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Haiti: Frequency of kidnappings for ransom; groups targeted by kidnappers; measures taken by the authorities to combat kidnappings (2004-2007)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa
Publication Date 14 February 2008
Citation / Document Symbol HTI102506.FE
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Haiti: Frequency of kidnappings for ransom; groups targeted by kidnappers; measures taken by the authorities to combat kidnappings (2004-2007), 14 February 2008, HTI102506.FE, available at: [accessed 29 May 2023]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Kidnappings for ransom are a main source of insecurity in Haiti (US 9 Jan. 2007, "Overall Crime and Safety Situation"; France 17 Aug. 2006). The phenomenon escalated following the violence surrounding the February 2004 departure of the former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (AP 21 July 2006; The Miami Herald 2 Nov. 2004), and the advent of the transitional government (ICG 30 Oct. 2006, 1). This type of violence has been common since 2004 (HRW Jan. 2007, 1; The Miami Herald 7 Dec. 2005). It is [ICG English version] "a relatively efficient means under current conditions to get rich quickly" (ICG 30 Oct. 2006, 8; The Miami Herald 2 Nov. 2004); for example, kidnappers reportedly made over 50 million US dollars in ransom in 2005 (Haiti Impact 8 Mar. 2007). Armed criminal gangs are generally responsible for the kidnappings (AP 21 July 2006; US 6 Mar. 2007, sect. 1.b). According to the news agency Syfia International, these gangs are often assisted by street children recruited specifically for this purpose (1 Sept. 2006).

Number of kidnappings

According to the Washington Post, at the beginning of 2007, kidnappings for ransom were still part of the Haitian daily reality (10 Feb. 2007).

The International Crisis Group (ICG) states in an 18 July 2007 report that the number of kidnappings had decreased compared with 2006, and that, although the issue of security remains a major concern, the authorities have eliminated the problem of kidnapping by criminal gangs (18 July 2007, 1, 2). The ICG cites 2007 statistics compiled by the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (Mission des Nations Unies pour la stabilisation en Haiti, MINUSTAH), showing that there were 42 kidnappings for ransom in January, 29 in February, 27 in March, 20 in April and 9 in May (18 July 2007, 31).

According to statements made by a spokesperson for the Haitian National Police (Police nationale haïtienne, PNH) as reported in a 5 September 2007 article by the Haitian Press Agency (Agence haïtienne de presse, AHP), there were 18 kidnappings in August 2007 compared with 108 in August 2006.

In 2006, 554 kidnappings for ransom were reported (US 6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 1.b). From January to November 2006, over 150 kidnappings took place in Port-au-Prince alone, according to the National Human Rights Defence Network (Réseau national de défense des droits humains, RNDDH), a Haitian organization (6 Dec. 2006). The city is seriously affected by this type of violence (HRW Jan. 2007, 1; RNDDH 28 Dec. 2006; AlterPresse 26 Dec. 2005).

In 2005, 760 kidnappings for ransom were reported; however, this number does not include the numerous cases that were not officially reported (US 6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 1.b). In fact, according to Amnesty International (AI), more than 1,000 kidnappings occurred between March and December (23 May 2006, "Background"), while Haiti Impact stated that there were 5 or 6 kidnappings per day that year (8 Mar. 2007). The number of kidnappings for ransom increased towards the end of the year, reportedly reaching 8 to 10 per day (The Miami Herald 7 Dec. 2005), based on the 241 cases listed by MINUSTAH in December 2005 (ICG 30 Oct. 2006, 5, 19). The increase in kidnappings towards the end of the year may be explained by the kidnappers' desire to raise money to buy Christmas presents (The Canadian Press 6 Dec. 2007).

Between 29 February 2004 and the start of November 2004, the PNH reportedly received 31 complaints of kidnapping-a significant increase over the number of cases reported during the period preceding the departure of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (The Miami Herald 2 Nov. 2004). Moreover, according to the police, many cases of kidnapping were not reported; many people do not trust the police, and some people do not report kidnappings for fear of being subjected to reprisals by the criminals (ibid.).

From 2004 to 2006, an escalation of kidnapping-related violence occurred; the cases recorded in 2004 were all resolved through the payment of a ransom (US 28 Feb. 2005, Sec. 1.b), while in 2005 and 2006, some victims of kidnapping for ransom were "tortured", killed (ibid. 6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 1.b; ibid. 8 Mar. 2006, Sec. 1.b; see also AlterPresse 23 Nov. 2006) or raped (US 6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 1.b; ibid. 8 Mar. 2006, Sec. 1.b). In November 2006, AlterPresse reported that the number of cases of kidnapping had increased and that about 10 kidnappings had taken place in two weeks in Port-au-Prince (23 Nov. 2006). Alterpresse cited some of these cases (23 Nov. 2006).

