Haiti's deadly vigilante movement sees decline in gang violence - report

FILE PHOTO: Smoke rises between houses in the Debussy neighbourhood during clashes between gangs, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti April 24, 2023. REUTERS/Ralph Tedy Erol

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Violence by armed gangs has fallen "drastically" since the emergence of a vigilante justice movement that has seen at least 160 suspected criminals killed in the last month, a report by local human rights research group CARDH said on Sunday.

The situation in the Caribbean country remains extremely volatile as heavily armed gangs continue to drive a humanitarian crisis that has displaced tens of thousands amid frequent kidnappings for ransom, gang rapes, tortures and murders.

The vigilante movement, known as "Bwa Kale", began after residents of the capital Port-au-Prince lynched and set fire to over a dozen suspected gang members in the early morning of April 24.

CARDH said "almost no" kidnappings had been recorded in the last month and counted 43 gang-linked murders, down from 146 in the first three weeks of April.

"Without making a value judgment, the 'Bwa Kale' movement has in just one month produced convincing, visible results; fear has changed sides," CARDH said in the report. "Both kidnappings and gang-related killings have fallen drastically."

Port-au-Prince, which CARDH estimates is now 60% controlled by armed gangs, sits in Haiti's Ouest Department where most of vigilante killings that it recorded - including lynchings, stonings, beatings and burnings - took place.

Bwa Kale, CARDH said, likely emerged from the extreme cruelty inflicted by gangs, the ineffectiveness of the government, police and army and lack of international action.

Haiti's government and national police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Haiti's government requested a "rapid" international force help bolster its police last October, but countries have been wary of supporting the unelected government of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who has in turn said fair elections cannot be held under the current insecurity.

CARDH said Haiti's under-gunned police need more concrete support such as armored trucks, drones, helicopters, weapons and ammunition.

It warned that it was "essential" for authorities and civilians to work together to fight the gangs and avoid a cycle of increasingly brutal retaliation, and recommended a study on the psychological impacts for future generations.

Vigilante groups are mainly made up of young people including some children, it said.

(Reporting by Sarah Morland in Mexico City and Harold Isaac in Port-au-Prince)

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