Haiti Grapples with Surging Gang Unrest; Homicides, Abductions Soar in Key Cities

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Surging gang unrest continues to pervasively grip Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince and is gaining ground in the heartlands extending to the two other key cities, Gonaives and Cap-Hatien. Evident markers of this growing unrest are rapidly escalating counts of homicides, abductions and sexual assaults, as per the account of the United Nations Secretary-General’s recent report.

The reported noted that between October 2022 and June 2023, a staggering 2,728 deliberate homicides were documented, inclusive of 247 women, 58 boys and 20 girls. The Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres implicated that a key contributor to escalating murder rates is “Bwa Kale” a vigilante group, originated in the capital around April. This faction targets gangs relentlessly, intensifying the volatile nature of this crisis.

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Kidnappings for ransom saw a substantial hike during the same period, with 1,472 instances recorded. The secretary-general speculated that the actual toll is guessed to be alarmingly greater, as anxious families generally avoid reporting missing members to law enforcement due to fear for the victims’ well-being.

Guterres also disclosed that the notorious gangs employ brutal tactics to create a reign of terror amongst populations within their rivals’ territories. Collective rape has emerged as a horrifying weapon, with 452 reported incidents over the October-June period.

Since the unresolved 2021 assassination of President Jovenel Moise, political instability has sent shockwaves through Haiti, with protests erupting over corruption allegations and disputes regarding expiry of his term. Gangs have seized this window of disorder to cement their power, with the secretary-general admitting that they wield control or significant influence over roughly 80% of the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. Their volatile activities have left their mark on the central Artibonite Valley and the regions encompassing the cities of Gonaives and Cap Hatien.

The indiscriminate attacks have forcibly displaced almost 130,000 individuals. National institutions such as the judiciary, national police and prison administration directorate have buckled under the crushing influence of these unlawful factions. Despite a surge in their funding, local law enforcement grapples with dwindling manpower due to resignations and fatalities. The human rights scenario continues to degrade with continuous gang attacks, including snipers shooting citizens engaged in their daily activities.

Disregarding the sanctions resolution and arms embargo from last October, illicit trafficking of weapons persists unabated due to poor border control and weak weapons management systems. The sophistication and caliber of weapons trafficked into Haiti have been increasing, with most originating from the United States, ending up in the hands of gang members.