ActionAid is deeply concerned about the current security situation in Haiti and the devastating impact it is having on the Haitian people. As Haiti's government of Rene Préval, elected on 7 February 2006, struggles to rebuild a conflict weary country, international actors must carefully consider their role in supporting the government and the people of Haiti to ensure they focus their support in ways that will contribute towards lasting peace and development in the country.
This paper examines the role of violence in Haiti and makes recommendations for the European Union both for its programmatic work in Haiti, as well as to input into its evolving policy position on Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR).
Violence in Haiti
Haiti needs an alterative approach to conflict management other than the one applied in post-conflict peace operations, particularly since its situation was one of continued violence - especially urban gang violence. ActionAid undertook a survey in some of the most violent neighbourhoods of the capital, Port-au-Prince. Respondents agreed that violence thrives due to fear of, and intimidation by, armed gangs, powerlessness of people to change the situation and absence of the state and the institutions of law and order.
Many people in poorer areas have had negative experiences with agents of the State, especially those in neighbourhoods identified as strongholds of President Aristide's former government, and many have fallen victim to police violations. As a result, they have often identified more closely with armed gangs than with law enforcement officials. (i) Although the armed gangs in some districts of Port-au-Prince operate with a strategy of terror, using violence and gang rape to subdue entire neighbourhoods, they also look after their communities by distributing money and offering protection, in an often complex mixture of racketeering and protectionism. (ii) This, combined with the political motivations in some armed groups creates a heady mix that makes it even more difficult to end violence. This is especially true in cases when communities protect armed gangs out of fear for them or because they can benefit financially from their crimes. (iii) These cases highlight the close link between poverty, lack of development and violence.
Violence strongly affects women and girls of all ages in all neighbourhoods. ActionAid's partner organisation SOFA, the Haitian Women's Solidarity Network, reports that in the previous six months in two metropolitan districts, there were 81 recorded attacks on women of which 54% were sexual attacks. A forthcoming study on kidnapping indicates that as many as 45% of kidnapped women and girls are raped.
After the presidential elections in February 2006, there was a self-imposed truce by the armed gangs and levels of kidnappings and violence were reduced significantly. But in June 2006 the number of kidnappings started to rise again. One explanation is that the armed gangs had expected President Préval to grant an amnesty, and because he hadn't, violence rose again. A fear that has been voiced is that unless action is taken, this situation will continue to degenerate.
There are currently an estimated 210,000 small arms in Haiti. The majority of these are in the hands of private citizens and private security companies rather than in the hands of armed gangs.
Recommendations to the European Union
Although a key axis of the European Commission's work in Haiti is poverty reduction, much of the funding has gone into building infrastructural projects such as roads and schools. Given its prioritisation of local development and economic regeneration as a key component of long term stability and development, the EU should work more closely with other actors in the reintegration component of Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR). If sufficient donor coordination is established, EU funding of microeconomic projects within the context of long-term social programming, especially in the urban context, at the community level would compliment the work of other actors.
1. The EU should make a more deliberate link between its poverty reduction focus, strengthening democracy and governance and its social and economic development programmes which should include micro-enterprise projects at the community level, targeting both ex-armed groups and community members and victims.
2. In programmatic terms, the reintegration programmes the EU decides to fund should be clearly placed at the interface between disarmament and demobilisation on the one hand and longer-term social and economic development programmes on the other.
3. Initial DDR experiences in Haiti were unsuccessful. The European Commission should learn from these experiences in influencing future policy and programming in postconflict countries which do not have classic post conflict elements - namely a peace accord and the demobilisation and disarmament of clearly identified warring factions.
4. The EU in Haiti should work closely with other actors involved in DDR policy and programming, particularly MINUSTAH, to explore how its aid can compliment and build on their programmes in a more deliberate way.
5. The EU should support MINUSTAH's redefined DDR programme by facilitating, financing and enhancing victim support through community-based development programmes as part of the structure of DDR in Haiti.
6. The EU should be careful to include specific learnings and recommendations on gender, violence and DDR in the forthcoming EU DDR policy statement.
7. The EU should support all efforts to establish a registry of weapons.
8. The EU should promote and support new legislation to increase control of small arms.
9. The EU should work with and support other international actors, primarily MINUSTAH to ensure implementation of the redefined DDR process as a means of reducing violence in the communities, particularly in urban areas.
10. The EU should target children in poorer urban communities in general, and street children in particular, who are especially vulnerable to the influence of armed gangs.
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