Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Haiti: Rape and Gender-Based Violence (Rights Action)

By John Tynnel, Rights Action
Feb 15, 2005

This short report was prepared in Haiti by John Tynnela, on a fact-finding and project-visiting trip for Rights Action. As we approach the 1st anniversary (February 29) of the most recent military coup against the elected government of President Aristide (the first one being in 1991), Rights Action will circulate various articles and urgent actions related to Haiti.


A Plea for Support from the Commission on Women Victims of Rape, by John Tynnela (Haiti, February 2005)

Asked how it is that she* found the courage to speak out about the violence against women, she quotes a Haitian proverb: “Medicine cannot be found for a sickness that is hidden”.

She was 37 when the three uniformed men wearing black masks forced their way into her home. She remembers that they slapped her first. A front tooth went flying.

The struggles have been ongoing in the 12 years since that day. She struggles with the loss of her husband, who was disappeared. She struggles to raise her four children, in addition to a girl born of the rape. She struggles with poverty, familiar enough before the rape, but even more devastating for a single mother. And she struggles with the shame that rape victims feel in this society, as in many countries, more painful still because this violence is unacknowledged and rarely reported in the Haitian and international media.

She was lucky to find herself among other women with the same immeasurable courage that it has taken to speak the truth. They hold their heads up high with an inspiring and hard-fought dignity as we chat this afternoon in Port-au-Prince.

Inherent dignity. It is what human rights talk is all about, and it is the objective of the Haitian Commission for Women Victims of Rape. I discussed the Commission with a half dozen of its members, all victims of rape, listening to their stories as someone new to Haiti, although familiar with some of the widespread causes of its violence.

The Commission was formed because – in spite of being almost entirely hidden to the outside world – there is a new surge in violence against women. They are victims of another peak in the chronic violence that flows from centuries of national and international prejudice and exclusion, sparked by yet another armed coup against an elected government. A United Nations stabilization mission is in place to support the ‘transition’ to an election later this year, but these past victims report that the rapes continue even as the UN tanks stand guard at the gates to the many urban slums of Haiti.

Scores are being settled as a new regime is installed. Contrary voices are being silenced. Rival gangs are at war. Illegal and irregular armed groups battle to occupy people’s minds and neighborhoods. Journalists with minority voices are under attack, in exile, in hiding, dead. Haitian police enter with UN backup to apparently deal with armed “bandits”, but innocent Haitians are often paying the price. The new wave of violence includes a resurgence in violence against women, whose voices are rarely given recognition in Haiti. But the members of the Commission recount hearing screams of victims in the night, and they are desperate to help those suffering a pain that they know too well.

You can help.

Opinions may differ on the political events in Haiti during the last year, and on the global causes of poverty and violence. But none of these differences change the fact that the women of Haiti’s poorest slums need help to deal with the consequences of rape and other violence. The victims are arriving every day at the doors of the Commission on Women Victims of Rape. For every victim willing to speak out, there are many more living in isolation, fear, and shame, often moving up the mountainsides or into the countryside because they can no longer live in their own former neighborhoods.

But the members of the Commission are as poor as the victims. They collect what they can for medicines, for HIV and other STD tests, for temporary shelter, for legal proceedings. But the need far outweighs the available resources. The Commission also established a transitional school for the children (100 to date) of these women, who could not afford to send them to school. They would like to continue the school and its food program for kids who often arrive with empty bellies. They need funds to do this.

Your assistance will flow directly to the Commission.

* Name has been omitted to minimize any risks.


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