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Safeguards Needed for Haitian Security Force, HRW Says

FILE - A Haitian National Police officer guards the front of the house of Haiti's Prime Minister Ariel Henry in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jan. 29, 2023.

International security assistance for Haiti's police should include safeguards to prevent abuses, Human Rights Watch said Monday, as debate intensifies over a Kenya-led force to help stem worsening gang violence.

Haiti's unelected government requested urgent help last October as heavily-armed gangs expanded their control over large parts of the country, driving a humanitarian crisis amid bloody turf wars that have displaced some 200,000 people.

Wary of supporting a government many Haitians consider corrupt, no country answered the call for a foreign security force until Kenya stepped forward last month.

A United Nations report is due this week, after which the plan, with U.S. backing, will pass to a Security Council vote.

HRW said in a report it had interviewed 127 people in Haiti. Many reported widespread sexual violence and a lack of basic needs.

"I want the international community to bring peace if they can," 42-year-old mother Rosie told HRW researchers in a report. "There's no water, no electricity, no food, no peace."

The researchers noted that most people interviewed supported an international force helping police, though safeguards are needed, such as monthly U.N. situation reports, independent abuse oversight and investigation bodies.

It also urged the neighboring Dominican Republic and United States to stop deporting migrants back to Haiti.

Past U.N. peacekeeping missions left behind a cholera epidemic that killed over 10,000 and over a hundred allegations of sexual abuse of women and children. There have been no reparations.

Gang control and violence

HRW documented dozens of cases of rape — often collective — but said these are vastly under-reported due to fear of reprisals and lack of trust in authorities. Most victims it spoke to had not received medical attention.

The government has said it has helped thousands of rape victims through support such as legal certificates, medical aid and emergency contraception, but local rights groups say the state has been paralyzed and impunity is normalized.

"The rapes and killings happen every day at Deye Mi," said 34-year-old Anne, whose Port-au-Prince neighborhood has been besieged by the powerful G9 Alliance fighting rival G-Pep gang.

"There's only one road into the area, and there's a pile of bodies there," added Natalie, 42. She said she was raped on her way home from the market and her 16-year-old son was killed days later while coming home from school.

A humanitarian officer told HRW sexual violence had become usual practice in gang-controlled areas "simply because they have the power to do so."

Fighting has also moved to farmlands as many suppliers are unable to move food across the country.

The U.N. ranks Haiti as one of the countries most at risk of communities entering starvation.

HRW said a multinational force should secure access to roads, ports and hospitals so food, aid and people can move.