SIM Report: Sharp rise in kidnappings in Haiti as long-awaited elections postponed

SIM REPORT: LATIN AMERICA & THE CARIBBEAN, ISSUE 13

Major political instability and rampant gang activity have fuelled a surge in kidnappings across Haiti in the second half of 2021, recent data showed. According to figures from the Centre for Analysis and Research in Human Rights (CARDH), a local NGO based in Port-au-Prince, the number of kidnappings recorded nationwide rose from 31 in July to 117 in September. CARDH’s data are also supported by swathes of anecdotal evidence, particularly a growing number of reported kidnapping cases. The surge in kidnappings comes after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse on 7 July, which triggered a succession dispute, as well as a devastating 7.2-magnitude earthquake centring on the country’s south the following month. In late September, a long-delayed general election scheduled for November was postponed indefinitely after Prime Minister Ariel Henry dismissed all nine members of the CEP electoral council amid the widespread perception that they were too partisan.

The growing influence of gangs across the country has prompted Haitian authorities to request greater international involvement in security matters. On 4 October, foreign minister Claude Joseph called on the UN Security Council to shift its involvement in the country away from its current political focus and towards strengthening law enforcement institutions. These calls build on previous international efforts to address security concerns, with Colombian authorities having advised on the kidnapping crisis in May. Haiti’s widespread security deficiencies, together with persistent economic malaise, are also contributing to a greater number of Haitians seeking to flee their homeland, with significant international consequences. The US’s deportation of Haitian migrants gathered at the southern border in recent months, which has been widely criticised as lacking due process, can be directly linked to recent developments in Haiti.

The decision to postpone the general election, which was later backed by UN Security Council members, highlights insufficient conditions for a genuinely democratic process in Haiti at this time. Widespread gang control and operations, as well as the under-resourcing of state security forces, mean that security could not be ensured for either campaigning candidates or voters. Public concern over former CEP members’ perceived lack of independence, moreover, would have also cast doubt on the results’ credibility. Henry’s moves to replace the CEP and delay the polling date, decisions which were backed by prominent opposition parties, are likely to increase public confidence in the election outcome. The ability of candidates to campaign freely without gang intimidation and security on election day itself, however, will be determined by the outcome of efforts to improve public security in the coming months.

Haiti’s extremely unstable political and security environment presents major risks to organisations operating in the country, many of which have already moved staff abroad. While efforts to improve security may have short-term success, sustained improvements in the economy and clamping down on public sector corruption are critical factors for the country’s long-term security and prosperity. In the coming months, however, organisations must remain extremely vigilant to the complex security panorama and ensure security policies and protocols are regularly updated and actionable.

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