Spiraling violence against LGBT men in Haiti began when anti-gay Christians marched against fictional same-s*x marriage bill.
Dozens of gay men were beaten by gangs with knives, machetes, cement blocks, sticks and iron bars in Haiti.
Human rights campaigners in the Caribbean nation say they know of 47 assaults in just one week (17 to 24 July), though attacks have slowed in recent days following government intervention.
Some have had their lives threatened or had their houses have been burned down or looted. The series of attacks follows a march by anti-gay Christians in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti on 19 July.
Gangs started beating up gay men on 17 July, two days before the march led by the Haitian Coalition of Religious and Moral Organizations – a group LGBT activists in the country had not previously heard of.
The ‘coalition’ was rallying people against a gay marriage bill they claimed was going before parliament. But this has baffled human rights campaigners and government ministers who say no such bill exists.
GSN spoke to a campaigner from SEROvie, a foundation that promotes human rights for marginalized people, particularly LGBTI people, based in Port-au-Prince.
The spokesman said: “In most of the cases, it was groups of four to six men who attacked individuals. They surrounded them in their homes or in their business or on the streets.
The two worst cases were two men who were attacked when they were selling things in the public market.
One of these victims was particularly baffled because he said he could see a few of his former lovers among the attackers.
They were beaten with whatever these guys could find including wooden and iron sticks.
They escaped and were hidden by a neighbor. When it was safe they contacted us and we went with them to the hospital. They were left with bruises and deep cuts.”
He said one of the curious aspects of the violence was that, as far as they know, only men were targeted.
“The victims were people who were living their life quietly and no such thing had ever happened before to them.”
At the height of the trouble, representatives of SEROvie worked around the clock to look after victims, chart the attacks and liaise with the government.
As a result of that work, the Ministry of Justice made a statement condemning the violence and saying the perpetrators would be brought to justice.
SEROvie doesn’t know of any arrests yet, but fewer attacks are now being reported. Another march took place on Sunday (28 July) but only three incidents since Monday.
The foundation’s spokesman added: “I am quite surprised by the violence coming from [Haitian] people who were thought were tolerant. We don’t know where all this hatred is coming from.
‘Someone from the government told me it was much deeper. We have a government which has been trying to create an image that Haiti is open for business and tourism and there are some sectors who feel threatened by that and we were the easiest target and a way for them to tackle the government.”
Meanwhile, while SEROvie praises the government’s response, the victims are still tending their wounds.
The spokesman said: “We have at least five cases which are going to the hospital every day to change bandages and get more serious injuries treated. But it is all under control.
They are still scared of Port-au-Prince. Most of them went back to their home towns and won’t return to the capital yet.”
Meanwhile the violence has been condemned by the The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and welcomed the government’s statements against it.
The commission said: “It is imperative that Haiti also adopt effective measures to prevent the repetition of these types of acts of violence and discrimination in the future.”
They particularly want the state to take action against the perpetrators, warning allowing the attackers impunity “fosters the chronic repetition of these crimes, leaving the victims and their families defenseless”.