GENEVA: Gang violence in Haiti has killed over 1,500 people so far this year, including many children, while dozens have been lynched, stoned or burned alive by so-called self-defence brigades, the UN human rights office said on Thursday.

Haiti’s shattering gang wars have intensified in recent weeks with heavily-armed rivals unleashing fresh waves of attacks, including raids on police stations and the international airport.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry announced his resignation on March 11. “All these practices are outrageous and must stop at once,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a statement released alongside a UN report describing the “cataclysmic” situation in the Caribbean country.

The report documents 4,451 killings last year and 1,554 through to March 22 as violence has escalated. Some people have been killed in their homes in reprisal for their alleged support for the police or rival gangs. Others have been killed in the street by snipers or in crossfire, the UN report said. One of the victims was a three-month-old baby.

Describes situation in the Caribbean country as ‘cataclysmic’

Armed brigades filling a security void left by police lynched 528 people suspected of links to gangs last year and 59 so far this year, the UN rights office said. Haiti’s children were being recruited into gangs, with boys used as lookouts to help with kidnappings and robberies and girls used to do housework or as spies. Some children who tried to escape were executed, it said.

“The recent escalation of violence has heightened human rights abuses, including killings, kidnappings, and rapes, especially against women and young girls,” the report said in its conclusions, calling on states to support the rapid deployment of a U.N.-backed international security force.

The report called for better policing of cargoes to Haiti that might include smuggled arms, despite a UN embargo. “It is shocking that despite the horrific situation on the ground, arms keep still pouring in,” said Turk.

Killings, rapes, lynchings

In the meantime, the number of victims is skyrocketing. The report described rampant sexual violence, including women forced into exploitative sexual relations with gang members, rapes of hostages and of women after seeing their husbands killed in front of them.

And it highlighted the recruitment and abuse of children — both boys and girls — who are unable to leave the ranks of gangs for fear of retaliation. “All these practices are outrageous and must stop at once,” UN rights chief said.

The report also pointed to the so-called “self-defence brigades” set up to counter the intensifying gang violence, warning that they continue to take justice into their own hands.

“Individuals accused of petty crime or suspected of association with gangs continued to be lynched, stoned, mutilated, or burned alive” by such brigades, it said.

At least 528 cases of lynchings were reported last year, including 18 women, according to the report, while 59 more have been reported so far this year.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2024

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