Furthermore, Haiti must also deal with cases of [translation] "simulated kidnapping" designed to extort money from the families of the individuals who have allegedly been kidnapped but who, in reality, are accomplices in the act (RNDDH Sept. 2006, 6; Alterpresse 19 Aug. 2006).

Groups targeted by kidnappers

Sources indicate that kidnappers in Haiti generally act opportunistically (US 9 Jan. 2007, "Overall Crime and Safety Situation"; The Miami Herald 2 Nov. 2004) and do not choose their victims according to nationality, race, gender or age (US Fed News 31 Aug 2007; US 9 Jan. 2007, "Overall Crime and Safety Situation"). Anyone who appears to be wealthy risks being a victim of kidnapping for ransom (ibid.; The Miami Herald 2 Nov. 2004). However, although all the victims of kidnapping for ransom in 2004 reported by Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2004 were wealthy people (US 28 Feb. 2005, Sec. 1.b), the victims of kidnapping for ransom came from all levels of society in 2005 (ibid. 8 Mar. 2006, Sec. 1.b; AI 23 May 2006) and in 2006 (US 6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 1.b). According to the Washington Post, the threat of kidnapping also hangs over street vendors (10 Feb. 2007).

Children are also targeted by kidnappings for ransom (US 9 Jan. 2007, "Overall Crime and Safety Situation"; AI 23 May 2006, "Background"; OAS 23 June 2005); the perpetrators are trying to extort money from the parents of the victims (AI 23 May 2006, "Background"; The Miami Herald 7 Dec. 2005). In the final months of 2007, the majority of kidnapping victims were children (The Canadian Press 6 Dec. 2007). In November 2007, eleven children were kidnapped, mostly in Port-au-Prince (AFP 30 Nov. 2007). In February and March 2007, eight children, most of them under four years of age, were kidnapped; three of them were later found dead (UN 30 Mar. 2007). In December 2006, about fifty children were kidnapped (AlterPresse 12 Feb. 2007). It is often family members or criminal gang members who kidnap children (The Canadian Press 6 Dec. 2007).

Foreigners are also targeted (HRW Jan. 2007, 1; AP 5 Aug. 2006; The Mercury News 20 June 2005). In May 2005, the first cases of kidnapping of foreigners since the February 2004 departure of Jean-Bertrand Aristide were reported (AFP 5 May 2005). At least 60 US nationals were kidnapped in 2006 (US 9 Jan. 2007, "Overall Crime and Safety Situation"). Haitians with family in the US are also at a higher risk (ibid.).

Measures taken by authorities to combat kidnapping

In May 2005, in order to combat kidnapping, the Haitian transitional government ordered that kidnapping be punishable by forced labour for life (RNDDH Sept. 2006, 1); under this decree, this sentence applies not only to the kidnappers but also to their accomplices (ibid.; AlterPresse 5 May 2005). According to an article published in the Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste on 8 February 2007, this provision has not been used since it came into force. However, an RNDDH report indicates that, in July 2005, a kidnapper was [translation] "sentenced to life"; it could be the first kidnapping case heard by a criminal court (Sept. 2006, 1).

In 2006, the government of René Préval implemented the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Program (programme de désarmement, démobilisation et reintegration, DDR) (ICG 30 Oct. 2006, Sec. I). This program was linked to community development and violence reduction projects designed to [ICG English version] "create jobs, infrastructure and visible services" among the bastions of armed groups (ibid.). A National Commission on Disarmament, Dismantlement and Reintegration (Commission nationale pour le désarmement, le démantèlement et la réintégration, CNDDR) was appointed by the government on 29 August 2006 to implement the DDR (UN 19 Dec. 2006a, para. 21; see also ICG 30 Oct. 2006, Sec. I). A report by the UN Secretary General on MINUSTAH, published in December 2006, stated that, at that time, [UN official English version] "[o]nly two groups totalling 104 individuals have formally entered the disarmament and reintegration programme" and that, although the number of kidnappings had decreased, the program had not seriously affected the armed gangs (UN 19 Dec. 2006a, para. 22).

