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Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

Haiti Declares Emergency Following Mass Prison Breakout


Mon 04 Mar 2024 | 05:43 PM
Israa Farhan

The Haitian government announced a state of emergency and a nighttime curfew on Sunday to curb a wave of violence triggered by a gang attack on the country's main prison, resulting in the escape of thousands of inmates.

The government stated that the emergency measures, including a curfew from 6 PM to 5 AM, effective from Sunday until March 6th, will be applied in the western region, encompassing the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The measures aim to "restore order and take appropriate actions to regain control of the situation," the government explained. The statement was signed by the Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Economy, Patrick Michel Boivert.

The mass escape from the National Penitentiary in the Haitian capital, attacked by armed gangs late Saturday into Sunday, resulted in at least ten fatalities, as reported by a non-governmental organization and an AFP correspondent.

Haiti, a Caribbean nation already grappling with severe political, security, and humanitarian crises since the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in 2021, finds its security forces overwhelmed by gang violence controlling large parts of the country, including the capital.

The government disclosed on Sunday that the police were unable to prevent gangs from releasing a significant number of prisoners held on charges of "kidnapping, murder, and other crimes." Media reports vary on the number of escapees, ranging from hundreds to all of the detainees, totaling about 3,700.

Several people were injured in Saturday's attack, according to the government, but multiple media reports also mention fatalities.

Another attack was reported on a prison in Croix-des-Bouquets, east of the capital, with unclear outcomes regarding potential escapes.

The Miami Herald, citing the local UN office, reported that 3,696 individuals were detained in the capital's National Penitentiary.

The government's statement did not specify the number of escapees, but the Haitian Human Rights Defense Lawyers Association noted that fewer than 100 prisoners remained inside.

The Miami Herald detailed that the gangs had prepared their attack using drones to scout the prison guards' movements and determine the optimal time for the assault.

Gang violence in Haiti has escalated since interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry's recent visit to Kenya for talks on an international police operation.

After months of negotiations and legal debates, representatives of both countries signed an agreement on the police operation on Friday.

As per the agreement, the Kenyan government will send 1,000 police officers to assist in curbing violence in Haiti. During the Prime Minister's absence, criminal gangs paralyzed public life in parts of the Haitian capital, including shootings at the international airport, leading to the deaths of several police officers.

It's reported that numerous gang leaders were detained in the overcrowded Port-au-Prince prison, alongside suspects involved in President Moïse's assassination.

President Moïse was fatally shot with 12 bullets in his home on the night of July 7, 2021, with investigators indicating that around 20 Colombian mercenaries carried out the murder on behalf of several masterminds. The full circumstances of the assassination remain unclear.

According to UN estimates, brutal gangs control about 80% of Haiti's capital and are increasingly expanding their influence to other parts of the country.

The UN reports that about half of Haiti's 11 million population is suffering from acute hunger, with violence exacerbating the already unstable supply situation.