ChapterPDF Available

Kolbe, A.R. & Muggah, R. (2011). “Securing the State: Haiti before and after the earthquake” in E. Lebrun (Ed.) Small Arms Survey 2011: States of Security. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

A child cries as he is questioned by a police officer after he witnessed a gunfight in the
La Saline slum in Port-au-Prince, March 2010. © Ramon Espinosa/AP Photo
Securing the State
On 12 January 2010, a devastating earthquake killed an estimated 158,000 people in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince,
and displaced 1.3 million more.1 In its wake, the nation’s first cholera epidemic killed more than 3,700 and infected
another 185,000.2 The international community pledged more than USD 10 billion towards rebuilding the country.
As of January 2011, however, less than one-tenth of this sum had been disbursed in Haiti.3
The costs of the natural disaster extended well beyond death and injury. Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns
were left in ruins. Virtually every government building was damaged, and many civil servants—including police
officers—were killed. Wary of the potential for escalating crime and violence in the capital, multilateral agencies,
regional organizations, and bilateral donors rapidly focused on promoting increased policing capacities and wider
security sector reforms.
The international focus on improving security sector capacity in Haiti is not new. Since declaring independence
two hundred years ago, the country has contended with periodic outbursts of political violence and international
efforts to influence Haitian governance through the establishment of structural adjustment programmes and reform
of the justice, military, policing, and corrections systems. In spite of billions of dollars poured into enhancing con-
ventional security promotion, these approaches are routinely criticized for generating marginal returns in terms of
improved safety on the ground in Haiti.4
Criticism aside, outsiders have a limited understanding of the dynamics of security and insecurity experienced by
Haitian communities and households. While foreign and nationally based human rights agencies and researchers
have alternately blamed international and domestic actors for repression or inaction, there is virtually no evidence-
based research of how Haitians actually experience day-to-day security—or what kinds of violence prevention and
reduction efforts are effective.5
In order to bridge this information gap, this chapter considers the context of security promotion efforts in the
years preceding Haiti’s 2010 earthquake and emerging trends in its aftermath. It draws on the findings of three
household surveys administered before and after the earthquake in order to highlight crime victimization, access to
basic needs, and attitudes about gun use and policing. A central objective of the chapter is to give voice to the real
threats facing Haitians, in their own words.
Key findings indicate that:
s Haiti lacks both human resources and infrastructural capacity to police its country. Its ratio of 1.05 police officers
for every 1,000 inhabitants is among the lowest in the world.
s Household survey data generated since 2004 suggests that security has improved in Haiti over the past decade and
has continued to improve since the earthquake. Police involvement in criminal activity, as reported by crime vic-
tims, decreased sharply after the transition to an elected government in 2007.
s Findings from surveys show that, in 2010, more than two-thirds of the general population would turn first to the
police if faced with a threat to their person or property.
s The distribution of firearms may be much lower than commonly believed. In 2010, just 2.3 per cent of Port-au-
Prince area households reported owning firearms. Among the wealthy, ‘personal protection’ was most often cited
as the reason for gun ownership, while the poor most often declared they held weapons ‘for work’.
s In 2010, more than three-quarters of all respondents—both in the general population and residents of internally
displaced person (IDP) camps—said that more control over the issuing of firearms licences would make their
communities safer.
s Despite considerable challenges in advancing police reform over the past decade, popular confidence in the Haitian
National Police (HNP) has increased since the earthquake.
Divided into three sections, this chapter begins by reviewing the state of the security sector before the 2010 earth-
quake. The focus is primarily on the Haitian National Police since former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide demobilized
the armed forces—long associated with repressive practices—in 1994. The chapter discusses the current state of
Map 8.1 Haiti
Earthquake epicentre
(magnitude 7.0 on
12 January 2010
at 21:53 UTC)
Île de la
Île de
Île à Vache
Golfe de
la Gonâve
Earthquake epicentre
(magnitude 7.0 on
12 January 2010
at 21:53 UTC)
Grande Rivière
du Nord
Les Cayes
Le Môle
Capital city
Very strong
Earthquake intensity
security as well as challenges facing the criminal justice system and HNP in the post-earthquake period. Lastly, it
draws on findings from household surveys completed before and after the earthquake, to examine both the preva-
lence of crime victimization among Haitians since 2004 as well as recent changes in public opinion regarding gun
ownership and security provision.
Haiti has been characterized by outsiders as a fragile, failing, or failed state since at least the 1980s.6 The country has
experienced considerable political volatility over the past two centuries, with more than 30 coups since indepen-
dence in 1804 and no fewer than nine UN missions since 1990 (Muggah, 2008). While geopolitical interference in
Haiti has played a significant role, particularly since the 1990s, certain analysts point to the country’s extreme concen-
tration of authority and wealth in the hands of the elite—elected and otherwise—as a source of persistent instability
(Muggah, 2008; Maguire, 2009a; 2009b).
For some of Haiti’s diaspora and certain foreign governments, the heavy-handed dictatorships and associated
paramilitary rule from the 1950s to the 1980s afforded a degree of stability. Yet, from the perspective of the vast major-
ity of Haitians, especially those eking out an existence in the country’s popular zones or shantytowns in and around
Port-au-Prince and other major cities, the Duvaliers—father and son—terrorized the population into submission. They
did this both through the arming of the so-called Tonton Macoute militia and by empowering Haiti’s police force, then
part of the Haitian armed forces, to use indiscriminate killings, torture, and arbitrary detention to enforce their power.7
In the latter half of the 1980s, the country experienced a rocky transition to democracy during which President
Jean-Bertrand Aristide became the country’s first democratically elected leader in 1991. In addition to promoting
political participation by the impoverished majority of the population—a first in the country’s history, which won him
supporters and critics both in Haiti and abroad—Aristide demobilized the Haitian armed forces by presidential decree
in 1994 and created the country’s first civilian national police force, the HNP (Dupuy, 2005).
Haitians were initially hopeful that this new body, the HNP, would effectively control crime and increase safety,
especially in the larger cities. During the 1990s, property crime and violence were widespread, in sharp contrast to
Haiti’s historically low crime rates. Business owners and the wealthy relied on privately hired armed guards—who
were frequently implicated in vigilante-style violence—to provide basic security. Despite considerable investments
in capacity development and training of the nascent force, the HNP was unable to address community-level criminal
violence adequately during its early years (Hayes and Wheatley, 1996).
The political and economic situation in Haiti began to deteriorate dramatically during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Growing instability tested the HNP’s ability to fight criminal violence and respond to organized armed violence com-
mitted by political groups. Trafficking in persons, weapons, and drugs, reportedly connected to Haiti’s business elite,
continued unabated, bringing financial support to the few while generating political unrest. As tensions mounted
between the Haitian government and certain members of the international donor community, such as the United
States and France, former members of the disbanded Haitian armed forces created the so-called ‘rebel army’, also
known as the National Revolutionary Front for the Liberation (Front pour la Libération et la Reconstruction Nationales)
(Muggah, 2005a). The army was composed of paramilitary thugs active during the 1991–94 military coup years and
had recruited politically motivated armed gangs into their ranks.
With foreign backing and support from the national elite, as well as supporters in key positions within the HNP
itself, the rebel army proved to be a surprisingly resilient opponent. Heavily armed with assault rifles and a firm
supply network, the force began launching quiet but efficient attacks against border towns and urban centres
between 2000 and 2004, with the goal of overthrowing the elected Haitian government. HNP officers struggled to
respond. International and US-led restrictions against arms sales to the government since the early 1990s had never
been fully lifted,8 effectively prohibiting the HNP from legally purchasing weapons (Muggah, 2005a; 2005b). The
HNP officers who remained committed to upholding the rule of law had few arms and little chance of surviving
direct armed conflict with the rebel army.
By 2004, following successful rebel army attacks in the towns of St. Marc and Gonaïves, the HNP was overcome
and scattered. The insurgent army rapidly advanced on the capital. With Aristide removed from power by foreign
diplomats and with US marines occupying the National Palace, the insurgents were free to take the capital. Indeed,
one of the insurgents’ first actions after entering Port-au-Prince was to march two blocks past the National Palace to
the National Penitentiary, where they freed hundreds of convicts.9
Despite the circumstances surrounding the interim government’s establishment, the international community
stepped in to support it with a stated goal of reshaping the fragile security sector.10 Much like the US-led de-Bathization
process in Iraq, the HNP was purged of 60 per cent of its officers, many of whom fled to other areas of the country
An anti-Aristide rebel beats on the corpse of a police officer with a machete in Gonaïves, some 100 km north of Port-au-Prince, February 2004.
© Rodrigo Abd/AP Photo
or to the Dominican Republic, fearing that remnants of the rebel army might exact revenge. Some 540 members of
the rebel army, many of whom had been soldiers in Haiti’s long since demobilized armed forces, were integrated
into the ‘new’ HNP. Few of them, if any, were required to undergo the formal training and graduation from the police
academy required of new recruits (Hallward, 2008, p. 128; ICG, 2005; Mendelson-Forman, 2006).11
At the request of the new interim government, the United Nations Security Council established the UN Stabilization
Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in June 2004.12 Led by Brazil, Canada, the European Union, and the United States and
involving more than 40 countries, the large-scale deployment of international peacekeepers and police support
marked an important turning point. With nearly 9,000 blue helmets and 3,000 international police deployed, the
mission focused on ensuring stability by enhancing HNP capacities, extending the rule of law through improved
delivery of justice services, and rebuilding the country’s dilapidated judicial system (Muggah, 2010b, pp. 451–52).
