As Haiti reels from a cascade of crises, the United Nations has released a grim report accusing the country’s powerful gangs of using rape as a tool of intimidation and control.
Large swaths of the capital Port-au-Prince are run by organized crime groups, with a Haitian security force source telling CNN in August that gangs control or influence about three-quarters of the city.
On Friday, the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reported in a joint document that the systematic sexual violence of these gangs is largely undocumented and unpunished – and that his victims were left to fend for themselves.
Like other violent groups in the Caribbean nation’s tumultuous history, gangs vying for control use rape as a strategy to subjugate civilians, according to the joint report, which is based on more than 90 interviews with victims and witnesses to incidents over the past two years. It describes horrific and sometimes deadly acts, including gang rapes and brutal public humiliations aimed at creating chaos, enforcing territorial boundaries and punishing civilians for their perceived disloyalty.
“Rape has become a weapon,” said Arnaud Royer, director of BINUH’s human rights branch, at a press conference on Friday.
Clashes between rival gangs have effectively isolated entire neighborhoods, trapped between the “front lines” of street warfare and unable to go to work or access food or water. Women who seek to cross these borders for their daily survival risk being attacked. Even in their own neighborhoods, women and girls are coerced into transactional sex by gang members who control the area, according to the report.
And although women have been the main target of these attacks, the report notes that men and children of all genders are also targeted, describing the attack on a 12-year-old boy during gang clashes in the Tabarre region in April 2022. “After being raped, the child was forcibly taken away by the attackers and, a few days later, his body was found, with a gunshot wound to the head, lying on a pile of rubbish in an abandoned area,” it read.
Struggling with trauma and stigma – and likely aware that justice is out of reach – those who survive sexual assault are reluctant to come forward. Haiti therefore lacks data to reflect the scale of sexual violence on its streets, the report notes.
Cruelly, he adds, victims were not prioritized by service providers.
“We have to change our methodology,” Royer said.
Haiti has been thrown into chaos over the past year by relentless anti-government protests, a financial crisis, rampant kidnappings and a recent resurgence of deadly cholera. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) reported this week that there have been at least 35 deaths from the disease and hundreds of hospitalizations across the country since the start of the month.
The health system is still struggling and hospital beds are filling up, PAHO said, adding that fuel shortages and ongoing civil unrest were “hindering emergency response operations”.
Last week, the Haitian government took the notable step of requesting military assistance from the international community – a decision condemned by the country’s main opposition coalition, the Montana Group.
Haiti’s national police have previously said they are overwhelmed by the country’s criminals. The flow of illicit weapons and ammunition into the country is ‘one of the main catalysts for gang violence’, according to the UN report, which describes gang members in Port-au-Prince brandishing guns military-grade sniper rifles, belt-fed machine guns and semi-automatic pistols.
On Friday, an American spokesperson for the United Nations told CNN that the United States had circulated a draft United Nations Security Council resolution proposing an arms embargo, as well as financial and travel sanctions for those that create violence in Haiti.
“With our close partner and co-sponsor Mexico, the United States has circulated a draft resolution proposing specific measures to enable the Security Council to address the security challenges facing the Haitian people, including an embargo targeted at arms and financial sanctions and travel restrictions. for those fomenting violence in Haiti,” the statement read.
Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also announced that the United States is “working to increase and deploy security assistance to the Haitian National Police in the coming days to bolster its ability to fight gangs and restore a stable security environment under the rule of law.”
The United States has already dispatched 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 basic health care and justice to victims.
“Although the ongoing armed violence may reduce the resources available, this does not exempt the Haitian authorities from taking the necessary measures to achieve the realization of a minimum of fundamental obligations of the right to health and to provide an effective remedy. and reparations to victims,” the report said. .
But for now, as the nation crumbles, there appears to be little recourse for victims of sexual violence and no repercussions for perpetrators.
“Since the state authorities are not there, the gang leader is the boss, the police and the judge,” the report said, citing victims from gang-controlled areas in the capital.