In Haiti, according to Human Rights Watch, “Protracted political instability and gang violence in 2020—often with state ties—contributed to the Haitian government’s inability to meet the basic needs of its people, resolve longstanding human rights problems, and address humanitarian crises.”[i]
Several human rights organisations have recorded complicity between gangs, government officials and security officers in the perpetration of human rights abuses. These atrocities are not simply opportunities for gangs to make money, they are also a tool for those in power to instil fear and to intimidate the population.
This has been confirmed by the US government’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, who said, “widespread violence and growing criminality by armed gangs in Haiti is bolstered by a judiciary that does not prosecute those responsible for attacks on civilians. These gangs, with the support of some Haitian politicians, repress political dissent in Port-au-Prince neighbourhoods known to participate in anti-government demonstrations.”[ii]
Throughout 2020, kidnappings for ransom by gangs have increased dramatically. According to one report, kidnapping “is now endemic throughout all society, from the poorest to the richest. Opposition areas were routinely the targets for the kidnapping gangs, but now it is everywhere. Everyone is targeted and nobody is safe. Gangs appear to act with impunity”[iii]
One witness in Haiti told us their family’s story.[iv]
“Last week, my 13-year-old cousin overslept and was late for school. That morning, two men showed up at the school, acting aggressively, and insisting on seeing my cousin. The security guard did not want to let them in, but they pushed through and made their way to the school principal’s office. One man asked for my cousin by name. He said he was my cousin’s grandfather, that there was an emergency at home and he needed to collect her. He had a photo of my cousin and showed it to the principal, who explained she was not in school that day. Eventually, the men went away but said they would return later. The principal phoned the family, who explained these people were strangers, not relatives.
“At the time, her mother had been exasperated with my cousin’s laziness. Afterwards, the family were so relieved that she doesn’t like getting up in the morning. Now, she can longer go to school, or even play in the yard of the house. The entire family is too scared to go out to work, or even to shop in the market.”
This fear is generalised across Haiti. The international community must end its support to a government that allows gangs to act with impunity.