29 February 2024
Risk Level: Current Crisis

Populations in Haiti are facing possible atrocity crimes due to widespread violence by armed gangs.


Since the assassination of then-President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, violence has intensified in Haiti, particularly in Port-au-Prince, where armed gangs have rapidly proliferated and are perpetrating widespread abuses in a climate of total impunity. Approximately 200 criminal groups are currently fighting over territory in Haiti, and the UN estimates that at least 2 million Haitians, including 600,000 children, live in areas under gang control. Throughout 2023 several UN officials warned that insecurity in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area reached levels comparable to countries in armed conflict. Gang violence reached unprecedented levels, with over 8,400 people killed, injured or kidnapped – more than double the figure from 2022.

Throughout 2023 intense turf wars between two of the main gang coalitions – the G9 alliance and G-Pèp federation – continued across Cité Soleil, a commune on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, as well as across the capital. Populations are often confined to their neighborhood and face killings, disappearances, sexual violence, indiscriminate sniper attacks and destruction of property. Gangs also launch frequent attacks on schools, medical facilities and humanitarian organizations. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), there has also been a significant rise in gang violence in the central region of Lower Artibonite, where populations face near-daily abuses. Several UN Special Procedures, the Secretary-General and OHCHR have reported that gangs are using systematic sexual violence, including collective rape and mutilation, as a means of exerting territorial control and to terrorize and inflict pain on communities under the control of rival gangs. Refusing sexual demands has led to reprisals, including killings and arson attacks. Cases of rape increased 49 percent from January to October 2023 compared with the same period in 2022.

In response to escalating violence, a civilian self-defense movement – known as “Bwa Kale”– emerged in April 2023. Gang members retaliated by creating their own movement known as “Zam Pale.” The UN has documented at least 420 cases of lynching in vigilante justice. At times, vigilante groups have joined the Haitian National Police (HNP) during anti-gang operations, and BINUH has documented several cases of extrajudicial killings by the HNP.

Insecurity has compounded an existing humanitarian crisis. Haitians have little or no access to basic necessities, as armed gangs have blocked essential transport routes and looted humanitarian supplies. Over 314,000 people, half of whom are children, are internally displaced. According to the International Organization for Migration, sixty percent of forced displacements occurred in 2023, while over 216,600 Haitians were forcibly returned from neighboring countries last year.

The grave security situation is exacerbated by protracted political deadlock. Prime Minister Ariel Henry has controlled executive and parliamentary functions since July 2021 and has been unable to reach a consensus with Haitian political authorities and civil society representatives to enable a democratic transition.

In response to the multidimensional crisis, in October 2022 the UN Security Council (UNSC) established a sanctions regime, including an arms embargo, targeted asset freezes and travel ban measures.


Following a year of requests by Prime Minister Henry for the deployment of a multinational security force, on 2 October the UNSC authorized the Multinational Security Support (MSS) mission to Haiti. The MSS is mandated to provide operational support to the HNP to re-establish security in Haiti and build conditions conducive to holding free and fair elections and to protect critical infrastructure sites, among other tasks. The UNSC also renewed the sanctions regime and broadened the arms embargo, prohibiting all arms sales or transfers to Haiti. During November the Kenyan parliament approved the deployment of 1,000 police to lead the MSS, though the deployment was blocked by the High Court in a ruling issued on 26 January 2024. In February the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin and Chad formally notified the UN of their intent to contribute personnel to the MSS.

Over the past several months, gangs have expanded at an alarming rate to new areas of Port-au-Prince – including Carrefour-Feuilles, Solino, Bon Repos, Mariani and Léogâne – as well as in the West (Ouest) and Artibonite Departments, prompting outbreaks of violence and a rise in kidnappings. According to OHCHR, January 2024 was the most violent month in two years, with at least 806 people killed, injured or kidnapped.

Since mid-January tensions have escalated as supporters of former rebel leader Guy Philippe, who is calling for a revolution, have launched anti-government protests and riots in at least 24 cities, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Henry. At times law enforcement has used unnecessary and disproportionate force against protesters.


Populations living in areas under the control of gangs are at heightened risk of grave and widespread human rights abuses, including killings, kidnappings and sexual violence, which may amount to crimes against humanity. The emergence of self-defense movements has resulted in a rise in summary executions and may lead to mobilization, arming and recruitment of youth into gangs. Insecurity in marginalized areas of Port-au-Prince leave many without access to any public services, exacerbating existing inequalities which fuel patterns of exclusion – a driver of violence.

The unprecedented levels of violence stem from intensifying turf wars between armed gangs who are competing for control of strategic resources and sources of new revenue. As gangs expand their control over key transport routes, they not only hinder freedom of movement – leading to loss of livelihoods – but have also become more economically autonomous and powerful. Kidnappings and associated requests for ransom are a vital source of income for gangs to carry out operations and purchase weapons.

The prevalence and spread of gang violence across the capital and beyond is also fueled by the power vacuum created since the assassination of former President Moïse. The lack of legitimate executive or legislative bodies, as well as a dysfunctional judiciary, has enabled gangs to continue their activities with impunity. Many of the gangs have alleged ties to state authorities or police officers, raising questions about institutional capacity and commitment to fighting gangs effectively and impartially.

Philippe has the support of several units of the Brigade for the Security of Protected Areas (BSAP), an armed government security force, heightening the risk of clashes, particularly if the group aligns with gangs. Some BSAP agents have been previously implicated in human rights abuses.


    • Proliferation and flow of illicit arms and ammunition to gangs, providing the means for perpetrating atrocities.
    • Grave acts of violence, including forcible recruitment of children, as well as systematic sexual violence, particularly against women and girls.
    • Limited government capacity to combat gang activity, as well as ineffective institutions, particularly the judiciary, to confront widespread corruption and impunity.
    • Emergence of vigilante groups and the growth and expansion of gangs, fueling rivalries and clashes.
    • Near-complete impunity for violence against civilians, emboldening gang members to perpetrate further abuses.


Haitian authorities, with the assistance of countries in the region, must bolster efforts to curb the flow of illicit weapons and ammunition. The UNSC arms embargo should be implemented immediately. Those responsible for serious abuses, as well as those providing support to and financing gangs, should be investigated and prosecuted in line with international human rights standards. The HNP must vet all its members and remove from service any officers who have colluded with gangs or the Bwa Kale movement.

In cooperation with OHCHR, the MSS must establish an oversight mechanism to prevent human rights violations or abuses, as well as strictly adhere to UN protocols on the prohibition of sexual exploitation and abuse. Efforts to secure strategic locations and main roads should be complemented by initiatives to provide jobs, education and access to basic necessities in gang-controlled areas. The international community should give assistance to authorities to restore the rule of law and re-establish democratic institutions.

States in the region must end the collective expulsions and forced returns of Haitians and uphold their obligations under international refugee law and international human rights law.


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