PORT-AU-PRINCE — A human rights group’s latest report says it recorded 75 killings and 40 cases of kidnapping in Haiti between May 1 and July 12, a significant increase since the ‘bwa kale’ vigilante movement curbed some gang activity.
According to the National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH), the violence comes more than a month after the launch of the Bwa Kale movement in April, which provided some reprieve from rampant insecurity.
Among the latest cases is the kidnapping of Pierre-Louis Opont, former president of the Provisional Electoral Council tasked with organizing elections. Opont was kidnapped on June 20 in the commune of Tabarre, an area controlled by the Vitelhomme Innocent-led gang “Kraze Baryè.”
The former CEP leader’s wife, journalist Marie Lucie Bonhomme, was kidnapped one week prior on June 13. According to local media, she was released a few hours later by her captors without paying a ransom.
Opont, after nearly a month, is still in the hands of his captors.
Sunday, the Association of Haitian Journalists (AJH) organized a march to demand Opont’s release and denounce kidnapping in the country. The demonstration drew about 20 media owners, journalists and family members of Opont along the streets of Pétion-Ville.
“It’s painful for me, painful for the family, for our loved ones,” Bonhomme said. “I’m asking the kidnappers, those who kidnapped Pierre Louis Opont and who sequester him, I beg you to please release him because he is ill.”
“I have already experienced many hardships in my life, but the one I am experiencing today is the greatest,” Bonhomme told the press during the march, saying that the Opont family does not have the means to pay the ransom demanded by the kidnappers
Bonhomme confirms having spoken with her husband who has been held hostage for at least three days since the kidnapping. After 26 days, on July 14, the kidnappers agreed to receive the victim’s medication without releasing him to join his family.
“This march is to ask bandits to make a gesture of humanity for the release of Pierre Louis Opont,” Guyler Delva, president of the Association of Haitian Journalists (AJH) told Métropole, a local newspaper on July 13. “Our priority is the safety and freedom of the husband of our journalist colleague.”
Other cases reported around the country include that of Pierre Richard Joseph, director of the Northern National Port Authority (APN). He was kidnapped on June 17 in Torcel, Pétionville and released for ransom on July 9.
Vitelhomme’s “Kraze baryè” gang was again accused in this kidnapping.
Authorities urged to act
The latest report from the bwa kale movement said vigilante residents of various neighborhoods killed at least 204 suspected gang members and their relatives, and burned their bodies between April 24 and June 24.
Another human rights group, Human Rights Research Analysis Center (CARDH), had said the “Bwa Kale” movement had reached eight of the country’s 10 departments. The West, where Port-au-Prince is located, is in the lead with 155 individuals killed or 78%. The Artibonite department is second with 24, or 12% and Grand’Anse is in third position with 12 deaths, or 6%.
Yet, despite the threat of vigilantism, bandits continue to commit crimes in the country.
RNDDH said the “Kraze Baryè” gang is among those involved in various acts that have caused the death of at least 75 people and 40 kidnappings between May 1 and July 12. In the Tabarre and Torcel areas, for example, the Kraze Baryè bandits are suspected of vandalizing and burning Sun Auto, a car dealership whose premises also housed the Consulate of Jamaica on June 12.
“RNDDH calls on the state authorities to redouble their efforts to put an end to the protection of the armed bandit Vitelhomme Innocent and to dismantle all the armed gangs in the country, to restore order and security,” asks the organization. “The RNDDH condemns with the greatest vehemence the inertia of the police institution.”
The 75 people killed were victims of targeted acts and random shootings, says the human rights organization. They identified shootings in the municipalities of Carrefour, Croix-des-Bouquets, Pétion-Ville among others.
Police operations continue, arrests made
Meanwhile, police said they continue to carry out a series of operations, particularly those in the Village de Dieu area controlled by the “5 Segond” gang, led by Caïd Johnson “Izo” André. Buildings used as hiding places for members of this gang have been demolished. According to the Haiti National Police (PNH), officers cleared lanes in the Bicentenaire area of downtown Port-au-Prince to facilitate operations.
Other operations have yielded the arrest of three alleged members of the “400 Mawozo” gang and the confiscation of three vehicles on July 9. The suspects were identified as Bonna Fenold, 44, of Belle-Anse; Jean Gardy, 46, of Belle-Anse; and Felisse “Pouchon” Marckenson, 41, of Mirebalais.
On July 10, police arrested three alleged members of the Canaan gang in Lilavois, Croix-des-Bouquets: Calixte Frantz, 44, of Anse-à-Foleur; Merge Joseph Ilares, 33, of Les Cayes; and Geffrard Wilken, 39, of Anse-à-Foleur.
“It is important to strengthen the operational capacity of the PNH in order to continue to fight effectively against organized crime in all its forms,” said the Director General of the Haitian Police, Frantz Elbé, during a meeting with the Deputy Secretary General for UN Political Affairs, Rosemary A. DiCarlo, PNH said.