Massacres instill fear in Haiti


In Haiti, evidence is mounting that the state sponsors gang violence to control the people and quell opposition to an increasingly authoritarian president.


In 2018, the infamous gang-leader, Jimmy Cherizier, also known as ‘Barbecue’, led an attack in La Saline neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince. An internal police investigation found that dozens of people were killed – “men, women and even children as young as 4 were shot to death, their bodies then fed to dogs and pigs. Women were raped and set on fire... ‘in the presence of their powerless husbands or partners, and sometimes even in the presence of their children.’” Police said: “Among other things that show the cruelty of the killers is the murder of infants such as Geralson Belance, a baby of only 10 months old, who was cowardly lynched and whose remains were taken away in a sack by his killers.” [1]


This shocking massacre may appear to be an isolated, senseless incident on the part of out-of-control organised criminals. But further exploration of the facts on the ground in Haiti reveals a more sinister pattern.


Whilst La Saline was the most horrific example, over the past two years, massacres in the poorer communities of Port-au-Prince have become a semi-regular occurrence. And the attacks appear to coincide with communities protesting and expressing opposition to the government.


The community of Bel Air has been attacked several times in the past two years, the deadliest so far taking place on 31 August 2020. Once more, this appears to have been orchestrated by Cherizier. As one human rights defender told us “armed gangs stormed the Bel-Air district not far from the National Palace and set dozens of houses on fire. Families were forced to flee following threats from armed gangs, with no time to gather their belongings. At least twelve people were said to be killed during this incursion, and around thirty children were separated from their families. We intervened to help the families who had no food or clothing. We also attempted to reunite the separated families. To this date, many of the victims of the massacre cannot return home. They are waiting in camps, hoping for better days.” [2]


Cherizier himself is a former police officer. And although a warrant was issued for his arrest, he continues to operate with apparent impunity. According to the Haitian Times, “Haiti’s Prime Minister Joseph Jouthe said authorities chose not to help Bel Air massacre victims because sending in the police to confront the gangs involved would have been worse for residents. “The government couldn’t assist them because there could have been collateral victims,” Jouthe said in a Caraïbes FM interview via Tripotay Lakay.”[3]


There is mounting evidence of coordination between Cherizier and the State authorities.[4] In the November 2019 atack on Bel-Air, according to the UN, Cherizier and other members of the Delmas 6 gang allegedly led an attack against local residents in the Bel-Air neighborhood who refused to remove barricades that people raised to protest a government announcement to end a fuel subsidy. At least 3 people were killed, 6 wounded, and about 30 houses and 11 cars burned. Three active members of Haiti’s National Police and others off duty those days allegedly participated in the attacks with the gangs”.[5]

It appears that the increasingly authoritarian regime is utilising gang-violence to silence the protests of the population. In Bosnia and Sudan, similar tactics were employed: targeted massacres to quell opposition.[6]


Urgent action is needed on the part of the international community to prevent further bloodshed and restore democracy.


-----

[1] https://www.miamiherald.com/article230380739.html [2] The human rights defender’s identity is confidential, for their protection [3] https://haitiantimes.com/2020/09/14/haiti-pm-helping-during-bel-air-massacre-could-have-hurt-more-people/ [4] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-haiti-violence-feature/haitian-slums-descend-into-anarchy-as-crisis-sparks-worst-violence-in-years-idUSKBN1YE2RX [5] https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/04/28/concerns-raised-over-planned-gang-raid-haiti [6] See for example, http://worldwithoutgenocide.org/genocides-and-conflicts/darfur-genocide; https://www.brookings.edu/articles/decision-to-intervene-how-the-war-in-bosnia-ended/