Though initially formed to uphold a coup government widely viewed by Haitians as illegitimate and repressive,
MINUSTAH was successful in establishing strong support among both Haitian policy-makers and in segments of the
general population. Thus, MINUSTAH was able to maintain its presence even after the transition to a democratically
elected president was made in late 2006.
Many international organizations and institutions—from the UN to the Organization of American States and the
International Organisation of La Francophonie—devoted considerable energy to the reform and strengthening of
Haiti’s security and judicial system (Baranyi and Fortin, forthcoming). Support has ranged from financial assistance
to the provision of technical expertise in policing, investigation, customs, and corrections reform. Donor-supported
efforts to promote judicial reform since the mid-1990s have included the restructuring and revision of judicial pro-
cedures, legal codes, and protocols.
Since 1998, efforts to codify and implement improved criminal and corrections laws have yielded few returns.13
The most significant development in reforming the judicial sector during the past decade was arguably the passage
of laws by Parliament in 2007 to create the Superior Judicial Council, mandated to devise rules for the training,
recruiting, and disciplining of magistrates and the regulation of Haiti’s magistrates school. In 2007, the Ministry of
Justice and Public Security published a ‘roadmap’ identifying a range of key priorities to enhance the quality and
quantity of justice, and, in particular, service delivery (UNDP, 2009).
To enhance implementation and improve access to justice for the population, an approach to justice reform
emerged, focusing on simultaneous reforms across the judicial, policing, and corrections sectors and linking these to
enhanced accountability.14 For example, a Citizen’s Forum (Comité Coordonnateur du Forum Citoyen) was created
both to enhance citizen engagement and to monitor government transparency. Nevertheless, the country continued
to feature out-dated and disregarded laws, weak human resources, and practically non-existent infrastructure to
manage cases (Baranyi and Salahub, 2010).
Over the past two decades, a major obstacle to high-quality judicial, police, and corrections service delivery was
their illegitimacy in the eyes of Haitian civilians. This was particularly true during the years when unelected govern-
ments were in power. For instance, during the military dictatorship (1991–94), police officers were frequently impli-
cated in the illegal arrest and torture of ordinary citizens (O’Neill, 1995). This changed from October 1994 to February
2004, as the country was in a period of struggling democratic governance, and state leaders rejected the use of the
police force to exert political control. However, the post-coup interim government of President Boniface Alexandre
and Prime Minister Gérard Latortue (2004–06) flirted with using the police as a tool to suppress popular dissent and
punish political opponents (Dupuy, 2005).
As a result of the HNP’s inefficiency and susceptibility to corruption, but also, in many cases, officer involvement
in a wide range of human rights violations during the 2004 coup and its two-year aftermath, both international donors
and local populations lost faith in the police force’s capacity and willingness to deliver services. To bridge this
legitimacy gap, donors invested heavily in police reform, recruitment, and human rights training, as well as com-
munity policing from 2004 onwards (Baranyi and Fortin, forthcoming; CIGI, 2009).
Haitian police officers protect opponents of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from being shot during a march in Port-au-Prince, March 2004.
© Pablo Aneli/AP Photo
The Haitian National Police: before 2010
Although the 1987 Haitian Constitution sets out the terms for a national police force—including provisions for its
composition and purpose15—the official HNP force was not established until the mid-1990s. Formally launched by
President Aristide in 1995, the HNP was intended to serve as the exclusive armed entity responsible for maintaining
law and order and protecting the life and property of citizens. Following the dissolution of the armed forces (the
Forces Armées d’Haïti) the previous year, the HNP enjoyed wide jurisdiction. Haitians initially greeted the formation
of the HNP with considerable enthusiasm. Despite investment from the United States and Canada and two UN missions
(MIPONUH I and II), however, popular support for the police began to erode between 1996 and 2003 (Muggah, 2005a).
Administratively, the HNP is overseen by the Ministry of Justice and Public Security. Similarly, the Prisons
Administration Directorate and the emergency fire brigade (sapeurs pompiers) fall under the jurisdiction of the HNP.
According to an internal review led by the Haitian authorities, the HNP has faced a host of inadequacies and problems
since 1995, including limited staff, weak training, unpredictable funding, limited senior personnel, systemic corrup-
tion, poor inspection capacities, and a history of violating human rights.16 To the average Haitian, the police were
seen as having limited effectiveness at best.
The size and distribution of the HNP has oscillated since its creation, and it has never met international standards
with respect to strength or capacity. As of late December 2009, public authorities claimed there were some 9,520
enlisted police officers (including some 746 female officers), most of them deployed in urban areas.17 Added to this
were 705 police and administrative staff of the Prisons Administration Directorate, for a grand total of 11,458 personnel.18
This figure was lower than the projected strength of 14,000 officers set out in an HNP reform plan to be reached by
late 2011 (GoH, 2006; US, 2009). With a population of at least 9.7 million, this accounts for a ratio of 1.05 officers
for every 1,000 inhabitants—among the lowest ratios in the world.19
With assistance from the UN and bilateral donors, the institutional infrastructure of the HNP experienced consider-
able reforms beginning in the mid-1990s. As of 2009, there were more than 236 HNP facilities throughout the country.20
Yet an estimated 39 of these—including seven precincts and 32 sub-precincts—were still considered non-operational
prior to the January 2010 earthquake. Moreover, the overall size and configuration of the country’s motor fleet was
limited—with an estimated 600 vehicles of varying make and quality—resulting in major maintenance challenges.21
As noted above, the HNP is also mandated to oversee corrections facilities. Indeed, the Penitentiary Administration,
the first civilian prison system in the country’s history, was established in 1995 by former President Aristide. It was
reconstituted as the Prisons Administration Directorate under the auspices of the HNP in 1997, and rudimentary
investments were made until the country’s descent into extreme violence in 2004. Prior to 2004, there were some 21
prisons with an estimated 6,440 m2 of cell space for 3,640 detainees, or 1.76 m2 per detainee. By 2009, however, the
remaining 17 functioning prisons (overseen by 705 officers) reported a capacity of 4,894 m2 for some 8,686 detainees,
or 0.4 m2 per detainee—well below international standards.22 Haitian corrections authorities contended in 2009 that
the number of detainees could surpass 16,000 by 2012.23 Just as disconcerting, according to Haitian prison authorities,
more than three-quarters (76 per cent) of detainees were ‘pre-trial’, with an average pre-trial detention period of
approximately 20 months (see Box 8.1).24
Some international organizations credit MINUSTAH with having improved security across Haiti, particularly
between 2007 and 2009 (Muggah, 2010b). However, human rights groups and researchers also heavily criticized
MINUSTAH’s early tactics, particularly its repressive handling of gangs (Hallward, 2008, pp. 272–76, 398–404).
Specifically, between 2004 and 2006, heavy-handed interventions pursued by the HNP with tacit support from
Box 8.1 Port-au-Prince residents
arrested by the HNP (2004–10)
As shown in Table 8.1, men between 18
and 27 years of age made up the greatest
proportion of Port-au-Prince residents
arrested by the HNP in 2004–10. The
police arrested numerous individuals for
‘delinquency’, mostly for consorting with
known or suspected criminals (though
they personally may not have been
accused of a specific criminal act other
than associating with criminals). The
number arrested for delinquency or
‘unknown’ reasons has declined since
2004 (see Table 8.2). Despite the constitu-
tional mandate that individuals be
charged and presented before a judge
within 72 hours of their arrest, very few
of the respondents ever saw a judge or
were convicted of a crime; rather, most
were held in prison without trial. The
average length of prison detention
ranged from 280–402 days.
Tables 8.1 and 8.2 present data
obtained from surveys administered in
2009 and 2010. The first survey drew
from a sample of 1,800 randomly selected
Port-au-Prince area households in 2009
as part of the National Assessment of
Health and Harm in Haiti. Respondents
provided information about their own
experiences with arrest as well as the
experiences of all household members.
This information was updated for each
household member in 2010, six weeks
after the ear thquake, as part of a Post-
Earthquake Assessment—General
Population Survey (see Box 8.2). Of the
original 1,800 households interviewed in
2009, 9.7 per cent were lost to follow-up
in 2010 and thus excluded in subsequent
Members of a Haitian police special unit arrest a suspect
during a sweep through Cité Soleil, the largest slum in Port-
au-Prince, February 1997. © Thony Belizaire/AFP Photo
MINUSTAH were designed specifically to arrest and neutralize armed
elements. In some cases, these activities—described bluntly as ‘dis-
arm or die’ campaigns—resulted in the accidental shooting deaths
of dozens of citizens, including children.25
Against a backdrop of MINUSTAH-led stabilization efforts, UN
civilian agencies were busy crafting a reform plan for the HNP with
local counterparts in 2006.26 In view of the frequency of natural
disasters and the legacy of political unrest in Haiti, donors placed an
emphasis on improving HNP capacity to counter floods, fires, and
hurricanes throughout the country.27 By 2009, there was growing
confidence among international actors in the potential of the HNP to
provide security, with the UN Security Council acknowledging key
gaps but also citing real improvements.28
The Haitian National Police: after the earthquake
The impact of the earthquake on the human and physical infrastruc-
ture of the justice and security sector—and particularly the HNP—
was extensive. Almost 80 HNP personnel were killed and another
253 injured directly by the earthquake. By UN estimates, almost one-
quarter of Haiti’s police capacity was rendered non-operational.29
MINUSTAH records show that 55 buildings used by the HNP were
affected, including some 28 facilities suffering ‘major damages’,
such as collapse, and another 27 experiencing ‘minor damages’.30 If
these structures are added to the 39 facilities that were already non-
operational at the time of the earthquake, almost 40 per cent of HNP
capacities could not be used at this stage.31
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, the focus of the
UN and international donor community was on rapidly ensuring the
delivery of life-saving supplies, personnel, and equipment and
restoring police communication, coordination, and response capa-
bilities, particularly in anticipation of increased gang violence.
