Over 400 Vigilante Killings Have Gone Unpunished in Haiti: UN

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A recent UN report indicates that the majority of instances in which citizens take justice into their own hands in Haiti are never investigated, an indication of the lack of trust in the country’s security institutions and the government’s inability to process these cases. 

According to the report, titled “Taking justice into one’s own hands or the reign of impunity in Haiti” (pdf) and presented by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH by its French acronym), there were 483 cases of lynchings or attempted lynchings in Haiti between 2012 and 2015. Only 59 arrests and one conviction came as a result of these cases. 

The deaths from lynchings represent 15 percent of the total number of homicides in the country. The vast majority of the victims are male individuals suspected of theft, and 70 percent of incidents occur in urban areas.

The main motivation behind the crowd’s participation in these violent acts resides, according to the MINUSTAH, in the lack of trust toward law enforcement. The report argues that the “authorities’ lack of resources to prevent and punish lynching reinforces the phenomenon and suggests that lynching is implicitly an accepted practice.”

InSight Crime Analysis

While the lack of trust in government institutions and in security forces have been signaled out as the main motivation for citizens to carry out their own type of justice, there are other underlying factors as to why these acts of violence have become so common.

A significant proportion of Haiti’s prison population has been convicted of theft — which is also the main crime associated with lynchings. This may indicate a discrepancy between the public perception and the reality of government efforts to tackle this type of crime.

However, the vast majority of incidents of vigilante justice have occurred in urban areas, which possess the highest police presence per inhabitant. This suggests a strong passivity of police forces with regards to these crimes.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Vigilantes

In other parts of Latin America this type of vigilante justice occurs within the context of non-state judicial systems, such as in indigenous communities in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.

In 2015, Vanderbilt University studied the public support for vigilante action across the region and published its results through the Latin American Public Opinion Project. The study found that the Dominican Republic — which borders Haiti — showed the highest approval rates for this type of justice. This could suggest the existence of underlying social dynamics that normalize acts of lynching, such as a culture of violence.

Institutional weaknesses, the absence of state action and widespread corruption within the region’s judicial systems create fertile ground for the vigilante phenomenon. But beyond these factors are relevant social and cultural dynamics that are often correlated with state actors’ lack of will and capacity to tackle this issue. 

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