UN urges action on ‘unimaginable’ Haiti gang violence

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The United Nations on Tuesday called on Haiti to take urgent action against “unimaginable” gang violence, highlighting a deteriorating security situation in the capital Port-au-Prince.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said she was “deeply disturbed” about the severe human rights impact a surge in violence involving heavily armed gangs in the city was having on society.

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“Armed violence has reached unimaginable and intolerable levels in Haiti,” Bachelet said in a statement.

She demanded “urgent steps to be taken to restore the rule of law, to protect people from armed violence and to hold to account the political and economic sponsors of these gangs.”

Bachelet said the spike in violence had forced thousands of people from their homes over the past three weeks and urged Haiti’s authorities to act with the support of the international community.

According to the UN, at least 92 people unaffiliated with gangs and some 96 alleged gang members were reported killed in coordinated armed attacks in Port-au-Prince between April 24 and May 16.

A further 113 were injured, 12 more reported missing, and 49 kidnapped for ransom, based on data corroborated by UN human rights officers.

The UN warned the actual death toll could be far higher from extreme violence “including beheadings, chopping and burning of bodies, and the killing of minors accused of being informants for a rival gang.”

The UN report added some children as young as 10 had suffered sexual violence, including gang rape.

Bachelet said gang violence forced the closure of dozens of schools and businesses and markets, leaving many people struggling to find basic staples.

Gangs also controlled access to areas under their influence, hampering major road links between the capital and the rest of the country, the UN said.

“Such restrictions on the movement of people and goods could also have long-term devastating impacts on the already difficult economic situation in

Haiti,” Bachelet warned, underlining the fragility of state institutions, in particular the police and judiciary.

That weakness, she said, only fueled lawlessness and fears of further violence.

“Haiti should not be forgotten and should remain a priority for the international community,” Bachelet said.

The UN Security Council will debate the future mandate of the UN presence in Haiti in the coming weeks, she added.

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