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UN human rights chief calls for special forces to Haiti


PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The U.N.’s human rights chief on Friday urged the international community to consider deploying a specialized armed force to Haiti, warning that violent gangs are creating a “living nightmare” for thousands of people.

The appeal from U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Volker Türk came at the end of a two-day visit to Haiti at the request of a government unable to control gangs that are killing, raping and pillaging in a growing number of neighborhoods. Violence has spiked in the impoverished country since the July 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.

“It is time for the international community to help the Haitian authorities regain full control so this suffering can be stopped,” Türk said.

He added that since multiple crises around the world are competing for attention, he fears that “the situation in Haiti is not receiving the urgent spotlight that it deserves.”

Shortly after Türk held a news conference, the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti released a 24-page report on what it described as mass incidents of murder, gang rapes and sniper attacks in Cite Soleil, Haiti’s biggest slum. It is in the capital of Port-au-Prince.

“The findings of this report are horrifying,” Turk said. “It paints a picture of how people are being harassed and terrorized by criminal gangs for months without the state being able to stop it.”

The report said that from last July 8 to Dec. 31, at least 263 people were killed and at least 57 women and girls were raped in just one neighborhood within Cite Soleil known as Brooklyn. That area became ground zero for intense fighting between warring gangs.

During that time, the report said, residents lived in “an almost permanent climate of terror due to the use of snipers that killed, at random, any person who passed in their field of vision.”

Officials added that snipers would stand on schools and other buildings during broad daylight to attack innocent residents, with an average of six people killed or wounded every week. Among the targets were at least 17 women and several children, the youngest just 8 years old.

Gang members also entered houses at random in rival territory, killing at least 95 people this way, including six children, one of whom was 2 years old, the report said. People who tried to flee the violence were killed at makeshift checkpoints.

“It is important to emphasize … that this violence and these abuses are not committed randomly but are motivated by the interest of political actors in controlling territories,” the report said.

Officials noted that three men were killed by one gang leader because they had been talking about the possibility of foreign military intervention, which Prime Minister Ariel Henry urgently requested in October to no avail amid a fuel terminal siege that shuttered gas stations and crippled life in Haiti.

The report blamed the violence on at least eight gangs, including Haiti’s largest one — G9 Family and Allies, which is a gang federation led by former police officer Jimmy Chérizier. It has been accused of blocking access to food and water in part by damaging public water mains and threatening to kill water truck drivers if they went to certain neighborhoods.

As a result, the first cholera deaths in nearly three years were recorded in October 2022 in the Brooklyn neighborhood, officials said.

In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Chérizier denied the accusations, saying he is simply carrying out a “social fight.”

The report said warring gangs use weapons including assault rifles illegally smuggled into Haiti and even rely on motorboats to attack rivals. The wave of violence has displaced tens of thousands of Haitians who remain homeless after their homes were bulldozed or set on fire, the report said.

The U.N. office urged local officials to hold elections, provide more training and equipment to a severely understaffed police department and arrest those responsible for “gross human rights abuses.”

It also once again called on the international community to urgently consider the deployment of foreign troops.

“The issues are vast and overwhelming,” Türk said. “They need the international community’s attention.”

Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.