UN High Commissioner reports unprecedented human rights abuses amid violence in Haiti

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, stated on Tuesday at the 55th Session of the Human Rights Council that the scale of human rights abuses in Haiti is unprecedented in its modern history.

Türk expressed deep concerns over the serious rise in kidnappings and sexual violence, mainly against women and young girls, which has reached unprecedented levels in the country in the absence of a functioning government. According to a UN report published last week, gangs continued to use sexual violence to brutalize, punish and control people and some women are forced into exploitative sexual relations with gang members. In addition, rape is still being used as a threat to push families into paying ransoms.

The conflict in Haiti has worsened as gangs fight for control of the capital Port-au-Prince, attacking public facilities such as police stations and the international airport. The ongoing violence has killed more than 1,500 people this year and the number of people internally displaced, according to International Organization for Migration (IOM), has risen over 360,000 now. IOM also estimated that 53,125 people left the country’s capital between March 8 and March 27 to avoid endless violence and seek security.

Furthermore, the escalating violence has hampered people’s access to basic service institutions and health facilities, as well as resulted in thousands of children without access to education. The latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) qualified 44 per cent of the population as food insecure. Apart from this, the situation of the violence against children is particularly worrying, as they are not only being killed during gang attacks and caught in crossfire, but they are also increasingly used by gangs to carry out armed attacks.

Moreover, the increasing levels of gang violence, along with corruption, impunity and poor governance have undermined the rule of law in Haiti, weakening the justice system. Türk commented that,[w]idespread corruption and dysfunction of the justice system greatly contribute to the pervasive impunity for grave human rights violations, and they need to be addressed urgently”.

The Port-au-Prince Juvenile Court was paralyzed in 2019, as gangs took control of the area where it is located and has been inoperative ever since. Likewise, the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights in Haiti was forced to temporarily suspend their operations due to the intensifying gang violence within Port-au-Prince. These further undermine the capacity to provide legal protections and deliver humanitarian aids to people severely deprived of enjoying their human rights. Türk added that, “[t]ackling insecurity must be a top priority to protect the population and prevent further human suffering. It is equally important to protect institutions essential to the rule of law, which have been attacked to their very core”.

To conclude, Türk called for parties to “end the political deadlock, urgently rebuild peace, stability and security in the country, and provide Haitians with the hope that they so desperately need.”