Latin America & Caribbean

Haiti: Rape warning from human rights group

Hundred of women and girls have been sexually assaulted in Haiti in the chaos following last year's devastating earthquake, a human rights group has said.

A report by Amnesty International says armed gangs prowl the makeshift camps set up after the earthquake, preying on vulnerable women.

It says the camps lack security and that the police response is inadequate.

It has called on the government to do more to reduce the threat to women.

Amnesty International spoke to 50 survivors of sexual violence including a 14-year-old girl in the capital, Port-au-Prince, who was punched and then raped.

'I cried, I yelled'

Another women said she and a friend were bound and gagged and sexually assaulted in front of their children.

Women and girls in the camps are especially vulnerable because their makeshift shelters provide no protection against attackers, the author of the report, Gerardo Ducos, told the BBC World Service.

"During the night armed youth gangs just go inside the tents or they rip through the tents with knives or rather blades, and they just rape the women they find," Mr Ducos said.

One young woman told the BBC's Mike Thomson in Haiti that she was raped in a camp soon after giving birth.

"I cried, I yelled, but nobody came, there was nobody," she said.

"After they finished, they beat me. They beat me so much that you can see scars on my skin and my knee."

Afterwards, she said she did not feel she could nurse her daughter.

"It felt like the milk inside had been poisoned," she said, "so I stopped breastfeeding. And each night was torture for me."

Kofaviv, a group that has been helping Amnesty International with its research, says it has reports of attacks on children as young as four or five.

The organisation found that "most of these crimes go unpunished," Mr Ducos said.

He added that sexual violence and impunity for rapists was widespread in Haiti before the earthquake.

But attackers were even more likely to get away with their crimes because the Haitian justice system broke down after the disaster and the police lacks manpower.

"Most of the women told us that they don't go to the police because they don't think it's worth it," Mr Ducos said.

In the first six months after the earthquake, at least 250 cases of rape were reported; a year on and serious sexual assault is still taking place.

Amnesty is calling on the new Haitian government to take a number of steps to reduce the threat to women and girls who are forced to live in the camps until Port-au-Prince has been re-built.

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