Religious Sisters in Danger
Six Catholic nuns were taken hostage alongside an unknown number of others by criminals on Friday in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.
The six religious sisters belonging to the Sisters of Sainte-Anne Congregation were captured after armed criminals hijacked the bus that was transporting them before driving the bus to an unknown location.
His Holiness, Pope Francis, called for the release of the religious sisters in his Sunday Angelus prayer.
No information is currently known about the kidnappers.
A Rise in Crime
Haiti has been struggling with a massive wave of violent crime following the assassination of the nation’s president, Jovenel Moïse, in 2021. Following the death of the president, various gangs in Haiti took to the streets, wrestling nearly complete control from authorities in a series of struggles that resulted in nearly 80% of the nation falling under the control of gangs, according to the nonprofit Assessment Capacities Project.
Following the spike in crime, Haitian citizens previously formed several vigilante groups in response to massacres against various villages in the country.
One such group is known as “Bwa Kale,” meaning “peeled wood” in Haitian Creole. The group was founded sometime in April 2023 after the lynching of at least a dozen gang members following the group seizing the gang members from police custody.
“This party didn’t have any long guns with them,” Louis-Henri Mars, director of the Haitian peacebuilding non-profit Lakou Lape, told CBC in a segment about the formation of Bwa Kale in May. “They only had pistols in their rucksacks, and when they were stopped, the police disarmed them.”
A crowd quickly gathered at the scene. “The police felt the pressure, or they felt threatened by the crowd, and they basically released those guys to die,” Mars continued. “And the crowd stoned them and burned them to death, and this was the start of it.”
Following the formation of Bwa Kale, Haiti saw a “dramatic reduction of kidnappings from April 24 to May 24, 2023… and other manifestations of gangs’ violence,” CARDH, a non-profit Haitian civil society organization that reports on human rights in Haiti, reported. Cardh further reported that an estimated 160 alleged bandits were lynched or burned alive across the country following the group’s formation.
CARDH suspended its operations in November following attacks against those affiliated with the organization.
This decrease in violent crime did not last long, however, as 362 kidnappings were reported in CARDH’s third quarter report, an increase of 141.33% compared to the second quarter, which consisted of 150 kidnappings. It is unclear what provoked the increase in abductions following the formation of Bwa Kale; some theorize that the Haitian gangs launched counterattacks following the lynchings by Bwa Kale, while others believe the group’s numbers decreased.
However, with the formation of vigilante groups such as Bwa Kale, some worry that the groups may worsen the ongoing crisis in Haiti.
Some allege members of the group took advantage of the chaos to target rivals, misrepresenting them as bandits before killing them.
An International Response
Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry requested a multinational task force be sent to Haiti to assist in the restoration of order within the island nation in October 2022 after a criminal gang known as G9 and Family, led by a former police officer, took control of a fuel depot in the Port-au-Prince.
The Prime Minister’s pleas were not answered until a year later, when the UN Security Council approved the creation of an international force on October 2nd, 2023.
The international force is set to consist of forces from Kenya, Jamaica, Belize, Chad, Senegal, and Burundi. However, Kenya’s High Court blocked the deployment on the grounds that it may be unconstitutional before announcing the court would be issuing a final ruling on January 26th.
The spike in crime also coincides with the expiration of a political accord that placed Ariel Henry as the leader of the nation. A multitude of both citizens and political opponents have called for the Prime Minister’s resignation, claiming he has done little to bring order back to Haiti. Among those who challenge him are Guy Philippe, a former rebel and police chief who was convicted of money laundering and conspiracy to smuggle cocaine in the U.S., as well as Moïse Jean-Charles, leader of the Pitit Dessalines party.
Despite the nearly three-year vacancy in the Presidential Office, dates for elections have not been announced.