Since the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti the demand for private security in Haiti has surged, says a new report [PDF] from the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a Canadian think tank. The study finds that while many countries rely heavily on private security companies to protect people and property, Haiti stands out for its heavy use of private contractors while providing little effective government oversight.
Indeed, the security companies’ biggest clients include international organizations like the U.N., Western embassies and NGOs. But while international efforts have emphasized building and strengthening the Haitian infrastructure, the police force remains under staffed with 10,000 officers in a country of 10 million. About 12,000 guards work for private security firms.
The report, “From Private Security to Public Good: Regulating the Private Security Industry in Haiti,” observes that the growth in private security has been driven by “the critical lack of public police personnel,” leading to a 7 to 8 percent anticipated annual growth rate for private security firms. And while private security guards, often armed with shotguns or handguns, are now a commonplace sight in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince, private security firms are a surprisingly recent presence in Haiti.
Private security services were not even permitted during Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s dictatorship which ended in 1986. President Prosper Avril issued a decree two years later permitting for such businesses to set up shop. The report’s author, Geoff Burt, writes:
Haiti’s extreme economic inequality and fears of kidnapping for ransom have left wealthy Haitians anxious to protect their property and their homes. The presence of armed security personnel in the streets — whether public or private — may give some citizens a greater sense of security and order. At the same time, the most vulnerable populations — those living in refugee camps — do not benefit equally from private security provision.
The report urges the Haitian government to impose laws stipulating the roles of private security companies, create strict guidelines for the licensing and storage of firearms, and provide mechanisms for the state to oversee the industry.