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UN rights chief deplores 'unprecedented scale' of rights abuses in Haiti

Gunfire near Haiti's National Palace, in Port-au-Prince

GENEVA (Reuters) - Haiti is witnessing an unprecedented level of human rights abuses amid a state of chaos caused by gang violence, the United Nations human rights chief said on Tuesday.

In the absence of a functioning government, Volker Turk noted there had been a "shocking rise in killings and kidnappings" as well as pervasive sexual violence he warned was very likely to have reached levels not seen before.

"The scale of human rights abuses is unprecedented in modern Haitian history," Turk, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a video message to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.

"The escalation of violence has had a devastating impact on the population. All human rights are impacted."

Haiti has been plunged into worsening conflict as gangs vie for control of the capital Port-au-Prince, attacking police stations and the international airport among other acts of violence.

Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who announced his resignation on March 11, has signalled that a broad transitional council is nearly finalised and is key to ending the social and political crisis.

The U.N. human rights office said last week that gang violence had killed more than 1,500 people in the first three months of the year.

"First and foremost, the immediate priority must be restoring a degree of public order to prevent further harm to the population from violence and to ensure access to life-saving humanitarian assistance," Turk said.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Ed Osmond)