Crime, militant activity, and economic and political instability are all internal threats in Haiti. Security forces rightly focus on these issues, rather than external threats. During the mid-1990s, the Government did away with the Haitian Armed Forces (FAdH) and replaced them with a civilian police force, the Haitian National Police. It also undertook reforms in the judiciary branch and the prison system, with a view to fighting impunity and abuses against human rights. Unfortunately, since 1997, the succession of political and institutional crises, particularly as regards the electoral process, crippled efforts in the areas of security and justice which had originally received strong support from the international community.
In this environment, light arms began to be widely used and distributed; the situation has gotten completely out of control and is tearing apart the very fabric of society. These light arms are obtained on formal and informal, domestic and foreign markets. By now, at the beginning of 2003, the situation has become especially distressing, and must be dealt with as a matter of urgency. These light arms are often used, both dissuasively and offensively, to settle disputes whether they be of a political, economic, social, family and/or personal nature.
Not all violence in Haiti is either government-ordered or government-supported. Like any other country, Haitian society is not immune to violent crime. Often, however, the distinction between government-supported violence and violent crime is hard to determine. For example, in a country where possession and distribution of firearms has been tightly controlled by government or military authorities, violent crimes involving firearms may have some connection to the government -- even if it is only the firearm. The concept of community or "vigilante" justice has deep roots in Haitian society. Thus, even when left unmolested by the FAd'H or police, ordinary Haitians sometimes employed mob rule to mete out justice incommunal response to perceived threats to local order.
Amnesty International reports that the efforts of the United Nations (UN) and Haiti's police force have largely failed to curb violent crime in the country, especially in the capital region. The organization estimates that, in Port-au-Prince, an average of 100 persons per month were murdered in 2004. Additionally, Amnesty International asserts that perpetrators act with virtual impunity because the police and courts are corrupt and ineffective. In extending the mandate of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in June 2004, the UN Security Council called for 800 additional troops and 275 more policemen to reinforce security.
As an additional testament to Haiti's problem with crime, the U.S. Department of State issued a travel warning for U.S. citizens in the country in May 2005. It warned of the potential for looting, blockades by armed gangs, and violent crime including kidnapping, carjacking, and assault. The U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince frequently has imposed a 5 p.m. curfew on its employees.
In addition to isolated incidents of violent crime, Haiti has a large organized crime network. Former members of the armed forces have formed armed brigades and claim that the interim government owes them remuneration for their role in ousting President Aristide. Drug traffickers also operate in the country. Haiti has become a major transit point for cocaine entering the United States and Europe. Officials in the United States estimate that 8 percent of the cocaine entering the United States travels through Haiti.
On April 25, 2007 Ambassador Sanderson inaugurated the Haiti Stabilization Initiative (HSI) in Port-au-Prince. This new initiative integrates security and development in Cité Soleil, one of Haiti's most dangerous, gang-controlled neighborhoods and a persistent source of instability. HSI's goal is to improve the daily lives of Cité Soleil residents by enabling local government and community groups to rebuild their community in the wake of gang violence. By combining increased security with targeted, collaborative assistance programs, this initiative is helping the Government of Haiti lay the foundation for renewal, hope, and a more positive perception of the neighborhood. The United States Government, through the U.S. Mission in Haiti, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), and the Government of Haiti is supporting the residents of Cité Soleil as they rebuild through a three-pronged approach.
By 2008 organized criminal gangs mainly were responsible for the arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of life. In some areas of Port-au-Prince formerly known as "No Law" areas, notably Martissant, criminals and gangs operated with near impunity. In response to continuing violence perpetrated by suspected criminals, residents in some neighborhoods resorted to vigilante justice. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also reported vigilante incidents including shootings, beatings, and lynchings in rural areas, an area where effective judicial and law enforcement institutions largely were absent. Police statistics documented 70 lynchings during the year. Armed and organized criminal elements continued kidnapping during 2008. While payment of ransom resolved most cases, some victims were tortured, raped, and killed while in their kidnappers' custody. There were 263 reported kidnapping victims during the year, compared with 237 in 2007. Many kidnappings were never reported officially.