International observers were concerned that damage and displace-
ment generated by the earthquake—coupled with the impact of the
global fiscal crisis on food prices—could generate a humanitarian
disaster and an upswing of crimes against property and violence.32
In the first six months after the natural disaster, fears that escap-
ees from prisons would perpetrate targeted attacks, extortion, and
kidnappings were commonplace among NGOs and international
organizations working in Haiti (Muggah, 2010b). International aid
providers were worried that, if such violence were to occur, it would
Category Characteristics Percentage
Sex Male 86.9
Female 13.1
Age Under 18 19.0
18–27 years old 42.9
28–37 years old 16.7
38 or older 21.4
Religion Catholic or Protestant 48.9
Voodoo 16.7
Christian but also practices Voodoo 29.8
Rastafarian 3.6
Other or no religion 1.2
Employment at time of arrest Self-employed—sales or service 35.7
Self-employed—trade or professional 11.9
Employed part-time or sporadically 7.9
Employed full-time 2.4
Unemployed adult 33.8
Unemployed child under 18 8.3
Table 8.1 Characteristics of Port-au-Prince residents arrested by the HNP, 2004–10
Table 8.2 Characteristics of Port-au-Prince residents arrested by the HNP, 2004–10
2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Place of detention (%) Police station 38.4 41.5 40.6 32.7 24.1 22.8 60.0
Prison 38.2 45.8 53.9 67.3 75.9 77.2 10.0
Other 23.4 12.7 5.5 0.0 0.0 0.0 30.0
Reason for arrest (%) Violent crime 12.1 9.0 4.8 13.7 18.3 20.2 *
Non-violent crime 21.4 21.5 32.2 50.5 61.2 66.7 *
Delinquency 22.1 17.4 16.2 13.8 9.7 10.5 *
Unknown 44.4 52.1 46.8 22.0 10.8 2.6 *
Percentage who saw a judge 1.2 3.4 6.4 8.1 7.0 6.8 *
Percentage convicted of a crime 9.2 8.9 5.8 6.0 4.1 2.1 *
Average length of
detention (in days)
Held in police station 23.2 14.8 11.7 4.3 3.1 2.6 1.1
Held in prison 402.1 423.8 355.0 301.2 280.6 284.2 *
Held in another place 11.0 9.2 ** ** ** ** 2.5
* Insufficient information was available for 2010, and these values could not be calculated.
** No individuals indicated being held in a place other than a police station or prison between 2006 and 2009.
hamper relief efforts in Haiti and exacerbate instability if humanitarian assistance did not successfully reach affected
populations. In certain cases, US officials turned away flights delivering supplies and medical personnel so that
planes with US combat troops could land instead.33
Throughout this period, MINUSTAH military and police personnel supported domestic efforts alongside US and
Canadian troops.34 Fears of food riots, fleeing prisoners, and growing disorder were matched with massive invest-
ments in restoring public security. The so-called ‘security umbrella’ generated by this international presence is credited
with enhancing humanitarian aid distribution, search and rescue operations, and the gradual return of national police
to challenging areas. Meanwhile, a growing number of large, foreign private security companies began to explore
opportunities in the country.35
Despite considerable investment in justice and security before and after the 2010 earthquake, little is known about
whether real and perceived safety have improved for most Haitians. Rather, media accounts continue to emphasize
lawlessness, chaos, and brutality in the capital and surrounding regions. The problem of sexual violence is repeatedly
cited as evidence that the security sector is in shambles, as is the alleged surge of criminal banditry in the shanty-
towns of the country’s major cities (MADRE et al., 2011).
Members of the local police force relax at their makeshift headquarters in Port-au-Prince in January 2010.
© Fred Dufour/AFP Photo
Box 8.2 Household surveys in Haiti
Researchers affiliated with the Small Arms Survey conducted studies in Haiti to assess the experiences and opinions of
Haitian citizens over the past five years. Similar sampling procedures and data collection instruments were used in each of
the surveys. Households were randomly sampled from the population using Random GPS Coordinate Sampling, and adult
household members were then randomly selected to participate in the study. This process allowed for a representative
sample that can be generalized to the entire population, providing invaluable insight into the experiences, ideas, and opinions
of ordinary Haitians.
The 2010 surveys, funded by the UN Development Programme and the Ottawa-based International Development Research
Centre, were undertaken primarily to inform the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment process and support government
authorities in determining priorities for security promotion (see Table 8.3). These surveys allow for a careful reading of
mortality, injury, and victimization as well as attitudes towards public institutions and security providers, including the
HNP and foreign actors.
Year Study Population and focus
2005 Wayne State University Study of Health and Human
Rights in Haiti
1,260 Port-au-Prince area households regarding experiences in
the 22 months following the February 2004 coup against Aristide
(Kolbe and Hutson, 2006; Wayne State University, 2005).
2009 University of Michigan Neighbourhood Survey Nearly 1,000 households from three highly populated and
impoverished neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince; focused on
crime, gun use, and opinions about security provision (Small
Arms Survey, 2009b).
National Assessment of Health & Harm in Haiti 2,800 households from urban and peri-urban communities
throughout Haiti, of which 1,800 were from the Port-au-Prince
area; focus on physical and mental health, experiences with
human rights violations from 2004 to 2009, substance use, gun
use, quality of life, and opinions regarding security and national
events (Kolbe et al., 2010; University of Michigan, 2009).
Qualitative interviews were conducted with an additional 150
crime victims, their household members, and community leaders
regarding the need for access to community services (University
of Michigan, 2009).
2010 Post-Earthquake Assessment—General Population Recontacted the 1,800 capital-area households interviewed in
2009 for an additional interview; focus on current location and
status of all previously included household members, provision
of basic human needs, food insecurity, sanitation, physical and
mental health, mortality, opinions about service provision, gun
use, access to information, and experiences with crime. An
additional 150 qualitative interviews were conducted with crime
victims, household members of victims, and leaders in the
community (Kolbe and Muggah, 2010; Kolbe et al., 2010; Small
Arms Survey, 2010).
Post-Earthquake Assessment—IDPs 1,147 households residing in 30 IDP camps (25 of which were
randomly chosen, five of which were identified as the largest
camps in the capital area); focus on assessing basic human
needs, health, access to information, gun use, opinions about
security, and experiences with human rights violations (Kolbe
and Muggah, 2010; Kolbe et al., 2010; Small Arms Survey, 2010).
Table 8.3 Port-au-Prince area household surveys
In fact, comparatively little data or analysis is available on actual rates of criminal violence over time and across
communities. National government capacity to conduct vital and criminal statistics remains startlingly weak. Despite
some descriptive studies undertaken in recent years by Canadian and US research institutes and universities, Amnesty
International, and Médecins Sans Frontières, the availability of valid and reliable evidence is limited.36 To fill these
data gaps, several surveys of Haitian households were conducted in 2005, 2009, and 2010 (see Box 8.2). The 2010
post-earthquake surveys found that, contrary to popular belief, crime rates were much lower than suggested by the
global media.
Surprising findings emerged from the 2010 surveys. First, violent crime was considerably less pervasive in the six
weeks after the earthquake than was suggested by the global media. Despite major concerns among international
donors about the risk of property-related crime, it was also surprisingly low. Another notable finding in 2010 was
that the preferred security provider for addressing crime and victimization was, overwhelmingly, the HNP.
Violent crime
Crime and insecurity were widely considered problems long before the earthquake of January 2010. Indeed, almost
two-thirds (62.9 per cent) of those surveyed in the general population in 2009 asserted that, before the earthquake,
crime was a serious problem. After the earthquake, however, just one in five (20.0 per cent) of those surveyed in
the general population said that crime or insecurity constituted a major problem (see Figure 8.1). While this drop
could be due to a reprioritization of needs in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, it could also reflect reduced
experiences of crime as rates of property crime, kidnapping, physical assault, and murder decreased in comparison
to previous years.
In terms of violent crime, a clear pattern emerges that mirrors the country’s democratic transitions: the incidence
of violent and non-violent crime was low in the first two months of 2004 (when the country was ruled by an
elected leader), rose significantly from March 2004 to late 2006 (when an unelected leader ruled following a coup),
and decreased steadily between early 2007 (after democratic elections) and 2010 (Kolbe et al., 2010).
Figure 8.1 How serious of a problem is crime/insecurity?
