As Haiti is rocked by a cascade of crises, the United Nations has released a somber report accusing the country’s powerful gangs of using rape as a tool of intimidation and control.
Large parts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, are controlled by organized crime groups, with a Haitian security force source telling CNN in August that gangs controlled or influenced an estimated 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 systematic sexual violence by these gangs remains largely undocumented and unpunished – and their victims have been left to themselves take care of yourself.
Like other violent groups in the Caribbean nation’s turbulent history, gangs struggling for control are using rape as a strategy to subdue civilians, according to the joint report, which is based on more than 90 interviews with victims and witnesses to incidents in recent years two years based. It details horrific and sometimes deadly acts, including collective rapes and brutal public humiliation, aimed at sowing chaos, enforcing territorial boundaries, and punishing civilians for perceived disloyalty.
“Rape has become a weapon,” Arnaud Royer, director of BINUH’s human rights department, said in a news conference on Friday.
Clashes between rival gangs have effectively isolated whole neighborhoods caught between the “frontlines” of street warfare, unable to get to work, have access to food or water. Women who try to push these limits for everyday survival risk attack. Even in their own neighborhoods, women and girls are coerced into sexual transactions by gang members who control the area, the report says.
And although women have been the focus of such attacks, the report notes that men and children of all genders are also targeted, and details the attack on a 12-year-old boy in gang fights in the Tabarre area in April 2022. “After After After the rape, 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 on a rubbish heap in a deserted area.
Struggling with trauma and stigma — and probably aware that justice is out of reach — those who survive sexual assault are reluctant to come forward. Haiti therefore lacks data to reflect the extent of sexual violence on its streets, the report notes.
As a gruesome result, she adds, victims were not prioritized by service providers.
“We need to change our methodology,” Royer said.
Haiti has been thrown into chaos over the past year by unrelenting anti-government protests, financial crises, rampant kidnapping and a recent resurgence in the 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 beginning of the month.
The health system is still struggling and hospital beds are filling, PAHO said, adding that fuel shortages and ongoing civil unrest are “hindering emergency response.”
Last week, the Haitian government took the remarkable step of asking the international community for military aid – a move condemned by the country’s main opposition coalition, the Montana Group.
The Haitian National Police have previously said they are outnumbered by criminals in the country. The flow of illegal arms and ammunition into the country is “one of the main reasons for gang violence,” according to the UN report, which describes how gang members in Port-au-Prince carry military-style sniper rifles, belt-driven machine guns, and semi-automatic pistols.
On Friday, a US spokesman for the United Nations told CNN the US had circulated a draft UN Security Council resolution proposing an arms embargo and financial and travel sanctions on those perpetrating violence in Haiti.
“Jointly with our close partner and fellow national Mexico, the United States circulated a draft resolution proposing specific measures to enable the Security Council to address the security challenges faced by the people of Haiti, including a targeted arms embargo and financial sanctions and travel restrictions for those who foment violence in Haiti,” the statement said.
Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also announced that the US is “working to increase and provide security support to the Haitian National Police in the coming days to strengthen their anti-gang capacity and provide a stable security environment under the rule of law .”
The US has already sent a high-level delegation to Port-au-Prince and, at the request of the Haitian government, is sending a large Coast Guard cutter to patrol the waters around the capital.
Friday’s report calls on the Haitian state, led by embattled Prime Minister Ariel Henry, to recognize its responsibility for providing basic health care and justice for victims.
“Although the ongoing armed violence may reduce available resources, this does not absolve the Haitian authorities from taking the necessary steps to achieve a minimum level of core obligations of the right to health and to provide effective remedy and reparation for victims,” says the report.
But for now, as the nation lashes out, there seems to be little choice for victims of sexual violence and no consequences for perpetrators.
“Since the state authorities are not here, the leader of the gangs is the boss, the police and the judge,” the report said, citing victims from gang-controlled areas in the capital.