Nearly a week after a powerful Haitian gang attacked and occupied the country’s Supreme Court building, reports suggest that police have still not retaken the courthouse, displaying authorities’ inability to deal with expanding criminal groups.
On June 14, the Palais de Justice, the highest seat of the Haitian judicial system, was still occupied by heavily armed members of the “5 Seconds” (5 Segond) gang, one of the two main crime groups from the Village-de-Dieu neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, unnamed government sources told news outlet Le Nouvelliste.
On June 10, the courthouse had been the scene of a brutal assault, as gang members equipped with automatic weapons raided the building and allegedly stole evidence, including drugs, weapons and money. Judicial staff escaped by scaling a wall, while two armoured police vehicles covered their exit.
Hours later, Haiti’s Minister of Justice and Public Security, Berto Dorcé, attempted to downplay the incident and assured media that security forces had quickly regained control of the area.
“[The gang] fired on the court from a distance but could not enter. A court employee with a leg injury was taken to hospital. But currently, the police occupy the space of the court with armored vehicles,” he told Haitian press.
That claim now appears to have been debunked. Government sources who spoke to Le Nouvelliste were not able to say when security forces would expel the gang.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Palais de Justice is in the middle of 5 Seconds territory and has been robbed by unidentified intruders several times this year alone. There may be several reasons as to why the 5 Seconds gang decided to take the building.
First, publicity. Hours before raiding the courthouse, 5 Seconds gang members kidnapped 38 people from two minibuses bound for the southwestern city of Miragoane. Their leader, alias “Izo,” released a video stating the kidnappings were retaliation for the extrajudicial killing of one of his men in Miragoane last month.
In early June, the city’s commissioner caused an uproar when he confessed to having approved the murder and defiantly declared that Miragoane would “remain a cemetery for bandits.” Raiding the courthouse may be Izo’s attempt at showing his strength.
Second, money. According to a communiqué by local NGO Fondasyon Je Klere (FJKL), gang members captured seven vehicles and ransacked judges’ offices, taking everything from computers to air conditioning systems. Even the courthouse desks are apparently on sale in the square next to the building, reported FJKL.
The gang may urgently need income to buy munitions. It has now been 13 months since a vicious four-party gang war began in Martissant and ammunition prices are soaring, said Eric Calpas, a gang researcher in Haiti.
Third, police corruption. From early 2018 to late 2020, the Palais de Justice was robbed or nearly robbed 23 times, including 17 occasions in which rooms containing sensitive files were burgled without signs of forced entry. Various civil society groups have therefore raised the possibility of police involvement in recent robberies.
“The Fondasyon Je Klere (FJKL) notes, without making any links for now, that [the 5 Seconds raid has] taken place at the time when the Magistrates of the Attorney General’s Office were questioning six defendants…[for] acts of corruption at the Haitian National Police,” said the FJKL report.