Before the earthquake After the earthquake
Very serious
Very minor
01020304050 708060 90 100
Percentage of responses
Sources: Small Arms Survey (2010); University of Michigan (2009)
Sexual violence
Notwithstanding reductions in reported violent or politically motivated crimes, other categories of crime, such as
sexual assault, continue to occur with alarming frequency in the post-election period. Considerable media attention
was devoted to the rising incidence of sexual violence in Port-au-Prince and around displaced person camps in the
months following the earthquake.37 While Amnesty International pointed to the likelihood of gender-based victimization,
its reports relied on qualitative assessments that could not be used to calculate rates of victimization.38 The findings
generated by this study do indeed support claims of a sharp increase in sexual assaults made in these reports; survey
data shows that an estimated 10,813 individuals39 in Port-au-Prince were sexually assaulted in the six weeks after the
earthquake, with almost 70 per cent of the attackers identified by the respondents as (anonymous) ‘criminals’ (Kolbe
et al., 2010).40 The number of victims is significantly higher than in the previous three years, when an estimated
30,000–50,000 individuals were sexually assaulted per year.
Property crime
While NGO reports regarding sexual violence were supported by the surveys, media claims of widespread looting and
organized theft were not. The vast majority of Port-au-Prince residents reported that neither they nor any members
The corpse of a 55-year-old man lies on the ground of his shack as residents look on in the slum of Cité Soleil in Port-au-Prince, February 2005.
Witnesses said Ardan was accidentally killed by police. © Ariana Cubillos/AP Photo
of their household had property stolen from them or intentionally destroyed by others after the earthquake. Only an
estimated 4.1 per cent of all Port-au-Prince households experienced some form of theft, vandalism, or intentional
destruction of property in the first six weeks after the earthquake. Indeed, the most common thefts reported related
to water or food, unsurprising given the high levels of food insecurity.
These incidents tended to be geographically concentrated in certain neighbourhoods and usually involved rela-
tively modest values. Notably, in comparison to neighbourhoods ranked as dangerous by survey respondents, Cité
Soleil and Bel Air were identified as ‘average’. A comparative analysis reveals that property crime decreased as a whole;
while 4.2 per cent of surveyed households reported property crime during January and February 2005, only 1.3 per
cent of households did so in the same months of 2009 (see Table 8.4).
Attitudes towards security providers
The household surveys highlight that the general population and IDP camp residents viewed the HNP as the pre-
ferred security provider in 2010. What is perhaps most interesting is to what extent appreciation of police improved
since the previous year. When asked ‘Who would you turn to first if you were robbed or someone threatened to
hurt or kill you?’, more than two-thirds (66.7 per cent) of all respondents in 2010 (both general and displaced) iden-
tified the police. This figure stands in sharp contrast to that of 2009, when just 38 per cent of the population listed
the HNP as a first recourse in the case of threats to person or property. Other responses included relatives or neigh-
bours, heads of household, and community elders (see Table 8.5). Possible explanations for the increased confidence
in the HNP include heightened confidence in public institutions, a decrease in the UN’s credibility, and disruptions
to alternative routes for personal security (such as relying on family or hiring private security guards) in the wake of
the earthquake.
There also appears to be widespread agreement among Haitians that the HNP should be the primary security
entity in the country. When asked in 2010, ‘Ideally, who should be responsible for security?’, almost two-thirds (63.6
per cent) of the general public named the police. Meanwhile, the ‘community’ was cited by more than one-quarter
(27.2 per cent), and the remainder chose MINUSTAH, the family, local government, the Ministry of the Interior, or
Table 8.4 Percentage of Port-au-Prince households reporting property crime
Food and
Money and
Vandalism Broke in but did
not steal anything
2004 1.5 0.5 0.2 0.2 0.1 1.3 0.2 0.1
2005 2.0 0.0 0.0 0.6 0 0.6 1.2 0.2
2006 0.4 0.2 0.1 0.2 0.2 0.4 2.2 0.1
2007 0.4 0.2 0.1 0.2 0.1 0.2 0.0 0.0
2008 0.5 0.1 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.3 0.2 0.0
2009 0.6 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.3 0.1 1.3 0.0
2010 0.3 0.8 0.7 0.0 1.4 0.1 0.2 0.3
Sources: Small Arms Survey (2010); University of Michigan (2009)
Table 8.5 Who would you turn to first if you were robbed or someone threatened to hurt or kill you?
Table 8.6 General population: Ideally, who should be responsible for security?
Response 2009 2010
Robbed (%) Threatened (%) Robbed (%) Threatened (%)
Relative, friend, or neighbour 12.0 18.1 38.5 13.5
Police 40.7 38.0 56.6 66.7
Former members of the Haitian army 0.7 0.4 0.1 0.0
Foreign military 9.7 28.9 0.3 0.0
Private security company or similar 0.3 0.7 0.0 0.0
Community elders 3.7 2.5 2.3 8.4
Head of the family 0.6 2.5 0.8 9.2
An armed group 0.4 1.2 0.2 0.0
Nothing/no point in doing anything 29.9 6.6 0.6 0.1
Other/Don’t know 2.0 1.1 0.6 0.0
Sources: Small Arms Survey (2010); University of Michigan (2009)
Response 2009 2010
Frequency Valid percent Frequency Valid percent
Local government 136 7.8 17 1.0
Ministry of the Interior 85 4.9 7 0.4
MINUSTAH 374 21.6 61 3.5
Police 859 49.5 1,102 63.6
Former members of the armed forces 19 1.1 0.0 0.0
Private security firms 50 2.9 14 0.8
The community 109 6.3 471 27.2
Family 46 2.7 60 3.5
An armed group 31 1.8 0.0 0.0
Other 25 1.4 0.0 0.0
Total 1,734 100.0 1,732 100.0
Sources: Small Arms Survey (2010); University of Michigan (2009)
private security firms. Not one respondent opted for the former members of the armed forces (see Table 8.6). This
is an important finding, since there has been persistent debate in some quarters since 2004 around resurrecting the
disbanded Haitian armed forces (Hallward, 2008).
Similar themes emerged from an analysis of in-depth qualitative interviews conducted with randomly selected
survey participants in 2009 and 2010. Respondents across all socio-economic backgrounds expressed increasing
confidence that the police could and would respond to their requests for assistance (see Box 8.3). As one interviewee
put it:
The police have changed and now they are getting better at doing their job. In the past the police sat around
doing nothing. If you approached them to complain about a crime you would be lucky to get any response.
Now they are more active because they know the eyes of the foreign police are on them.
Other respondents attributed improved policing to increased funding, better training, and technical assistance
provided by MINUSTAH and foreign consultants; they also reported that the police were no longer engaged in
politically motivated mistreatment of particular segments of society. Several respondents claimed that police officers
treat residents with more respect because they are recruited from within the neighbourhoods that they are policing.
As one elderly resident of Carrefour explained:
It’s not an ‘us versus them’ situation anymore. We’ve known some of [the officers] since they were children play-
ing here in our streets. So when they come here to do police work we treat them with respect and they treat us
with respect as well.
A private security guard stands outside a burning store in downtown Port-au-Prince, January 2010.
© Carlos Barria/Reuters
Box 8.3 Perceptions of policing in 2010: ‘getting better all the time’
Respondents routinely used terms such as ‘changed’, ‘better’, and ‘more professional’ to describe the HNP in 2010 as com-
pared to five years ago. Political changes, as well as professionalization and training of the HNP, could account for this shift;
five years ago, the police were regularly used by the national government to curb free speech and maintain unelected
power in the face of widespread popular discontent. Today’s elected government largely avoids using the police force in
such a way, and some police officials who were involved in those practices in the past have left the force.
While respondents described some shortcomings, they expressed overall confidence that the police would respond when
needed, that they were more active in policing specific neighbourhoods, that they were not systematically used by the
current government to target political dissent, and that they were less corrupt than in the past. According to those sur-
veyed, police presence was robust following the earthquake, with about half of all respondents having seen police within
the last 48 hours (see Figure 8.2). Police appeared to be readily available in most neighbourhoods; they continued with
regular policing duties, sometimes despite the destruction of their neighbourhood police station.
In the course of the 2010 survey and focus groups, respondents shared personal stories that highlighted their attitudes
towards and experiences with the police:
During that time [2006] if you told the police you had been raped, they might take that as an invitation to have you
[sexually] as well. They wouldn’t protect you or arrest the rapist. But when my daughter was violated [in 2009] I was
confident in the police. They had a policewoman interview my child and they arrested [the rapist]. The police said:
‘Don’t worry, we will help you. You don’t need to shed any more tears.’ And they were right.
—37-year-old woman, market vendor
Two police officers are always stationed at the end of our street. My wife went to them when our home was robbed.
They called the boss and made a report. The boss agreed that robbery was occurring too frequently in our area so
he sent some other police to track down the robbers. They spoke to everyone and found witnesses so they could
arrest the criminals. In the past only the wealthy received this kind of service from the police; now even an ordinary
man can expect to have his report treated with importance.
—45-year-old man, taxi driver
Figure 8.2 When was the last time you saw the police?
Day before yesterday
3–7 days ago
8–14 days ago
15–28 days ago
More than a month ago
I have not seen them since the
01020304050 708060 90 100
Percentage of responses
Sources: Small Arms Survey (2010); University of Michigan (2009)
Residents also highlighted the increased responsiveness on the part of the police when responding to situations
such as domestic violence, sexual abuse, crimes against children, and conflicts involving the mentally ill. Most
respondents said that, in the past, HNP officers had refused to intervene in some situations, such as domestic violence,
claiming it was not illegal for a man to hit his wife. They described how, in recent years, particularly since 2008, the
police had become more responsive in responding to violence against women.
