Haiti: at least 12 suspected criminals beaten to death and burned in capital

Footage shows men forced to lie on street by police before being killed and set on fire in broad daylight

Haiti’s tailspin into humanitarian crisis and bloodshed has racked up its latest moment of horror after at least a dozen suspected criminals were beaten to death and burned in broad daylight on the streets of its capital, Port-au-Prince.

Horrifying footage of the incident showed the bloodied men being forced to lie on the asphalt by rifle-wielding police before bystanders piled tyres on top of them, doused them with petrol and set them alight.

One eyewitness told the Associated Press the lynch mob seized the victims from police after they were detained in Port-au-Prince’s Canapé-Vert neighbourhood and proceeded to beat and stone them before burning their bodies.

Hundreds of onlookers flocked to the scene – where the news agency’s reporter saw 13 burning bodies – to watch the nightmarish attack.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Haiti’s national police said its officers had intercepted a group of suspected smugglers travelling in a minibus but that subsequently more than 12 of those men were “unfortunately lynched by members of the population”. An accompanying video showed the handguns and AK47 magazines police said had been seized with the victims.

Monday’s lynching came as Haiti’s already dramatic social, political and humanitarian crisis intensified even further and the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, said the security situation was “comparable to countries in armed conflict”.

In just six days, between 14 and 19 April, nearly 70 people were killed in clashes involving gangs in Port-au-Prince’s largest shantytown, Cité Soleil, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. About 40 of the dead were shot or stabbed. At least two were children.

“Fighting is raging in Cité Soleil … The population feels under siege. They can no longer leave their homes for fear of gun violence and gang terror,” the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Haiti, Ulrika Richardson, said in a statement.

That warning came a month after the UN called for the deployment of an international “specialised support force” to Haiti after more than 530 people were killed in the opening weeks of this year, causing many clinics and schools to shut down. Between January and March the UN human rights office counted 531 killings, 300 injuries and 277 kidnappings in gang-related incidents, mostly in Haiti’s gang-dominated capital.

Haiti’s desperate predicament is rooted in hundreds of years of foreign exploitation and meddling, decades of corrupt and dictatorial rule under the Duvalier dynasty, and a series of shattering natural disasters including a 2010 earthquake that levelled Haiti’s capital and killed more than 200,000 people.

But the current crisis intensified in 2021 when Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, was assassinated in his Port-au-Prince mansion. Since then, politically powerful gangs have commandeered more than 60% of the capital, elements of the resource-starved police force have gone into open revolt, and Haitian politics has been consumed by infighting.

As of January, the country, which has been governed by former prime minister Ariel Henry since Moïse’s murder, lacked a single democratically elected government official. It is unclear when a fresh presidential election will be held. The last one took place nearly seven years ago, in November 2016.

Last month Haiti’s Le Nouvelliste newspaper reported that the veteran British diplomat Jonathan Powell, who played a key role in the Northern Ireland peace talks which led to the 1998 Good Friday agreement, had become involved in efforts to break the political deadlock.

Jake Johnston, the author of a forthcoming book on Haiti called Aid State, said it was unclear what role Powell was playing but saw little prospect of a short-term solution. “There isn’t a silver-bullet here. These are deeply rooted issues … and it takes time to change that.”

“You have this sort of paralysis that has overtaken everything and in the meantime the government has largely abdicated and withdrawn,” Johnston added. “So things are getting worse.”

On Monday, Guterres said he saw an “urgent need” for an “international specialised armed force” to combat the violence. Kenya’s foreign minister, Alfred Mutua, last week said his country was willing to send police officers “to assist in stabilizing” Haiti. However, as yet no country has stepped forward offering what would likely be a complex and violent mission.


Tom Phillips Latin America correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Haiti hit by storm as officials fear quake death toll could rise
Tropical depression makes landfall over areas already hit by Saturday’s quake that killed at least 1,419

Tom Phillips and Jean Daniel Delone in Port-au-Prince and Karen McVeigh

17, Aug, 2021 @6:02 AM

Article image
Haiti cholera outbreak reaches capital city

Death toll passes 250 as cases are identified within Port-au-Prince raising fears that the epidemic could spread through city

Rory Carroll, Latin America correspondent

24, Oct, 2010 @6:53 PM

Article image
Haiti security forces arrest six alleged gunmen after president’s assassination
Seven reportedly killed as angry civilians seize suspects following a brazen killing surrounded by claims of foreign involvement

Tom Phillips, Peter Beaumont and Jean Daniel Delone in Port-au-Prince

08, Jul, 2021 @7:53 PM

Article image
UN calls for foreign intervention in Haiti as violence surges
‘Specialized support force’ urged for Caribbean state where 530 have been killed in gang-led violence so far this year

Tom Phillips Latin America correspondent

21, Mar, 2023 @3:44 PM

Article image
UN makes first public admission of blame for Haiti cholera outbreak
Human rights group hail statement by international body about ‘its own involvement’ in crisis which experts say still has not received proper attention

Ed Pilkington in New York

18, Aug, 2016 @6:00 PM

Article image
Tropical Storm Grace’s heavy rains pour misery on Haiti earthquake survivors
Flash flood and landslides complicate relief efforts as power remains out with 50mm of rain an hour falling

Joe Parkin Daniels

17, Aug, 2021 @9:26 PM

Article image
Haiti faces fresh cholera outbreak after Hurricane Matthew, aid agencies fear
At least 200 suspected cases of the waterborne disease have been reported and an urgent response is called for with thousands lacking access to clean water

Amanda Holpuch in New York

14, Oct, 2016 @10:00 AM

Article image
'It was like a monster': Hurricane Matthew leaves Haiti in crisis
With bridges down and communications patchy, the scale of devastation wreaked by the storm is just beginning to emerge

Sam Jones

07, Oct, 2016 @4:40 PM

Article image
‘It’s shocking’: Haiti struggles to piece together story of president’s murder
Mystery still surrounds the killing of Jovenel Moïse, and there are fears it could lead to further chaos

Tom Phillips and Jean Daniel Delone in Port-au-Prince

09, Jul, 2021 @4:36 PM

Article image
Haiti cancels carnival after gun battle between police and soldiers
Gunfire reportedly kills one soldier as authorities warn of risk of ‘bloodbath’

Peter Beaumont and agencies

24, Feb, 2020 @3:59 PM