Rape was often treated in practice as a relatively minor infraction or a family or community issue instead of a prosecutable offense. MINUSTAH cited difficulty in persuading judges and the HNP to give adequate attention to rape cases. Cases were often relegated to a justice of the peace, who acted as a mediator, with an emphasis on finding family or community solutions as opposed to punishing the perpetrator. Rape was especially common in urban slum areas with minimal police presence. Many credible NGOs and government sources believed that urban gangs used rape as a systematic instrument of intimidation. Women's shelters and organizations reported that armed gangs frequently raped and harassed girls and women. At least one kidnapping gang kidnapped women in Port-au-Prince primarily for purposes of rape, making ransom demands considerably lower than in other kidnapping cases.
There are no "safe" areas in Haiti. There is a persistent danger of violent crime, which can be subject to periodic surges sometimes not obviously explained by other events or conditions. Criminal perpetrators often operate in groups of two to four individuals, and may occasionally be confrontational and gratuitously violent. Criminals sometimes will seriously injure or kill those who resist their attempts to commit crime. In robberies or home invasions, it is not uncommon for the assailants to beat or shoot the victim in order to limit the victim's ability to resist.
Certain high-crime zones in the Port-au-Prince area should be avoided, including Croix-des-Bouquets, Carrefour, Martissant, the port road (Boulevard La Saline), urban route Nationale #1, the airport road (Boulevard Toussaint L'Ouverture) and its adjoining connectors to the New ("American") Road via Route Nationale #1 (which should also be avoided). This latter area in particular has been the scene of numerous robberies, carjackings, and murders. Embassy employees are prohibited from remaining in the downtown area after dark or entering Cite Soleil and La Saline and their surrounding environs due to significant criminal activity. Neighborhoods in Port-au-Prince once considered relatively safe, such as the Delmas road area and Petionville, have been the scenes of an increasing number of violent crimes.
Holiday periods, especially Christmas and Carnival, often bring a significant increase in criminal activity. Haiti's Carnival season is marked by street celebrations in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday. In recent years, Carnival has been accompanied by civil disturbances, altercations and severe traffic disruptions. People attending Carnival events or simply caught in the resulting celebrations have been injured and killed. Random stabbings during Carnival season are frequent. Roving musical bands called "rah-rahs" operate during the period from New Year's Day through Carnival. Being caught in a rah-rah event may begin as an enjoyable experience, but the potential for injury and the destruction of property is high. A mob mentality can develop unexpectedly leaving people and cars engulfed and at risk. During Carnival, rah-rahs continuously form without warning; some rah-rahs have identified themselves with political entities, lending further potential for violence.
Haiti is among the four most important countries for drug transit to the United States. Law and order in Haiti has steadily deteriorated as a result. Kidnapping, death threats, murders, drug-related shootouts, armed robberies, home break-ins and car-jacking are common in Haiti. Generally, these crimes are committed by Haitians against other Haitians, although several foreigners and U.S. citizens have been victimized. The incidence of kidnapping in Haiti has diminished from its peak in 2006 when 60 U.S, citizens were reported kidnapped. In 2008, there were 27 reported kidnappings of U.S. citizens, and as of September 2009, one U.S. citizen had been reported kidnapped.
Incidents of violent demonstrations, looting, and transportation disruptions in Les Cayes and Port-au-Prince resulted in several deaths. In 2009 the Embassy issued several security related messages advising U.S. citizens to avoid downtown Port-au-Prince near the universities (Avenue Christophe, Rue Capois, and Avenue John Brown) when student demonstrators barricaded streets and threw rocks at passing cars, attracting a large police presence, which responded with tear gas and other forceful measures.
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