31 May 2024
Risk Level: Current Crisis

Populations in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, are facing possible crimes against humanity due to widespread violence and abuses 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 300 criminal groups are active in Haiti, and the UN estimates that 2.7 million Haitians, including over 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.

Populations are often confined to their neighborhood and face killings, disappearances, sexual violence and indiscriminate sniper attacks. Gangs also launch frequent attacks on schools, medical facilities and humanitarian organizations. The Human Rights Service of the UN Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH) has documented the forcible recruitment of children, with gangs establishing checkpoints around schools. According to Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and BINUH, there has also been a significant rise in gang violence in Artibonite, a department in central Haiti, where populations face near-daily abuses. Several top UN officials and experts 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. Refusing sexual demands has led to reprisals, including killings and arson attacks.

Throughout 2023 civilians were targeted with deadly violence amid intense turf wars between two of the largest gang coalitions – the G9 and Gpèp – in Cité Soleil and Port-au-Prince communes, as well as by the territorial expansion of other gangs in eastern and southern communes of the capital. In response to escalating violence, a civilian self-defense movement – known as “Bwa Kale”– emerged in April 2023. Hundreds of alleged gang members have subsequently been killed. Although the G9 and Gpèp joined forces (an offensive known as Viv Ansanm) in February 2024, abuses against civilians continue following the launch of coordinated attacks across Port-au-Prince targeting police stations, prisons, government institutions and civilian property, including hospitals and cultural and educational institutions.

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. Nearly 1.64 million Haitians are at risk of famine and over 362,551 are internally displaced. According to the International Organization for Migration, 60 percent of forced displacements occurred in 2023, while over 216,600 Haitians were forcibly returned from neighboring countries.

The grave security situation is exacerbated by protracted political deadlock. Former Prime Minister Ariel Henry controlled the executive and parliamentary functions from July 2021 until his formal resignation on 25 April 2024 following the installation of a Transitional Presidential Council responsible for preparing a roadmap toward elections, among other tasks.

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. The following year, the UNSC renewed the sanctions regime and broadened the arms embargo, prohibiting all arms sales or transfers to Haiti.


Gangs have expanded at an alarming rate to new areas of Port-au-Prince, including formerly peaceful suburbs, while the security situation further deteriorated in the Artibonite and Center departments. During the first quarter of 2024 the UN recorded 2,505 people killed or injured in gang-related violence – the most violent period since the establishment of BINUH’s monitoring mechanism on gang-related violence in 2022. The UN also documented 400 grave violations against children. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti and a group of Special Procedures have warned that human rights violations are widespread and that sexual violence, with the use of torture and collective rape against women, is rampant. According to humanitarian partners, the number of gender-based violence survivors was five times higher in March than in January and February combined. Approximately three quarters of the cases concerned sexual violence. Over 95,000 Haitians were displaced by violence in one month alone.

The upheaval since late February came as then Prime Minister Henry traveled to Kenya to sign a bilateral agreement facilitating the deployment of 1,000 police to lead the UNSC-authorized Multinational Security Support Mission (MSS). Since the authorization of the MSS on 2 October 2023, there have been judicial, financial, logistical and political challenges delaying its deployment. In February the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Benin and Chad formally notified the UN of their intent to contribute personnel, while several countries pledged financial contributions.


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 mob killings and lynching. 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. Gang strongholds are located in densely populated areas in and around the capital, raising risks to civilians should the rules of engagement of the MSS allow for offensive operations.

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. As gangs expand their control over strategic resources and key transport routes, they not only hinder freedom of movement 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. While gang alliances have been shifting and Viv Ansanm is a fledgling pact, the coalition poses grave consequences for Haitians.

The prevalence and spread of gang violence is also fueled by longstanding close ties between gangs and elites, as well as the power vacuum created since the assassination of former President Moïse. For decades, police, politicians and other elites utilized gangs to enforce their authority and provided them with funds, weapons and impunity for abuses. The lack of legitimate executive or legislative bodies and a dysfunctional judiciary have enabled gangs to continue their activities.


    • Proliferation and flow of illicit arms and ammunition to gangs, providing the means for perpetrating abuses and possible atrocities.
    • Grave acts of violence, including forcible recruitment of children, as well as systematic sexual violence, particularly against women and girls.
    • Under resourced and outnumbered police force.
    • Near-complete impunity for violence against civilians, emboldening gang members to perpetrate further abuses.
    • Political crisis and ineffective government institutions.


The international community, particularly the United States, must impose stricter measures to prevent the illicit supply, sale, diversion or transfer of small arms, light weapons and ammunitions into Haiti. The UNSC arms embargo should be implemented immediately and updated regularly. 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. The UNSC should urge troop-contributing countries and donors to implement a human rights due diligence policy, as well as adequately resource the MSS. Security efforts should be complemented by initiatives to provide jobs, education and access to basic necessities. The international community should provide financial, technical and capacity building support to Haitian civil society.

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


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