Conflict Watchlist 2023
Haiti: Expanding Gang Activity Amid Persisting Political Instability
In 2022, violence hit its highest levels in Haiti since the beginning of ACLED coverage in 2018. It also became far deadlier, with reported fatalities more than doubling compared to the year prior. The upsurge in violence stems from intensifying turf wars between gangs, with deadly repercussions for civilians. Together, inter-gang clashes and gang targeting of civilians accounted for 74% of reported political violence fatalities in 2022.
Gang rivalry intensified over the control of strategic resources concentrated in Ouest department. The Port-au-Prince municipality continued to be a hotspot of violence, marked in 2022 by hostilities between the G-9 alliance led by Jimmy Chérizier and the rival G-Pèp gang alliance led by Ti Gabriel. In July, a violent incursion by G-9 to take control of neighborhoods held by G-Pèp in Cité Soleil led to hundreds of reported fatalities, including civilians caught in the crossfire. Cité Soleil remained a strategically important area for gangs, as seen by the G-9’s seizure of Varreux oil terminal in September that prompted fuel shortages and severe consequences for the provision of health services and basic necessities.1United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, ‘Seven things to know about the humanitarian crisis in Haiti,’ 26 October 2022
Elsewhere, gangs’ territorial expansions ignited new conflicts. In Port-au-Prince’s northeast, the growing influence of 400 Mawozo over strategic roads in Croix-des-Bouquets and surrounding areas led to clashes with the G-9-allied Chen Mechan gang in Tabarre, resulting in at least 190 reported fatalities between 24 April and 6 May. In the capital’s northwest, Base 5 Secondes gang increased its violent activities over control of the Lafiteau port and National Road 1.2Radio France Internationale, ‘Massacre de civils en Haïti: les gangs tuent et incendient pour reprendre le contrôle de Cabaret,’ 1 December 2022 Meanwhile, gangs’ activities also expanded beyond the capital in the Artibonite department, with kidnappings and extortion of civilians along Road 5, which connects to northern seaports,3Alessandro Ford, ‘The Rise of Haiti’s Violent Rural Gangs,’ InSightCrime, 3 August 2022 and at least 35 civilian fatalities mostly stemming from the Gran Grif Savien gang’s turf war with the Jean-Denis gang over Petite-Rivière de L’Artibonite. In addition to growing territorial presence, the number of active gangs in Haiti increased in 2022. ACLED records at least 74 organized armed groups engaging in political violence in 2022 compared to 48 groups in 2021.
Civilians are more than ever threatened by gangs warfare and territorial claims, with no less than 434 reported civilian fatalities in 2022 and an estimated 178% increase relative to the previous year. Most civilian fatalities occurred during gang clashes, either caught in the crossfire or deliberately targeted. Gangs also increasingly used sexual violence to coerce civilian populations; attacks involving sexual violence increased by nearly three times compared to 2021. Meanwhile, abductions and associated requests for ransom remained high, but consistent with 2021 levels. They remain an essential source of income for gangs’ weapons purchases and operations.4Centre d’analyse et de recherche en droits de l’homme, ‘Kidnapping: Bulletin Du Dernier Trimestre De 2022 Et Bilan Annuel (#10),’ 6 January 2023
Against the rising strength of gangs, state forces increased operations to tackle insecurity – leading to an 87% increase in reported fatalities from clashes with gangs and unidentified armed groups compared to 2021. The efficiency of law enforcement interventions, however, continues to come under criticism for the alleged collusion of police forces with gangs.5Orla Guerin, ‘Haiti: Inside the capital city taken hostage by brutal gangs,’ BBC, 5 December 2022 ACLED records uneven state intervention across Ouest department. Clashes between armed groups and state forces have concentrated in Croix-des-Bouquets and Tabarre, an area disputed by 400 Mawozo, and Archaie, where Base 5 Second has increased its activities. State forces have also more actively engaged in clashes with the 400 Mawozo gang and its former ally Vitelhomme than with other identified gangs. These data contrast with lower levels of state forces clashes in areas controlled by G-9, such as Cité Soleil. The uneven distribution of state forces’ activity reflects accusations that the G-9 has acted in collusion with Haitian elites,6Diego Da Rin, ‘New Gang Battle Lines Scar Haiti as Political Deadlock Persists,’ International Crisis Group, 27 July 2022 and raises questions about the capacity of law enforcement operations to fight gangs effectively.
