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Gang violence spreading to Haiti’s rural reaches, UN report says

A UN report released Tuesday details a wave of violence that has swept Haiti’s rural reaches, describing gang raids on villages and alarming levels of food insecurity caused by the targeting of farmers in the country’s historic breadbasket.

The report, from the UN Human Rights Office and the UN Integrated Office in Haiti, offers a stark analysis of the spread of gangs in the poor Caribbean nation, which has seen deepening unrest since the 2021 assassination of then-President Jovenel Moise.

Past attention has largely focused on Port-au-Prince, the capital, where warring gangs have forced thousands of people from their homes and into makeshift encampments across the sprawling city. In Bas-Artibonite, the focus of the UN report and the center of Haitian rice production located some 100 kilometers from the capital, there are now more than 20 “extremely violent” criminal groups fighting for turf, it says. Some 1,690 people were killed, injured, or kidnapped from January 2022 through last month, the report also says.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk noted in a statement the “terrible violence against the population expanding – within and outside Port-au-Prince – and the inability of the police to stop them.”

“The situation in Haiti is cataclysmic,” he said. “We are continuing to receive reports of killings, sexual violence, displacement and other violence – including in hospitals.”

The report calls for the urgent deployment of a multinational support mission greenlit by the UN Security Council last month and the reinforcement of Haitian police. The force is expected to be led by Kenya, which has pledged 1,000 police to the mission, though the deployment has been tied up by legal challenges.

“The much-needed Multinational Security Support mission needs to be deployed to Haiti as soon as possible,” Türk said in the statement.

According to the report, violence increased drastically in the Artibonite region towards the end of last year, with gangs and vigilante groups that sprung up to oppose them vying for control. There were at least 110 attacks carried out by gangs on rival villages from January 2022 through last month, with “extreme brutality” on display, including beheadings, rapes, and kidnappings, the report says.

Brazen daylight attacks on some of the area’s busiest roadways are also common, the report found, with more than 85 people killed by gang members who erected barricades or ambushed public transport vehicles from the side of the road.

Farmers and their properties have also become “prime targets” for gangs, the report says, with gang members occupying fields and forcing farmers to pay a tax to gain access to them. “Those who dare to protest are beaten and killed, or their crops and livestock stolen,” the report says.

In April, the World Food Program noted a reduction of almost 5,000 hectares of crops across three communes of Lower Artibonite “due to the forced displacement of the agricultural workforce.”

Over 45% of the population living in Artibonite is considered acutely food insecure, the WFP found in September.

“As the current dynamics in the Lower Artibonite region demonstrate, particularly around the issue of agricultural property, a police and judicial response will not be enough to protect the human rights of the population,” the report says. “The longer it takes to deploy a specialized international force, the more robust the response will have to be.”

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