The 2010 survey revealed a host of anecdotes regarding enhanced police sensitivity. For example, one man
recounted seeking police assistance for a spousal abuse incident involving his neighbour:
We were reluctant to get involved, but finally my wife told me to go to the police. The police came and arrested
[my neighbour]. A female officer talked to his wife and warned her that a judge might release her husband soon. So
she decided to leave and return to her parents’ home in the provinces. The police helped her pack her things and
drove her to the taptap [private transport] station.43
HNP involvement in human rights violations
Each of the household surveys examined the role of the HNP in committing human rights violations. A frequent
complaint voiced by respondents concerned the HNP’s use of excessive force and arbitrary arrest during various
periods since 2004. Respondents described how officers had indiscriminately arrested passers-by during demonstra-
tions, beat and shot market women and children during anti-gang manoeuvres, and engaged in unethical conduct,
such as theft, vandalism, or demanding bribes while on duty. Reports from the International Crisis Group recount
similar incidents involving the HNP (ICG, 2005; 2008).
Empirical evidence reveals a pattern of HNP involvement in criminal activity, particularly when examining prop-
erty crimes reported by survey respondents between January and February of each year from 2004 to 2010. During
those months in 2004, HNP officers were not held responsible for any of the property crimes; however, during the
same months of 2005 and 2006, HNP officers were named as responsible for 17.7 and 10.8 per cent of property
crimes, respectively. Similarly, HNP and other government security forces were identified as responsible for 5.7 per cent
of an estimated 32,000 property crimes committed in the Port-au-Prince area in the 22 months after the departure of
President Aristide on 28 February 2004 (Kolbe and Hutson, 2006). This pattern of HNP involvement in criminal activ-
ity tracks the overthrow and return of democracy exactly.
Yet the past three years have witnessed a reversal of this trend. Indeed, for both property crimes and crimes
against persons, police were seldom found responsible for perpetrating criminal acts since early 2007 (see Table 8.7).
In the six weeks after the earthquake, HNP and foreign soldiers were blamed for some property crimes. Yet, on closer
inspection, respondents affirmed that while their home had been broken into, nothing had actually been stolen. Acts
that residents called vandalism were probably conducted in the course of post-earthquake search and rescue opera-
tions rather than for criminal purposes.
Instead of regarding the police as perpetrators of violence who are to be feared, respondents interviewed for the
2010 surveys were more likely to describe the HNP as ‘protectors’. Data from both surveys reflects this perception,
with police significantly less likely to be named as the perpetrator of a crime in 2008–10 as compared to 2004–07.
Indeed, qualitative interview respondents who had previously relied on private security firms or had felt compelled
to arm themselves to ward off crime expressed a new trust that the HNP could and would provide security and that
the aforementioned coping strategies were less necessary than in the past. Nevertheless, a significant debate continues
Table 8.7 Perpetrators of property crimes in January and February, 2004–10
in Haiti, as elsewhere, over the merits of publicly versus privately administered security (Jones, 2010). When asked in
2010 who should be responsible for security, however, the overwhelming majority of IDP camp respondents (more
than two-thirds) indicated local government. The army (long disbanded) was a distant second at 8.7 per cent.
Arming for self-defence
As citizens develop more confidence in their police force, they are arguably less likely to obtain and use weapons
to protect themselves. When asked in 2010 whether they held a weapon, only 2.3 per cent of Port-au-Prince area
households reported owning firearms. Respondents may be reluctant to discuss sensitive topics such as gun owner-
ship, or they may appear cooperative although they are dishonest when responding. To increase accuracy, interviewers
repeatedly reminded respondents that the survey was confidential, and that they could decline to answer any ques-
tion they wished.
Despite this, few respondents declined to answer, and most were not only willing to answer, but also to show their
weapons and gun permits as evidence. Haitian society does not have cultural taboos regarding gun ownership that
would prevent respondents from disclosing their ownership of firearms. Since respondents were forthright in other
segments of the interviews when providing sensitive information (for instance, when discussing substance abuse,
experiences of sexual abuse, and, in a few cases, their own illegal ‘employment’), the low ownership rate of 2.3 per
cent may be treated as reasonably reliable. It is slightly higher than the percentage of Port-au-Prince residents with
permits to own a firearm (which was 1.9 per cent in 2009), but is lower than the figures provided by MINUSTAH and
other international actors, which range from 8 to 22 per cent of all Port-au-Prince area households (Small Arms Survey,
2010; University of Michigan, 2009).
Among those who reported owning a weapon, there were an average 2.7 firearms per home. Handguns, such as
revolvers, were the most commonly reported, followed by rifles and pistols. Shotguns and ‘other arms’ (including
grenade launchers and machine guns) were the least commonly reported. Those who reported possessing a firearm
Perpetrators Percentage of responses
2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Criminals 67.8 39.0 21.4 36.5 44.9 68.2 17.1
HNP 0.0 14.4 13.8 0.0 0.0 0.0 2.0
Foreign soldier 0.0 11.2 13.9 5.8 1.0 0.0 4.4
Gang member 1.1 6.2 9.5 6.0 8.7 0.0 1.5
Armed political group 0.0 12.7 6.2 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Neighbour 7.1 1.4 1.8 7.8 15.7 8.7 29.4
Crowd of desperate people 0.0 1.4 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 5.9
Current or ex-friend/partner 4.8 1.0 6.0 8.4 18.3 21.7 11.8
Unknown 19.2 12.7 27.4 35.5 11.4 1.4 27.9
Sources: Small Arms Survey (2010); University of Michigan (2009)
were asked why they first obtained the weapon and when, as well as the reason for its last use; it was thus possible
to disaggregate the reasons why gun owners chose to arm themselves.
Responses provided by residents of popular zones (densely populated low-income areas with higher crime rates)
differ markedly from those of residents of neighbourhoods with greater economic diversity and lower population
density (see Table 8.8). The survey reveals that, in the popular zones, the most common reason given for weapons
possession was ‘work’ (30.7 per cent); in each of these households, at least one adult was employed as a security
guard or police officer, and the reported weapon was either a pistol or a shotgun (the two firearms most commonly
used in these professions). In other areas, however, the most common reason offered was ‘personal protection’ (46.6
per cent). ‘Political security’ was the second most common reason for gun possession for both geographic groups.
Further nuances emerge between households in different income brackets. Specifically, it appears that wealthier
households were more likely to own weapons than middle- or lower-income households, whether in 2009 or 2010.
Wealthier households also owned a greater number of weapons than low- and middle-income households and were
less likely to state that their reason for weapons ownership was work-related. There is no discernable socio-cultural
explanation for why wealthy households would be more willing to disclose gun ownership than middle- or lower-
income households in this context, so it may be assumed that the findings are accurate.
In Haiti, as elsewhere, political groups and factions are generally assumed to be more likely to hold weapons than
those claiming to be unaffiliated. Each of the surveys in 2009 and 2010 examined political party affiliation and gun
ownership, finding that political party membership had no statistically significant impact on whether a household
owned a firearm. Rather, qualitative interviews indicated wide-ranging reasons for gun acquisition and ownership.
Respondents from wealthier households, for example, often cited ‘protection of persons and property’ as the primary
reason they had chosen to obtain a gun.
Among the wealthy, firearm ownership was frequently accompanied with the use of private security companies
to protect one’s home and business (though weapons owned or used only by private security personnel were not
included in the household’s roster of weapons or in calculating gun ownership by the respondent). One resident
described his choice to amass a small arsenal as ‘taking fate into one’s own hands’. He added: ‘If I never have to use
it, so be it. But for me, it is peace of mind. If criminals break in, I’ll shoot them. Then I’ll call the police.’
Table 8.8 Why do you own a firearm?
Response Popular zones (%) Other areas (%)
Personal protection 14.2 46.6
Property protection 16.6 12.6
Political security 19.4 25.7
Work 30.7 15.2
Left over from the army 9.0 0.0
Tradition 4.9 0.0
Valued family possession 5.2 0.0
Source: Small Arms Survey (2010)
Nevertheless, owning firearms as a means to ‘increase personal security’ was seldom identified as a coping strategy
among survey respondents (see Figure 8.3). Indeed, more than half of the respondents from the general population
surveyed after the earthquake said that owning a weapon made one less safe. Only 15.7 per cent said that it makes
no difference, and 3.0 per cent said that owning a weapon makes one either much safer (0.7 per cent) or a little bit
safer (2.3 per cent).
Despite considerable improvement in local perceptions of police capacity and effectiveness, Haitians have identified
areas of security promotion that need further attention. One goal relates to enhancing the capacity and responsive-
ness of HNP to all Haitians, given the pervasive concern that security provision remains intolerably unequal. In
particular, individuals still need to ‘know someone’ in order to ensure a rapid reaction to complaints. Respondents
also acknowledged that certain officers are ‘lazy’ when responding to requests for assistance.44 In addition, they
pointed to the need for better regulation of firearms and the reining in of armed groups.
Reinforcing the HNP
In 2010, the Haitian government and the international community focused on facilitating practical improvements to
security on the ground. A key question related to balancing efforts to reconstitute the ‘formal’ legal and procedural
systems in the capital on the one hand, with investments in more ‘informal’ and locally targeted community policing,
the deployment of private security, informal mediation, and grassroots violence prevention in specific neighbour-
hoods on the other. Should interventions be shaped by fundamental changes in law and justice, investment in
magistrates and judges, support for police and corrections systems, or by community-driven mediation and peace-
making efforts? During qualitative interviews conducted as part of the post-earthquake assessment, respondents
proposed local options for security promotion, a few of which are reproduced in Box 8.4.
