PORT-AU-PRINCE – In Haiti, gangs have made going to court so deadly that lawyers avoid it altogether . At one lower-level court, no hearings or trials have been held in months.
The President of the Bar Association in Port-au-Prince, Marie Suzy Legros, told AFP, “In February, we had seven kidnappings within our ranks and one lawyer shot,”
Hundreds of robed lawyers demonstrated outside Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s home on Friday to protest crime targeting attorneys in destitute and chaotic Haiti.
Their main demand is the relocation of the Palace of Justice. Due to its proximity to one of Haiti’s most powerful slums dominated by Haiti’s most powerful gangs, few lawyers even dare to enter this court complex.
The gangs formerly dominated these poorest of the poor areas near the seaside in Port-au-Prince. Their power grew and they became more and more dangerous, allegedly staging more and more kidnappings and murders for ransom.
So, despite the lack of resources, Haitian lawyers remain exasperated and feel particularly frustrated with the legal system.
GANGS ATTACK THE COURTHOUSE
In response to the demand to move the court building, the government said it would create a safety corridor manned by security forces so that lawyers could actually get to court. However, the plan was never implemented.
Legros explained, “Sometimes gang members go inside the court looking for accomplices or brothers, depending on what they call them, to help them escape.”
As the court system is paralyzed, Haiti’s prison overcrowding, which is among the highest in the world, gets even worse.
Prison officials report that the system has space for 3,000 inmates, however, it houses more than 11,200, of whom 80 percent are simply waiting for trials to begin, and some have been waiting long periods. Conditions at the prison are appalling as well.
LOW PAY AND CORRUPTION
Court clerks are set to embark on an open-ended strike this week, causing further damage to the judicial system.
Aine Martin, president of a national association of court clerks said:
“Our working conditions are precarious in Haiti, there is no equipment, no computers. In some courts, there is not even any paper.”
Pay is low, said Martin, at the bottom of the court hierarchy, where court employees receive as little as 150 dollars a month.
“You cannot live on that kind of wage and this is why there is so much corruption eating away at the Haitian judicial system,” said Martin.
Moreover, the courts’ deplorable physical condition is beyond belief.
According to Legros, “Because the gutters are blocked, when it rains, water with garbage flows into the court. The lawyers’ offices sometimes flood and some files cannot be saved,”
As a result of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Palace of Justice collapsed, killing more than 200,000 people.
“We broke ground on a new Palace of Justice in 2016, but since then nothing has been done,” said Legros.
“With no court, the sense of impunity grows and without justice, there is no country.”
It is well known to Legros how slowly the wheels of justice turn here. In August 2020, she became the owner of the Port-au-Prince bar when her predecessor, Monferrier Dorval, was shot and killed outside his home.
The case remains unsolved to this day.
Even the investigation into the murder of President Jovenel Moise in July 2021 appears to have failed.
In March, a fourth investigating magistrate was appointed to the case, but a month later this judge said he had yet to receive the case file or any of the resources needed to conduct his investigation.
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