Against a backdrop of rising gang activity, demonstrations remained high and at similar levels compared to 2021, with demonstrators voicing demands related to insecurity throughout the year. Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s announcement of an adjustment to fuel prices also sparked unrest and calls for his resignation, further exacerbated by the consequences of the G-9 gang takeover of the Varreux oil terminal in September. Worryingly, the state was more prepared to use deadly force against demonstrators in 2022, with at least 26 reported fatalities due to clashes with police, its excessive use of force and use of teargas.7Human Rights Watch, ‘World Report: Haiti,’ 2023
What to watch for in 2023
Haiti’s security trajectory in 2022 was exacerbated by the continued deepening of the country’s political crisis. On 9 January 2023, the mandate of the country’s remaining 10 senators expired, removing the last traces of a democratically elected body in the country. The end of their mandate followed the parliament’s dissolution in 2020 and the government’s failure to organize elections since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021, leaving Prime Minister Henry to rule by decree.8Luke Taylor, ‘Haiti left with no elected government officials as it spirals towards anarchy,’ The Guardian, 10 January 2023 In the absence of legitimate legislative and executive powers, systematic shortcomings of Haiti’s judicial system will only allow gangs to continue thriving.
On 21 December 2022, Prime Minister Henry announced the signing of the National Consensus for an Inclusive Transition and Transparent Elections with representatives from the political, private, and civil society sectors on holding elections in 2023. An exit from the political crisis, however, seems a distant prospect, with several political actors refusing to sign the agreement, amid fears that the transitional government might use the transition to consolidate its power.9Loop News, ‘Haïti: les acteurs divisés sur l’accord du 21 décembre d’Ariel Henry,’ 3 January 2023
While organizing elections remains key in restoring political stability, the opening of an electoral process in 2023 might also lead to additional violence. Gangs have shown a growing interest in participating in Haiti’s political processes. During the seizure of the Varreux oil terminal initiated in September, the leader of the G-9 gang alliance reportedly demanded criminal amnesty and government positions for gang members in exchange for opening a humanitarian corridor.10Jean Daniel Sénat, ‘Les gangs demandent amnistie et postes au gouvernement, rapporte Jean Rebel Dorcénat de la CNDDR,’ Le Nouvelliste, 13 October 2022 Moreover, civil society organizations have also highlighted a history of gangs becoming more violent ahead of electoral processes as they seek to control voting constituencies and secure victories for their political sponsors.11CARDH, ‘Nouvelles Hostilités À Cité Soleil : La Population Servirait De Cobaye Aux Intérêts Politico-Économiques Et Autres,’ 19 July 2022 Alarmingly, in the last quarter of 2022, ACLED records several armed attacks targeting opposition members who had promoted anti-government movements.12Rezo Nòdwes, ‘Le militant politique anti-gouvernemental, Jean Denis Joseph, assassiné à Pétion-Ville,’ 21 October 2022; Redzo Nòdwes, ‘Le RNDDH condamne l’exécution sommaire de cinq membres de BASE 47 de Delmas, par des policiers de la SWAT-Team,’ 7 November 2022
In order to limit gang interventions in the electoral process, Henry’s agreement contemplates the possibility of inviting foreign forces to curb gang violence. While both Henry and the United Nations called for an international armed force to be deployed to Haiti in recent months, these appeals attracted little interest, including from the United States and Canada, who are perceived as candidates to lead a foreign-led intervention.13Edith M. Lederer, ‘US and Canada not interested in sending armed force to Haiti,’ Associated Press, 24 January 2023 The proposal has remained unpopular among the Haitian public amid concerns about misconduct during past foreign forces’ deployments and questions over their effectiveness.14Jillian Kestler-D’Amours, ‘Haitians push for local solutions as insecurity and violence soar,’ Al Jazeera, 12 October 2022 Other international initiatives have also attempted to curtail gang activities through the introduction of sanctions against gang members and politicians sponsoring their activities.15CARDH, ‘Régimes De Sanctions Des États-Unis, Du Canada Et Du Conseil De Sécurité Pour Contenir La Criminalité En Haïti: Contexte Géopolitique, Résultats, Enjeux Et Perspectives,’ 21 November 2022 Law enforcement and judicial bodies remain, however, poorly geared to address systemic corruption and ensure the prosecution of armed groups and their allies.
In the absence of systemic reforms, Haiti will grow more vulnerable to gang influence as they continue to pursue territorial expansions and vie for control of key national assets. Gangs could use their growing power over key infrastructures to influence political processes. The impunity enjoyed by gangs might also lead to growing levels of violence outside of Ouest department. Territorial expansion, the emergence of new actors, and the breaking off of fragile gang alliances could create further fragmentation, leading to additional violence. Civilians will remain the most affected by gang violence as direct targets or victims of shortages and extortions. Meanwhile, sustained demonstrations and unrest are also likely to continue should high levels of violence targeting civilians and Haiti’s institutional crisis persist unabated.