Could Jamaica follow Haiti in resorting to vigilantism against gangs?
Bystanders gather around the bodies of alleged gang members that were set on fire by a mob after they were stopped by police while traveling in a vehicle in the Canape Vert area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, April 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Odelyn Joseph)

Jamaicans might wish to take note that Haiti, on the verge of implosion and feeling abandoned by the international community, has turned to vigilantism, killing an estimated 160 gang members in under a month, according to press reports.

The Caribbean Media Corporation quoted a local human rights group, Centre for Human Rights Analysis and Research (CARDH), as saying that violence by armed gangs in Haiti has declined significantly, following the emergence of a vigilante group known as Bwa Kale in April.

Bwa Kale, which literally means "shave off or peel off tree bark", is mobilising citizens in the capital Port-au-Prince to bring sharpened wooden sticks, stones, machetes, and any other makeshift weapons to hunt down the bandits. The group dramatically announced itself by lynching and setting fire to more than a dozen suspected gang members.

CARDH reported that the activities of Bwa Kale had resulted in no kidnappings taking place from April 24 to May 24, and only 43 gang-linked slayings during the same period. On the other hand, Bwa Kale took out 146 gang members between April 1 and April 23.

Most properly run societies abhor vigilante justice or mob violence as dangerous, because victims usually have no recourse to fair trials and could lose their lives even if innocent. We in this space have cautioned against the practice of citizens beating praedial larcenists or pickpockets for that very reason.

The dilemma in Haiti is that telling citizens not to murder gang members, who can be quite brutal, is easier said than done. About 60 per cent of Haiti is estimated to be ruled by gangs who rape, maim, and kill at will.

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

Another problem that Haiti will have to deal with long after normality is restored — whenever that is — will be the fact that the vigilante groups are said to be made up of mostly young people, including some children who likely emerged from the extreme cruelty inflicted by gangs; the ineffectiveness of the Government, police and army; and the lack of international action.

In Haiti, hope is an almost non-existent commodity as there are no easy solutions on the horizon. It is clear to us that, on its own, Haiti cannot emerge from this worsening crisis.

At the same time, the international community does not appear to have the stomach to take on this protracted problem.

Earlier this month, the United Nations described Haiti as a "tragic situation" and again appealed to the international community to do more to help the French-speaking Caribbean country overcome its present political and socio-economic conditions.

The UN said that Haiti faces dramatic humanitarian needs, a political system that is paralysed, and levels of violence by gangs "that are absolutely appalling". The UN Integrated Office in Haiti reported that, overall, the number of victims of killings, injuries, and kidnappings increased by 28 per cent in the first quarter of the year, with a total of 1,634 cases reported.

Jamaicans should be asking themselves whether our untamed gang violence could lead to Haiti-type vigilantism here.

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