March 21 (Reuters) – At least 160,000 people in Haiti have been displaced in a crisis caused by increasing violence between heavily-armed gangs, the United Nations said on Tuesday, estimating that over 530 people have been killed this year.
“Clashes between gangs are becoming more violent and more frequent,” the office of the U.N.’s high commissioner for human rights said in a statement.
Local rights group RNDDH estimates gangs, not state security forces, now control all of the capital Port-au-Prince and more than half the country.
The U.N. renewed its call on countries to “urgently consider” deploying a specialized force to the Caribbean nation, a day after families fled a fresh surge of deadly violence in the Petion-Ville suburb of the capital.
Last October, Haiti’s caretaker government called for a “rapid action force” to boost police, but no country has offered to lead such a force.
The U.N. office said at least 208 people died during two weeks of brutal fighting at the start of March, with snipers implicated in shooting randomly at people in their homes or on the streets.
Mass sexual violence is also used against women and girls to terrorize, punish and pressure families to pay kidnapping ransoms, the office said.
Pascale Solages, co-founder of feminist group Neges Mawon, told a hearing of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) early this month that since last May, her organization has received reports of over 650 cases of collective and individual rape across just part of the capital.
These included a mother of three who saw her nine-year-old raped in front of her, she said, and women who became pregnant or suffered complications from unsafe, illegal abortions.
The U.N. also encouraged countries to prosecute those providing support and funds to gangs, while at a Caribbean summit last month, leaders called for a crackdown on trafficking of heavy weapons to the island.