area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti November 3, 2021. REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol/File Photo

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 21 (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council on Friday approved sanctions allowing it to impose an asset freeze, travel ban and arms embargo on anyone who threatens the peace or stability of Haiti, naming the Caribbean country's most powerful gangster as its first target.

The 15-member council voted unanimously to adopt the resolution, which imposes the sanctions on gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, a former policeman known locally by his alias "Barbecue."

The resolution was drafted by the United States and Mexico.

"We're sending a clear message to the bad actors that are holding Haiti hostage: The international community will not stand idly by while you wreak havoc on the Haitian people," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a speech after the council vote.

She described the new sanctions regime as an "initial answer to the calls for help" from Haitians struggling with an escalating humanitarian disaster, adding that another resolution is being written that could authorize a non-U.N. mission to boost security and allow humanitarian aide to flow to the crisis-racked island nation, which is the most impoverished country of the Americas.

Thomas-Greenfield did not say when it would be presented to the council for a vote, but other diplomats have said that could happen as early as next week.

The text of Friday's resolution blames Cherizier for engaging "in acts that threaten the peace, security, and stability of Haiti" as well as accusing him of human rights abuses.

Last month, gangs led by Cherizier blocked the entrance to the Varreux fuel terminal just outside the capital Port-au-Prince, to protest a government announcement to cut fuel subsidies.

Gasoline and diesel supplies have mostly dried up since then and Haitians also face a shortage of drinking water amid a deadly outbreak of cholera, following chaos unleashed by last year's presidential assassination and deadly earthquake.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has proposed that "a rapid action force" be sent to Haiti to help police remove the gang threat, according to a letter seen by Reuters on Sunday.

A U.N. mission in Haiti works with the government to strengthen political stability, rights protection and justice reform and to help with organizing fair elections.

U.N. peacekeepers were deployed to Haiti in 2004 after a rebellion led to the ouster and exile of then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Peacekeeping troops left in 2017 and were replaced by U.N. police, who departed in 2019.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols and David Alire Garcia; Editing by John Stonestreet and Bill Berkrot

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