‘Cataclysmic Situation’ in Haiti Leaves 1,500 Dead in Gang Violence

Gang violence has killed more than 1,500 people in Haiti so far this year, the United Nations human rights office reported on Thursday, the result of what it described as a “cataclysmic situation” in the country.

Corruption, impunity and poor governance, together with increasing levels of gang violence, have brought the Caribbean nation’s state institutions “close to collapse,” the agency said.

The U.N. human rights office reported that gang violence had left 1,554 people dead and 826 injured this year, as of March 22, A new report released by the agency described a surge in sexual violence by gang members, including rapes of women, often after having witnessed the killing of their husbands.

There is also widespread, deadly vigilantism, with community groups — some calling themselves “self-defense brigades” — attacking people suspected of petty crime or gang affiliation. Last year, 528 people were reported killed in that way, and 59 more so far this year, the U.N. said.

Armed gangs have taken control of most of the capital, Port-au-Prince, destroying police stations and government offices, as well as looting banks and hospitals, and killing and kidnapping dozens of people. The violence spurred the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who became stranded outside the country in early March.

William O’Neill, a U.N. human rights expert who has worked extensively in Haiti, told a news conference in New York on Thursday that the current situation was the worst violence he had seen in Haiti since the early 1990s military dictatorship, when rapes and execution were commonly used against opponents of the government.

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