Figure 8.3 Post-earthquake: Does owning a firearm make your family more or less safe?
Much safer
A little bit safer
A little less safe
Much less safe
Makes no difference
01020304050 708060 90 100
Percentage of responses
Source: Small Arms Survey (2010)
Box 8.4 Perceptions matter: practical
suggestions to improve policing in Haiti
Haitians appear to be resolute that sup-
port for the HNP is an investment worth
making. Indeed, a large majority of
respondents from the general population
surveyed in 2010 believe that strengthen-
ing the capacity of police would make
their community safer (94.4 per cent).
This suggests a growing faith in the ability
of the police to protect local interests.
Numerous interviewees suggested ways
of improving policing:
The police should go after the
criminals by pretending to be
weak so the criminals attack
them and then the police could
arrest them. The police shouldn’t
just wait for the crime to happen,
they should be looking for the
criminals under every rock until
they find them and put them
in jail.
—19-year-old man, student
The police need better equipment,
like trucks, and they should patrol
both by walking around and also
from the trucks. Instead of having
ten police in the back of the truck,
they should get out and walk
around. They should go in the
corridors and get to know the
women of the neighbourhood so
that people will come to them and
say, ‘Hey, there was a crime here
and I saw who did it.’
—48-year-old woman, nurse
You should be able to call or
text message the police and
tell them if you see a crime
or need help. And then they
should come right away,
not later when it is more
—26-year-old man, plumber
A Haitian police officer holds his rifle as he stands guard near businesses being looted
on in January 2010 in Port-au-Prince. © Joe Raedle/Getty Images
A major concern registered by respon-
dents to surveys in 2009 and 2010 related
to the issues of arrest and incarceration.
Specifically, respondents observed that crim-
inals were often released without being
charged or even seeing a judge. While this
issue reflects deficiencies in the wider jus-
tice sector as a whole, many respondents
blame the HNP in particular. In fact, this
dynamic puts pressure on the police to take
justice into their own hands, for example by
reverting to past practices of punishing or
even executing suspects because they know
the courts cannot hold criminals account-
able. This illustrates one of the many ways
in which security sector improvements are
partly reliant on justice sector reforms and
vice versa.
Interviewees complained that police were
sometimes reluctant to deal with juvenile
delinquents, drunks, and violent mentally ill
people, claiming that there was ‘no place to
put them’. As noted above, Haiti currently
has few facilities in which to house detain-
ees. Moreover, despite a complete lack of
legal aid in most neighbourhoods, it is widely
recognized that police station cells are, in
fact, holding centres for individuals who may
present a danger to themselves or others
although they are not necessarily criminals.
Steps are under way to improve the
capacity of the HNP, which has a strength of
about 11,500. For one, the HNP reform plan
for 2006–11 projects a police force of 14,000
officers. The reform places major emphasis on
modernizing and upgrading existing police
structures and ensuring that procedures are
in compliance with international standards.
Accountability and respect for human rights
are also key features. Nevertheless, the recruitment and training process has repeatedly been delayed.45 In 2009, the
certification and vetting process of HNP personnel was ongoing. As of December 2009, some 7,154 applicant inves-
tigation files were opened by joint UN–HNP teams, with some 3,496 of these under active investigation. Between
2006 and 2009, a total of 3,503 files were handed over to the UN–HNP teams with recommendations on certification
(UNDP, 2009).
Enhancing the regulation of firearms
The debate on enhancing firearm controls in Haiti extends back at least two decades. Indeed, the failure of the
United States to disarm the military and paramilitary during the US military intervention in 2004, the UN decision not
to implement a disarmament campaign during the 1995–98 mission, and the limited number of weapons collected
from ‘gang members’ by repeated UN- and HNP-led anti-gun campaigns have all highlighted some of the challenges
inherent in collecting and destroying weapons already in circulation (Muggah, 2005a). Nevertheless, respondents to
the 2009 and 2010 surveys reveal that Haitians would welcome more firearm licensing control, more robust penalties
for illegal firearm possession, and corresponding legislation to outlaw militias. Although many Haitians in both the
general population and the IDP camps reported feeling safer in 2010 as compared to 2009, there are still widespread
concerns about the particular influence of firearms in shaping community security and safety.
2010 IDP camp residents (%) 2009 general population (%) 2010 general population (%)
Strongly agree 44.5 39.3 38.7
Agree 44.1 44.1 40.2
Disagree 4.1 5.4 7.4
Strongly disagree 6.8 11.3 5.6
Don’t know 0.6 0.0 8.1
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0
Sources: Small Arms Survey (2010); University of Michigan (2009)
Table 8.9 Greater control of firearms licences would make my community safer
Table 8.10 Harsher punishment for illegal weapons possession would make my community safer
2010 IDP camp residents (%) 2009 general population (%) 2010 general population (%)
Strongly agree 53.0 28.0 30.1
Agree 40.1 43.2 50.0
Disagree 5.0 11.1 7.7
Strongly disagree 1.8 17.7 5.9
Don’t know 0.2 0.0 6.3
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0
Sources: Small Arms Survey (2010); University of Michigan (2009)
Table 8.11 Collecting illegal guns from their owners would make my community safer
2010 IDP camp residents (%) 2009 general population (%) 2010 general population (%)
Strongly agree 49.3 43.9 49.0
Agree 46.0 45.2 47.6
Disagree 2.8 2.3 2.2
Strongly disagree 1.6 1.4 1.2
Don’t know 0.4 0.0 0.0
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0
Sources: Small Arms Survey (2010); University of Michigan (2009)
Specifically, respondents frequently expressed support for government-led measures to regulate access and use of
firearms. More than three-quarters of all respondents in 2010 (whether IDP camp residents or the general population)
either agree or strongly agree that more control over the issuing of firearm licences would make their communities
safer (see Table 8.9). Likewise, more than 80 per cent of all respondents in 2010 also agreed or strongly agreed that
harsher punishments for illegal weapons possession would improve community safety (see Table 8.10). Finally, almost
all asserted that arms collection programmes would make their community safer (see Table 8.11). In qualitative inter-
views conducted in 2009 and 2010, many expressed frustration that wealthier segments of society are not held to the
same standards as the rest of the population when firearms are concerned.
Addressing armed gangs and groups
As noted above, the issue of firearms and weapons misuse is widely considered a major security issue in Haiti. Indeed,
roughly half of all respondents said there were too many guns in society today. But these weapons are unevenly
distributed throughout society, and it matters fundamentally which groups are perceived to be armed. When the
general population was asked in 2010 which segments of society had too many guns, they most often named ‘criminal
groups’ (74.1 per cent), ‘business people’ (65.1 per cent), and ‘ex-soldiers’ (45.7 per cent). The least commonly named
included ‘politicians’ (2 per cent), ‘households’ (1.8 per cent), and ‘armed political groups’ (4 per cent).46
Table 8.12 Outlawing armed groups would make my community safer (2009)
Strongly agree 35.0
Agree 38.3
Disagree 6.5
Strongly disagree 20.2
Total 100.0
Source: University of Michigan (2009)
Although ‘armed gangs’ and ‘political groups’ were seldom identified as responsible for violence in recent years,
crimes were often attributed to them in the past. In order to ascertain public assumptions about violence attribution
and responsibility and what steps could make communities safer, respondents were asked whether outlawing ‘armed
groups’ would improve security. In 2009, 73.3 per cent either agreed or strongly agreed with this statement (see
Table 8.12); after the earthquake this figure decreased slightly, with 69.6 per cent of the general population either
agreeing or strongly agreeing.
One approach to reducing violence among ‘armed groups’ was pioneered by the Brazilian NGO Viva Rio in Port-
au-Prince. Focusing on Bel Air, informal ‘peace accords’ were agreed between warring factions in order to reduce
homicidal violence. Communities reporting a decline in homicide rates were rewarded with primary school scholar-
ships and neighbourhood parties. When asked whether these peace accords between armed gangs were effective at
increasing community safety, 47 per cent either agreed or strongly agreed in 2009 (though this percentage was signifi-
cantly higher among survey respondents living in or around Bel Air; see Table 8.13). Since the earthquake, this figure
increased slightly; in 2010, 55.4 per cent either agreed or strongly agreed.
Table 8.13 Peace accords between armed gangs would make my community safer (2009)
Strongly agree 25.4
Agree 21.6
Disagree 30.3
Strongly disagree 21.6
Refused to respond 1.1
Total 100.0
Source: University of Michigan (2009)
Figure 8.4 Since 2004, supporters of Aristide committed a lot of violence in my community
2009 2010
Strongly agree
Strongly disagree
01020304050 708060 90 100
Percentage of respondents
Sources: Small Arms Survey (2010); University of Michigan (2009)
Approaches to addressing so-called ‘political groups’ are more complex. For the purposes of this chapter, infor-
mation about the particular role of political groups in perpetrating violence and crime was collected through public
opinion questions, from the attributed ‘perpetrator’ for crimes committed against household members in the previous
five years, and through additional qualitative questions to respondents. Overall, both quantitative and qualitative
data collected in 2009 and 2010 indicates that political groups were engaged in violence and crime during 2004,
2005, and 2006, though this involvement appears to have steadily tapered off since early 2007 (Moestue and Muggah,
2010; Muggah, 2010b).
