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Haiti civilians face ‘inhuman’ violence

People in Haiti are exposed to “inhuman” levels of violence including extreme sexual violence, according to the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti, Ulrika Richardson.

Speaking to reporters at the UN in New York via video link from Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, Ms Richardson said the situation for civilians amid gang warfare in Haiti “goes beyond what you could have feared in your worst nightmare”.

“I’ve seen things here, I have never seen in my life” she said, “and I’ve worked 30 years in the UN system”.

Ms Richardson was speaking as the UN launched a $674 million appeal for humanitarian aid for Haiti.

The UN estimates that 5.5 million people, including three million children, are in need of humanitarian assistance.

But she said that the UN’s previous appeal, for 2023, remained only 34% funded.

Ms Richardson told reporters that sexual violence against women and girls had risen by 50% from 2022 to 2023, but that the figures most likely did not reflect the entire picture, because victims often did not report for fear of retaliation.

Asked by RTÉ News if the perpetrators of sexual violence faced any accountability, Ms Richardson said that they too often “go free”.

Collective rape and torture of women and girls happens often in neighbourhoods where people are known to each other and sexual violence is used as “an arm of revenge between gangs”, she said.

Ms Richardson added that the UN was looking at setting up special courts to deal specifically with cases of sexual violence, but that it was in the very early stages.

Last year, the UN Security Council approved the deployment of a multinational force to Haiti to quell gang violence.

The force was expected to be led by 1,000 Kenyan police officers, but deployment has been delayed following a Kenyan court ruling that it was “unconstitutional”.

The United States pledged to fund the force up to $200m and other member states including Burundi, Chad, Senegal, Jamaica and Belize offered to contribute troops.

Asked by RTÉ News whether people in Haiti were hoping for international intervention, Ms Richardson said the sentiment on the ground is that the country “cannot contain the level of violence”.

“If you would ask people on the street if they need assistance to deal with gang violence, they will say yes,” she told RTÉ News.

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