top of page

Haiti’s Humanitarian Horror Story

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

Deep Dive Article

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Haiti has long been plagued with crises, conflict, and unrest, but in recent months the country has descended into unparalleled socio-economic and political chaos. Gangs run rampant across the country, kidnappings are routine, and a widespread cholera outbreak is pushing the health services to breaking point.

The causes of the unrest can be traced back to last year. In July 2021 the President of Haiti, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in his bedroom by masked men. Numerous foreign mercenaries were rumoured to be responsible, but still to this day, the mastermind behind the attacks remains unclear. Regardless, Moïse’s death served as a catalyst for a catastrophic sequence of events, which are still unravelling today.

The former President had been a deeply unpopular leader who had been ruling by decree, as most Haitian institutions were not functioning owing to political deadlock. The country had been facing mass protests, calling for Moïse’s resignation before his untimely death. Since then, however, there has been no newly elected President. Former Prime Minister, Ariel Henry, was appointed as Moïse’s successor, but faces the same public and political opposition as his predecessor. However, whilst Haiti’s political class attempt to clear the deadlock, and fill the leadership vacuum, civil society is breaking down.

In the absence of government, gangs have taken control. Up to 200 gangs are carving up the capital, Port-au-Prince. The UN Humanitarian Chief in Haiti, Ulrika Richardson, has said that up to 60% of the capital city is dominated by gangs. These rival groups also control almost all the roads into the city, as well as the country’s main port. Some parts of the city, such as the Cite Soleil slum, are controlled entirely by the gangs. There are numerous reports of public executions, torture, and sexual violence.

“The gangs have more authority than our leaders”, said Marie Yoléne Gilles, the head of a local human rights organisation, the Clear Eyes Foundation. "If they say, ‘Stay home’, you stay home. If they say, ‘Go out’, you can go out. It’s terror” she added. Gang members routinely rape women, and execute men. Across the city, families are left to fend for themselves.

Many of the problems Haiti faces are intertwined. The violence across the country and capital has prevented Haitian children from going to school. UN figures suggest almost half a million children have been forced to stay home in Port-au-Prince, where some 1,700 schools are closed. This puts children even more at risk of being sucked into the violence. Gangs routinely kidnap children or coerce them into joining their groups. Similarly, there are reports of teenagers who refuse to join, being falsely labelled as ‘spies’, and being tortured or executed.

One man has risen to infamy for his brutal reputation; Jimmy Cherizier, a former police officer, is the leader of the G9 Gang Federation. Cherizier models himself as the de-facto authority in the nation’s capital and his gang is feared for its ruthlessness. In September, when fuel prices soared following Prime Minister Henry’s announcement that fuel subsidies would be scrapped, Cherizier’s gang blocked the largest fuel terminal, setting off a fuel crisis. Police recently launched an armed operation to retake control of the terminal in early November.

The soaring fuel crisis, the plummeting economy, and the absence of political leadership has allowed gang warfare to run unopposed. Between January and October of this year, 1,107 people were kidnapped, with some ransoms as high as $1 million USD. The police are outgunned, outmanned, and lack the funding to tackle the crisis, and corruption runs rife throughout the police force, giving gangs the green light to do as they please. “Men are beaten and burned with … melted plastic”, Gedeon Jean of Haiti’s Centre for Analysis and Research in Human Rights said. She also added that “women and girls are subject to gang rape”, and that sexual violence has become a key tool of intimidation and control across the country.

These horrific problems are further exacerbated by the ongoing cholera outbreak, which has resulted in 20,000 people in the capital facing “catastrophic famine-like conditions”. Almost 12,500 people have been hospitalised with cholera, as of November, and hundreds are dying. Similarly, some estimates suggest that half the country’s population is facing food insecurity. A lack of state infrastructure has resulted in hundreds of thousands being left without clean water or food. With international aid not coming fast enough, many have sought to escape. In the capital alone, 155,000 people have fled their homes. Hundreds have attempted to reach neighbouring countries, or are requesting entry into the U.S.

That being said, Haiti’s government has sought to remedy the crisis. A request was recently made to the UN Security Council for an international military detachment to be sent to restore order in the capital, yet this seems unlikely. But there has been some progress made in the international community’s response to the catastrophe in Haiti. In November, the UN launched an emergency appeal campaign, to raise $145 million to alleviate the crisis. This has raised $23 million so far. Alongside this economic support, the UN will be appealing for roughly $719 million in aid for Haiti in 2023, which is double this year’s amount, said Ulrika Richardson. This would be a huge endeavour if achieved and could help hundreds of thousands who are struggling.

Despite proposed future aid, thousands of Haitians are stuck struggling in the present. Whatever aid there is trickles through, and without proper governance, it is difficult for the UN or NGOs to ensure aid is reaching those most affected. One thing is clear -as this tragedy unfolds, the international community should continue to do everything in its power to prevent this crisis from plunging into an uncontainable humanitarian disaster.


bottom of page