Political groups were not named for any of the crimes reported by respondents since 2008 (political groups could
have committed crimes during these later years but in such small numbers that the survey design was unable to
detect them). Indeed, oft-quoted statements about the Lavalas party being involved in violence were not supported
by these surveys. In both 2009 and 2010, fewer than four per cent of the general population agreed with the state-
ment, ‘Since 2004, supporters of Aristide committed a lot of violent acts in my community’ (see Figure 8.4).
This chapter challenges the conventional wisdom on pre- and post-earthquake security in Haiti. It shows that Haiti
remained stable in the months following the earthquake despite impaired policing capacity and deficiencies in key
justice institutions. Far from what was expected, crime rates were also dramatically lower than predicted during the
period just after the earthquake. In fact, only 4.1 per cent of all Port-au-Prince households experienced property
violation such as theft, vandalism, or the intentional destruction of property in the six weeks after the earthquake; the
property crime that did take place was concentrated in just a few neighbourhoods and caused only modest losses.
The chapter detects what appears to be an important shift in attitudes towards the Haitian security sector since
the earthquake. While the HNP perpetrated acts of violence against the population during the 2004–06 crisis, the tran-
sition to a democratically elected government in 2007 was accompanied by a change in government policy and a
cessation of state-ordered organized violence against civilians. This change created an opportunity for the HNP to
steadily gain the trust of ordinary Haitians. While the police force remains far from perfect, in 2010 both the general
population and the residents of IDP camps identified the HNP as their preferred security provider. What is more, the
vast majority of respondents believed that strengthening police capacity would make their communities safer.
Almost 64 per cent of the general population referred to the police as the primary actors responsible for security
in 2010—up from roughly 50 per cent in 2009. Likewise, IDP camp residents echoed this sentiment, with 63 per cent
stating they would turn to the police to safeguard their security. In a country where the police were implicated in
widespread human rights violations and where the confidence in public institutions was extremely low, these findings
offer some grounds for optimism.
HNP Haitian National Police
IDP Internally displaced person
MINUSTAH United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti
1 Kolbe et al. (2010) estimates that 158,679 people in the Port-au-Prince area died during the earthquake or in the six-week period afterwards
owing to injuries or illness (95% confidence interval: 136,813–180,545). The official estimate established by the Haitian authorities is 222,500
people reported dead and some 1.3 million rendered homeless throughout the country. See GoH (2010a).
2 See OCHA (2011).
3 See Muggah (2010a).
4 See, for example, CIGI (2009; 2010) and ICG (2009).
5 Three recent efforts to begin evaluating the impact of security promotion include Moestue and Muggah (2010), Alda and Willman (2009), and
World Bank (2010).
6 See Maguire (2009a); Muggah (2010b; 2008); and Perito (2009).
7 This trend continues into 2011. For example, on 16 January 2011, ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier returned to Haiti. His effect on the country was electric.
See, for example, Cunningham and Kennedy (2011).
8 In 2006 the United States ‘eased’, but did not lift, its arms embargo on Haiti. See BBC (2006).
9 See Prengaman (2005).
10 In this context, the United States, France, and Canada led the international community’s activities.
11 By 2008, fewer than 100 of these former soldiers remained in the force, with most retiring, voluntarily moving on to other jobs, or being dis-
missed for various reasons.
12 UN Security Council Resolutions 1529 (2004) and 1542 (2004) set out the mandate of MINUSTAH; see UNSC (2004a; 2004b).
13 Author communication with rule of law programme officers, UN Development Programme, Port-au-Prince, December 2009.
14 The approach to justice system reform is drawn from the following strategic documents: the Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (GoH,
2007a); the Ministry of Justice ‘roadmap’ (GoH, 2008); the HNP Reform Plan (GoH, 2006); and the Strategic Plan for the Reform of the Prisons
Administration Directorate (GoH, 2007b)—all of which outline key priorities and areas of investment for the coming years.
15 See GoH (1987, ch. II, arts. 269-1; 272). See also the law of 29 November 1994, which describes the objectives of the police: maintenir l’ordr e
en général et de prêter force à l’exécution de la loi et des règlements (maintain order in general and assist in the execution of the law and regu-
lations) (GoH, 1994, art. 7).
16 See GoH (2010b).
17 Author correspondence with HNP authorities, December 2009.
18 Author correspondence with HNP authorities, December 2009.
19 By way of comparison, some officially reported ratios of officers to civilians include: Japan (1:443), Nigeria (1:400), and South Africa (1:318);
European countries report a ratio of roughly 1:250–300. Other developing countries’ police-to-citizen ratios are similar to Haiti’s, including Ghana
(1:1,421), Kenya (1:1,150), Mozambique (1:1,279), and East Timor (1:1,040). See UNDP (2009).
20 The HNP-allocated national operating budgets for 2006–07, 2007–08, and 2008–09 were about USD 89 million, USD 105 million, and USD 118
million, respectively. The budget for 2009–10 suffered a 20 per cent reduction in comparison with the previous budget and was insufficient to
meet the operational and capacity development requirements. Multilateral and bilateral donors, such as Brazil, Canada, Spain, and the United
States, were heavily invested in rebuilding key physical and social infrastructure, training, and promoting more responsible models of policing.
See UNDP (2009).
21 Author communication with MINUSTAH civilian personnel, January–March 2010.
22 The international norm is 2.5 m2 per detainee. See UNSC (2008a, para 38).
23 The Prisons Administration Directorate issues this dire warning: La Direction de l’Administration pénitentiaire gèr e actuellement la situation la
plus délicate de son histoire. Elle fait face à une réduction et une fragilité des infrastructures carcérales entraînant une diminution de l’espace
cellulaire (‘The current situation is the most fragile one the Prisons Administration Directorate has ever had to manage. The Directorate is facing
the decline and weakness of the prison infrastructure, which leads to a reduction in cell space’) (GoH, 2007b).
24 Author interview with Haitian prison authorities, December 2009.
25 See, for example, AI (2006), NYT (2005), Perito (2007), and Stimson Center (2008).
26 See the HNP reform plan (UNSC, 2006). The plan was developed with the technical support of MINUSTAH, the UN Development Programme,
the International Organization for Migration, and other agencies and bilateral partners engaged in efforts to strengthen the HNP.
27 See UN (2010).
28 The UN Secretary-General’s report on MINUSTAH, dated 1 September 2009, highlights that ‘although the capacity of the National Police is
gradually improving, it still lacks the force levels, training, equipment and managerial capacity necessary to respond effectively to these threats
without external assistance’ (UNSC, 2009, para. 21).
29 Author correspondence with a representative of the UN Development Programme, March 2010.
30 For example, the General Directorate was completely destroyed, depriving the high command of the ability to coordinate efficiently an imme-
diate public security response. Author communication with MINUSTAH personnel, March 2010.
31 UN (2010).
32 See, for example, Muggah (2010c).
33 See, for example, UN (n.d.).
34 For example, on 19 January 2010, the UN Security Council endorsed the recommendation made by the Secretary-General to increase MINUSTAH’s
overall force levels to support immediate recovery, reconstruction, and stability efforts. MINUSTAH was authorized 2,000 additional military
troops and 1,500 more international police (UNSC, 2010).
35 See Homeland Security Newswire (2010).
36 See, for example, MSF (2006; 2007) and research generated by the coalition Interuniversity Institute for Research and Development (INURED, n.d.).
37 See, for example, NYT (2010).
38 See, for example, AI (2010).
39 With a 95 per cent confidence interval: 6,726–14,900.
40 Others named as responsible for sexual assaults include neighbours and individuals with whom the victim had a prior relationship or non-
sexual friendship.
41 This quote and the following direct quotes attributed to respondents were taken from qualitative interviews conducted as a part of the post-earth-
quake assessment survey of the general population. This particular respondent interview was conducted in February 2010 in Port-au-Prince.
42 Author interview with a respondent, Port-au-Prince, March 2010.
43 Meanwhile, another woman praised police for their sensitive response to a local man with mental illness: ‘When a crazy man broke into our
house and scared my children, my son ran to the police station. They came straight away and, seeing that the man was not in his right mind, they
were gentle with him. They took him to [a clinic] where his wife could come for him’ (author interview with a respondent, Delmas, February 2010).
44 As described by a taxi driver from Port-au-Prince’s Delmas neighbourhood: ‘My cousin is in the police so I can call him any time and say, “Hey,
this guy stole from me” and they’ll come quick. But for the man who doesn’t have a friend in the police, he’s just out of luck. The police are
like any business. You get the best service from those you know personally’ (author interview with a respondent, Port-au-Prince, March 2010).
45 Even before the earthquake, the recruitment of the 22nd, 23rd, and 24th promotions were under way. Each batch includes 800 cadets, approxi-
mately 15 per cent of whom are female. See UN (2010).
46 Respondents were asked to identify the top two segments of society. Percentages include only those who responded positively when asked if
society had too many guns.
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Principal authors
Robert Muggah and Athena Kolbe
Royce A. Hutson, Leah James, Naomi Levitz, Bart W. Miles, Jean Roger Noel, Marie Puccio, Harry Shannon, and
Eileen Trzcinski
... René Préval was elected in February of 2006, in elections considered as free and fair by international observers, without major incidents and with considerable popular participation, of around 60 per cent (Seitenfus 2014; Norwegian Centre for Human Rights -Nordem 2006). From this period on, the UN mission had a learning process and sought to adapt to the particular conditions of violent conflict in Haiti, and empirical studies suggest that the operation delivered positive outcomes regarding the reduction of violence and the Security Sector Reform (SSR) in the period between 2007 and 2010 (Kolbe 2013;Kolbe and Muggah 2011). ...
