A joint human rights report published by the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), entitled “Sexual violence in Port-au-Prince
: a weapon used by gangs to instill fear” finds that children as young as 10 and elderly women have been subjected to collective rapes for hours in front of their parents or children by more than half a dozen armed elements amid an explosion of gang violence in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.
Between January and July 2022, the report’s authors conducted more than 90 interviews with victims and witnesses of incidents in Port-au-Prince, as well as with service providers, community-based organizations, national and international nongovernmental organizations, and representatives of the Haitian state, with a view to verifying the abuses documented.
“Gangs use sexual violence to instill fear, and alarmingly the number of cases increases by the day as the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Haiti deepens,” Nada Al-Nashif, the Acting Human Rights Chief said.
“The gruesome testimonies shared by victims serve as a stark reminder that we must take urgent action to ensure this sort of barbaric behaviour stops, that those responsible are held to account and the victims are provided support”: she added.
The report painstakingly documents sexual crimes perpetrated against women, girls and boys of all ages, as well as to a lesser extent men, by gangs waging their turf wars and seeking to expand their areas of influence. LGBTI+ people have also been targeted.
Armed gangs have used rape and collective rapes to instill fear, punish, subjugate, and inflict pain on local populations. Viewed as sexual objects, women, girls, and sometimes men, are also coerced into becoming the “partners” of armed elements, in most gang strongholds. Refusing such sexual demands can lead to reprisals including killing and arson attacks.
The report further highlights that sexual violence occurs in the context of kidnappings, when some women and girls are repeatedly subjected to rape, by one or multiple armed captors, at times, over the course of several days or weeks. The kidnappers have even used recorded videos of the rapes to press the victims’ families to pay the ransoms.
Over the course of the past year, gang violence has spiralled out of control, particularly in the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince and in some regional cities. Sixty per cent of the capital is now reportedly under the control or the influence of gang elements who have easy access to high calibre weapons and ammunitions trafficked from abroad.
Ensuring immediate access to adequate medical and psychosocial care to prevent further physical and psychological harm is a crucial first step towards victims’ rehabilitation. Victims are also entitled to remedy, including access to justice and reparation. However, the efforts of national and international actors working in this field to guarantee the rights of survivors have generally been insufficient due to multiple challenges and barriers, detailed in this report.
The document emphasizes that national authorities, the United Nations system, civil society organizations and service providers, must urgently address sexual violence in Haiti. It identifies key areas of policing and healthcare, along with the creation of a judicial task force to address impunity for crimes of sexual violence, among others, as priorities to address sexual violence.
If not adequately and rapidly tackled, the use of sexual violence as a means to instill fear and control populations risks further shattering the already deeply fragile social fabric of Haitian society for years to come and to undermine any prospects of sustainable development and lasting stability.