Criminal gangs in Haiti, which control most of the capital, Port-au-Prince, use sexual assault to terrorize the population and consolidate their territorial power, the UN warned in a report published on Friday.
More than half a dozen armed gangs wage turf wars in this Caribbean country, but fighting in the capital is particularly intense, making travel dangerous and hospitals barely functioning.
“Gangs use sexual violence to instill fear and the number of cases is increasing alarmingly every day,” said Nada Al-Nashif, acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.RELATED
The report mentions gang rapes of children as young as 10 and elderly women, often to horrified family members.
Armed gangs use rape to “punish, subjugate and inflict pain” on Haitians and as a coercive tool to force cooperation, the text points out.
In the past year, “gang violence has spiraled out of control” in Haiti’s cities, the report says, noting that 60% of Port-au-Prince may now be under gang-controlled territory, accounting for least 1.5 million people.
The report, issued by the UN office in Haiti and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said some victims are kidnapped and subjected to assaults “for several days or weeks.”
The attacks are to punish Haitians for living in or passing through areas controlled by rival gangs or to pressure families of victims to pay ransom.
Sometimes the assaults are recorded and videos sent to families to pressure them to pay, he said.
In just one week in July, rival armed gangs sexually assaulted 52 women and girls in the capital’s Cite Soleil district, according to the report.
In one case, a 25-year-old pregnant woman, Rose, was beaten and raped by three heavily armed masked men in the presence of her children.
Almost all of these sexual assaults go unpunished, the report added, in part due to prevailing insecurity.
Gang violence declined in Haiti between 2004 and 2017, when UN peacekeepers were in the country, but has increased since then.
The gangs fight each other and oppress the population with increasingly sophisticated weapons, including military-grade sniper rifles, machine guns and semi-automatic pistols, according to the report.
The document calls on UN agencies, civil society groups and others to help Haiti strengthen its police, health and judicial systems to fight impunity.
Without it, he stresses, the wave of violations “risks further tearing apart an already deeply fragile social fabric… and may undermine prospects for… lasting stability.”
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