... There are evidences showing that the credibility of the Haitian police, the PNH, improved, and that the work of Minustah, of the UNPOL as well as other efforts led by the civilian component, mainly for the inclusion of women in the police force, to improve the attention to victims of sexual violence, and projects of community policing, contributed in this sense (Kolbe and Muggah 2011;Hauge, Doucet, and Gilles 2015). 19 This can be considered an important achievement, since the PNH had historically a low credibility, for rampant corruption, human rights abuses and involvement with criminal activities (Cockayne 2014;Muggah 2013). ...
... The Haitian government, as well as the UN mission, took some time to properly answer to the emergency, while Haitians struggled to get back on their feet (Seitenfus 2014). Although after the earthquake there has been a rise in violence levels, it didn't happen immediately, as observers and commentators expected (Kolbe and Muggah 2011). Instead of widespread chaos and crime, in general people were simply trying to recover a minimal normality of life (Seitenfus 2014; Thomaz 2010). ...
The article aims to reassess the statebuilding endeavour of international interveners in the case of Haiti, from an interpretative and socio-historical perspective. First, the article analyses the existing critical literature on statebuilding and the growing literature on peacebuilding and legitimacy. Second, it introduces the case of Haiti, analysing the process of state formation and the production of the present conditions in the country. It then presents an assessment of Minustah, arguing that the lack of a local source of legitimacy, connected to a ‘security-first’ statebuilding approach, led the intervention to reinforce the predatory and undemocratic logics of Haitian politics. © 2019
... Two credible sets of surveys suggest that such changes resulted in a considerable reduction of violent crime from 2007 to 2010. They also led to an increase of public confidence in the HNP by 2008 (Muggah and Kolbe 2011, Zephyr and Seligson 2008, Zéphyr et al. 2011. Those institutional and societal changes are not acknowledged by Walby, Monaghan and other proponents of the securitization thesis. ...
Full-text available
Walby and Monaghan have argued (2011) that security assistance is the ‘dark side’ of relations between Canada and Haiti. From their viewpoint, Canada has contributed to Haiti's ‘securitization’ by reinforcing the police, prisons and border controls at the expense of human rights and development. This paper offers a more historically-grounded analysis, first by showing how the situation in Haiti and Canadian security assistance improved after 2006. Then it locates security assistance in Ottawa's whole-of-government engagement in Haiti, providing a more fine-grained critique of Canadian discourses and practices. The paper ends by situating its Canada and Haiti-specific conclusions in wider policy and theoretical debates on the security-development nexus in fragile and conflict-affected states.Dans un article traitant de l'engagement canadien dans le domaine de la sécurité en Haïti, Walby et Monaghan (2011) suggèrent que ces activités représentent le ‘côté sombre’ des relations entre les deux pays. Sombre car, par le biais de son appui au renforcement de la Police Nationale, des prisons et des frontières, le Canada contribue grandement à la ‘sécurisation’ d'Haïti. Cette communication offre une critique plus nuancée, d'abord en montrant comment la situation en Haïti ainsi que l'assistance canadienne dans le secteur de la sécurité ont évoluées après 2006. Ensuite, nous situons cette assistance sectorielle dans le cadre de la coopération pangouvernementale canado-haïtienne, afin d'offrir une critique plus pointue des discours et des pratiques canadiennes. La communication termine en situant nos conclusions contexte-spécifiques dans les débats politiques et théoriques plus larges, notamment sur l’évolution du binôme sécurité-développement dans les États fragiles et les sociétés affectées par les conflits.
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This article attempts to tease out whether human security has been integrated in institutional discourses and practices, beyond its obviously limited currency in UN Security Council debates and resolutions. It starts from the observation that the underlying priorities of a human security approach - promoting physical safety, violence reduction, human rights, control of the instruments of violence, use of child soldiers, and so forth - are increasingly showing up in these forums, even when the label of human security is formally eschewed. In fact, several governments within and outside of the Security Council, have worked hard to implement human security policies through the so-called protection of civilians (POC) agenda. In the past five years, POC has made some important progress. While the expression human security itself may not have successfully entered the lexicon of a great many member states, human security priorities manifestly have. This article demonstrates this through a critical examination of two particular cases: the UN-sponsored missions in Haiti, spaced roughly ten years apart, before and after the human security agenda emerged. Haiti is an excellent case study because it is a priority engagement of proponents of human security, and because it is a prism through which many similar peace-support operations can also be examined or compared.
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On 12 January 2010 an earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter Scale struck Haiti, causing unprecedented death, injury and destruction for an event of this magnitude. Our aim was to generate a rapid assessment of the primary consequences for the population of the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince, the national capital. During the summer of 2009 we conducted a survey of 1,800 households in metropolitan Port-au-Prince. Six weeks after the earthquake, we attempted to trace these households in order to re-interview them. The questionnaire examined mortality and injuries generated by the natural disaster, as well as the character of victimization, food security and living arrangements following the quake. Data analysis incorporated sampling weights and adjusted for clustering within households. The original 2009 survey featured a 90 per cent response rate; in 2010 we re-interviewed 93 per cent of these households. We estimate that 158,679 people in Port-au-Prince (95 per cent CI 136,813-180,545) died during the quake or in the six-week period afterwards owing to injuries or illness. Children were at particular risk for death. In the six weeks after the earthquake, 10,813 people (95 per cent CI 6,726-14,900) were sexually assaulted, the vast majority of whom were female. In the same period 4,645 individuals (95 per cent CI 1,943-7,347) were physically assaulted. Of all households, 18.6 per cent (95 per cent CI 16.6-20.8) were experiencing severe food insecurity six weeks after the earthquake. 24.4 per cent (95 per cent CI 22.1-26.9) of respondents' homes were completely destroyed. Many residents of Port-au-Prince died during or as a result of the earthquake, albeit fewer than were widely reported. More than half of the capital's population experienced moderate to severe food insecurity, though remittances are a major protective factor in promoting food security. Survivors continue to experience high levels of sexual assault and limited access to durable shelter.
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Reliable evidence of the frequency and severity of human rights abuses in Haiti after the departure of the elected president in 2004 was scarce. We assessed data from a random survey of households in the greater Port-au-Prince area. Using random Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinate sampling, 1260 households (5720 individuals) were sampled. They were interviewed with a structured questionnaire by trained interviewers about their experiences after the departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The response rate was 90.7%. Information on demographic characteristics, crime, and human rights violations was obtained. Our findings suggested that 8000 individuals were murdered in the greater Port-au-Prince area during the 22-month period assessed. Almost half of the identified perpetrators were government forces or outside political actors. Sexual assault of women and girls was common, with findings suggesting that 35,000 women were victimised in the area; more than half of all female victims were younger than 18 years. Criminals were the most identified perpetrators, but officers from the Haitian National Police accounted for 13.8% and armed anti-Lavalas groups accounted for 10.6% of identified perpetrators of sexual assault. Kidnappings and extrajudicial detentions, physical assaults, death threats, physical threats, and threats of sexual violence were also common. Our results indicate that crime and systematic abuse of human rights were common in Port-au-Prince. Although criminals were the most identified perpetrators of violations, political actors and UN soldiers were also frequently identified. These findings suggest the need for a systematic response from the newly elected Haitian government, the UN, and social service organisations to address the legal, medical, psychological, and economic consequences of widespread human rights abuses and crime.
This study examines the experience of the United Nations interventions to reform Haiti's security sector as part of a larger effort to rebuild the Haitian state. Despite multilateral attempts in the 1990s to demobilize the army, create a police force and implement reforms, the lack of elite support, insufficient judicial sector capacity and persistence of corruption led to the current resurgence of violence. The study concludes that a legitimate national dialogue with local elites, and long-term donor involvement, specifically of the United Nations, are necessary to ensure that justice, security, development and the governance sector are developed simultaneously to prevent Haiti from becoming a failed state.
Once the most lucrative European colony in the Caribbean, Haiti has become one of the most divided and impoverished countries in the world. In the late 1980s, a remarkable popular mobilization known as Lavalas, or "the flood," sought to liberate the island from decades of US-backed dictatorial rule. After winning a landslide election victory, in 1991 the Lavalas government, led by President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was overthrown by a bloody military coup. "Damming the Flood" analyzes how and why Aristide's enemies in Haiti, the US and France instigated a second coup in 2004 to remove Aristide and Lavalas for good.The elaborate international campaign to contain, discredit and then overthrow Lavalas at the start of the twenty-first century was perhaps the most successful act of imperial sabotage since the end of the Cold War. Its execution and its impact provide important lessons for those interested in today's political struggles in Latin America and the rest of the post-colonial world.
679 people in the Port-au-Prince area died during the earthquake or in the six-week period afterwards owing to injuries or illness (95% confidence interval
  • Kolbe
Kolbe et al. (2010) estimates that 158,679 people in the Port-au-Prince area died during the earthquake or in the six-week period afterwards owing to injuries or illness (95% confidence interval: 136,813–180,545). The official estimate established by the Haitian authorities is 222,500