Following a rise in the number of kidnappings in December 2006, MINUSTAH launched an operation to fight kidnapping and major crimes (UN 19 Dec. 2006b; see also ICG 18 July 2007). The measures taken by MINUSTAH to fight criminal gang leaders in the shantytowns of Port-au-Prince have reportedly helped decrease the number of kidnappings (Los Angeles Times 25 July 2007).


The PNH, which is short of equipment and well-trained professional personnel, is not very effective in fighting crime (HRW Jan. 2007, 2; US 6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 1.d; OAS 26 Oct. 2005, para. 50, 51). Some sources state that there are even police officers who are involved in kidnapping for ransom (US 6 Mar. 2007, Sec. 1.d; RNDDH Sept. 2006, 3; AlterPresse 20 Dec. 2005).

The PNH has created a unit to fight kidnapping (Le Nouvelliste 21 Mar. 2007; OAS 23 June 2005) and has set up telephone hotlines where the public can report these acts of violence (Le Nouvelliste 21 Mar. 2007). However, the director general of the PNH recognizes that most people are unaware of these services (ibid.).

In addition, because of a lack of trust in the police, parents of kidnapping victims often do not report the crimes (ibid.; ICG 30 Oct. 2006, Sec. IV.A) and prefer to pay the ransom to avoid complications (ibid.). Others take the law into their own hands (US 9 Jan. 2007, "Overall Crime and Safety Situation").

Legal system

The RNDDH stated that, in the criminal proceedings in the summer of 2006, some kidnappers were [translation] "treated leniently" by the judges, who gave them [translation] "light sentences such as six or seven years ... while another defendant was sentenced to life for car theft" (Sept. 2006, Sect. VIII). Furthermore, an article published in February 2007 by AlterPresse stated that [translation] "justice in Haiti is slow to decide on cases of incarcerated suspected criminals in kidnapping cases" (16 Feb. 2007).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection.


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_____. 5 May 2005. "Série d'enlèvements en Haïti, des étrangers pour la première fois visés." [Accessed 5 Apr. 2007]

Agence haïtienne de presse (AHP). 5 September 2007. "Baisse du nombre de crimes et d'enlèvements au mois d'août 2007." [Accessed 3 Dec. 2007]

AlterPresse. 16 February 2007. Djems Olivier and Ronald Colbert. "Haïti : traque intensive des bandits par les forces nationale et internationale." [Accessed 3 Apr. 2007]
_____. 12 February 2007. "Haïti : une cinquantaine d'enfants kidnappés en décembre 2006, selon la Mission des Nations Unies." [Accessed 3 Apr. 2007]
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_____. 19 August 2006. "La simulation de kidnapping, une autre forme de banditisme expérimentée en Haïti." [Accessed 3 Apr. 2007]
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_____. 5 August 2006. Stevensen Jacobs. "Missionaries Targets of Kidnapping in Haiti: Well-Armed Street Gangs Blamed for Abductions." (Factiva)
_____. 21 July 2006. Stevensen Jacobs. "AP Interview: NC Missionary Describes 5-Day Kidnapping in Haiti." (Factiva)

The Canadian Press. 6 December 2007. "Child Kidnappings Reported Across Haiti, at Least 14 Abducted in Recent Weeks." [Accessed 30 Nov. 2007]

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The Mercury News. 20 June 2005. Stevensen Jacobs. "Kidnappings Plague Haiti; Four People Abducted Each Day in 'Urban War'." (Factiva)

The Miami Herald. 7 December 2005. Joe Mozingo. "Abductions for Ransom Soar in Haiti; Haiti Has Replaced Colombia as the Kidnapping Capital of the Hemisphere. Anyone Who Has Any Money Is at Risk of Being Snatched." (Factiva)
_____. 2 November 2004. Susannah A. Nesmith. "Kidnapping Wave a New Torment for Haitians." (Factiva)

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United Nations (UN). 30 March 2007. United Nations Information Service. "Haiti: UN to Help Local Authorities Fight Rash of Child Kidnappings." [Accessed 10 Apr. 2007]
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_____. 8 March 2006. Department of State. "Haiti." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005. [Accessed 10 Apr. 2007]
_____. 28 February 2005. Department of State. "Haiti." Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2004. [Accessed 10 Apr. 2007]

US Fed News. 31 August 2007. "State Department Issues Travel Warning on Haiti." (Factiva)

The Washington Post. 10 February 2007. Manuel Roig-Franzia. "U.N. Peacekeepers Raid Slum in Haiti." [Accessed 10 Apr. 2007]

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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