March 8 (Reuters) – Haitian rights activists on Wednesday called for a stop to the trafficking of weapons into Haiti, as the Caribbean state faces a humanitarian crisis driven by gangs who rights groups say now control most of the country.
Haiti does not produce weapons but boys are often seen carrying assault rifles, understood to be from the United States, said Guerline Jozef of migrant-focused non-profit the Haitian Bridge Alliance.
“When we are receiving heavy weaponry from the United States and other international culprits, people can kill with impunity and we will not see accountability,” she said at an event in Los Angeles.
“If we can stop the flow of heavy weaponry into Haiti, then we can start to see relief in sight.”
Rosy Auguste Ducena from the RNDDH human rights network said the Ouest Department – the seat of Haiti’s capital – is now under 100% under the control of armed gangs, who she estimated now control 60% of territory nationwide.
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On average each day, some 15 people are kidnapped, four are murdered and seven women or girls are raped, she said.
More than 600 cases of sexual abuse were reported in the past seven months in just four neighborhoods, according to Pascale Solages, co-founder of feminist group Neges Mawon.
“We cannot go as activists to serve people in these areas because we are afraid, and they cannot come to us,” she said, pointing to lack of resources and the killing of fellow activist Antoinette “Netty” Duclaire.
The aid group Medecins Sans Frontiers recently closed a hospital in the Cite Soleil neighborhood on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, because of the violence.
Last July, at least 52 women and girls were raped by armed groups during a week of intense violence between rival gangs in Cite Soleil, according to the United Nations.
Both Ducena and Solages rejected government assertions it had been helping thousands of women who survived sexual abuse.
Violence does not stop at Haiti’s borders, added Jozef, saying that every day her organization hears accounts of sexual abuse of migrants “crossing Latin America in their black skin where there is no space for them.”