Haiti: “Rape has become a weapon” for groups, says the UN


In the wake of a crisis in Haiti, the United Nations has released a damning report accusing the country’s powerful groups of using rape as a tool of intimidation and control.

Large parts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, are run by organized criminal gangs, and a Haitian security forces source told CNN in August that the gangs control or influence three-quarters of the city.

On Friday, the United Nations Integrated Office for Haiti (BINUH) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights announced in a joint statement that the systematic sexual violence of these groups goes undocumented and unpunished, and that its victims remain. to solve on their own.

Like other violent groups in the Caribbean nation’s troubled history, gangs vying for control use violence as a strategy to subdue civilians, according to the joint report, which is based on more than 90 interviews with victims and witnesses of the unrest over the past two years. It describes horrific and sometimes deadly acts, including mass rape and brutal public humiliation, to sow chaos, enforce territorial borders, and punish civilians for perceived disloyalty.

“Rape has become a weapon,” said Arnaud Royer, director of the human rights section of BINUH, in a press conference held on Friday.

Clashes between rival gangs have effectively isolated entire neighborhoods, caught between the “front lines” of street warfare and unable to go to work or get food or water. Women who try to overcome these limits to attack at the risk of daily survival. Even in their own neighborhoods, women and girls are forced into sexual transactions by gang members who control the area, the report says.

And while women have been the main focus of such attacks, the report says that men and children of all genders are also targeted, describing the attack of a 12-year-old boy during gang riots around Tabarre in April 2022. raped, the attackers took the child by force and, a few days later, his body was found, shot in the head, lying on top of a pile of garbage in an abandoned area,” he says.

Struggling with trauma and stigma, and aware that justice is likely out of reach, sexual assault survivors are reluctant to come forward. Haiti therefore lacks data to reflect the scale of sexual violence on its streets, the report says.

As a cruel result, he adds, victims have not been prioritized by service providers.

“We have to change our methodology,” said Royer.

Haiti has descended into chaos over the past year, fueled by relentless anti-government protests, a financial crisis, widespread kidnappings and a recent resurgence of deadly cholera. Its health system is struggling, with some hospitals announcing closures or service interruptions due to fuel shortages.

Last week, the Haitian government took a significant step to ask the international community for military aid – a move condemned by the country’s main opposition coalition, the Montana Group.

The Haitian National Police has previously said that the country’s criminals are armed. Illegal weapons and ammunition entering the country is “one of the main drivers of gang violence,” according to the UN report, which describes gang members in Port-au-Prince using military sniper rifles, belt-fed machine guns. and semi-automatic pistols.

On Friday, a US spokesperson for the United Nations told CNN that the US had circulated a draft UN Security Council resolution that proposed an arms embargo, as well as financial and travel sanctions on those inciting violence in Haiti.

“Together with our close partner and co-penholder Mexico, the United States has circulated a draft resolution proposing concrete measures to allow the Security Council to address the security challenges facing the people of Haiti, including a detailed arms embargo and financial sanctions and travel restrictions .for those who promote violence in Haiti”, says the statement.

Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also announced that the US is “working to increase and expand security assistance to the Haitian National Police in the coming days, to strengthen their capacity to fight gangs and restore a stable security environment. rule of law”.

The US has already sent a high-level delegation to Port-au-Prince, and is sending a large Coast Guard vessel to patrol the waters around the capital at the request of the Haitian government.

Friday’s report calls on the Haitian state, led by embattled Prime Minister Ariel Henry, to recognize its responsibility to provide victims with basic health care and justice.

“While continued armed violence may reduce available resources, this does not exempt the Haitian authorities from taking the necessary steps to fulfill the minimum basic obligations of the right to health and to provide effective remedies and reparations to victims,” ​​the report said. .

But for now, as the nation unravels, there seems to be little recourse for victims of sexual violence and no impact on perpetrators.

“Given that the state authorities are not here, the leader of the gangs is the leader, the police and the judge,” says the report, referring to the victims in gang-controlled areas of the capital.