What impact have irresponsible arms sales had on people’s lives in Haiti? How have groups that commit human rights violations been able to obtain weapons? This report from the Control Arms campaign examines the supply of arms to Haiti and its effect on individuals and communities. It argues that irresponsible arms transfers are fuelling atrocities in Haiti. Governments must take responsibility for the supply of arms, by agreeing a new international arms trade treaty.
Despite the presence of UN troops, armed violence continues to ravage the lives of people in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince. Poorer areas of the city have been devastated by continuous violence, including a brutal war between armed groups composed mainly of young men and teenagers. The victims have been predominantly ordinary people, who have suffered killings, rapes, kidnappings and extortion. Armed violence curtails almost every aspect of ordinary life, closing schools and hospitals and halting public transport and market activity. Haiti’s police have also been known to carry out human rights abuses and extrajudicial killings.
There are an estimated 210,000 small arms and light weapons in circulation in Haiti, most held illegally by civilians and various armed groups. Since Haiti produces no firearms itself, its armed groups depend on supplies from abroad. Analysis of the supply of weapons to Haiti reveals that:
- covert and illegal arms trafficking are common, with well-worn smuggling routes from Florida, where guns are easily available. Haiti’s ill-equipped and understaffed police and coastguard are unable to control its porous borders and long coastline;
- Haiti has received transfers of automatic weapons from the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Central America, Brazil, South Africa and Israel;
- the USA has been the largest supplier of legal and illegal arms to Haiti since the 1980s. Since 2004 the USA has made a large exception to its 1991 embargo on arms supplies to Haiti;
- there is a danger that arms supplied by the USA to the Haitian police will either be used in abuses or channelled to other armed groups; and,
- several countries, including Brazil, the UK, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland, have legally exported arms to Haiti in the past decade.
Haiti needs an international arms trade treaty (ATT). An ATT would establish global, legally-binding, minimum standards for all international arms transfers, based on principles of international humanitarian and human rights law. Subscribing countries would need to ensure that they do not transfer arms where they are likely to be used to commit human rights violations. To reduce the proliferation and misuse of arms in Haiti:
- the government must take immediate measures to prevent extrajudicial executions, investigate human rights abuses and prosecute those responsible;
- disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes aimed at creating jobs and providing motivation to abandon armed violence must be sustained once the UN mission leaves;
- there must be peaceful ways out of poverty, through access to healthcare, education, food and jobs;
- there must be movement towards the regulation of state and non-state arms supplies and permanent civilian disarmament;
- those who supply arms to the Haitian police must ensure that the police uphold standards for the use of force and firearms; and,
- smuggling of illegal weapons must be stopped and embargoes must not be broken.