In Haiti we have a saying, “Viktwa se pou pep la!” – “Victory is for the people!” Our client “Denise” had all the cards stacked against her. She is a teenage girl who is poor and handicapped – from both the 2010 earthquake and from being violently raped. She was seeking justice from a justice system famous for being corrupt, elitist and sexist — she did not know if victory would be for her. But through hard work and collaboration with grassroots women’s groups, willing judicial officials and health professionals, we assured Denise her day in court, which led to the maximum prison sentence for her attacker.
Our legal team at the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) brought three more rape cases to trial this summer, and won all three. The trials featured many “firsts” for Haitian rape trials, including experts in medicine and psychology, and grassroots women court observers who changed the dynamics of the male-dominated courtrooms. After the trials, our collaborators at BAI Women’s Network announced at a press conference:“Impunity is no longer — justice will not give second chances to ANYONE who even thinks about committing an act of violence against women. The justice system will not play around anymore.” I am proud to say that the lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and experts in the trials were all Haitians, so this case demonstrated — to victims, the public and the justice system itself — that the system can be made to work for even the most marginalized members of our society.
We won many Victories for the People in 2012 (see booklet below). This progress not only brings justice to people who desperately need it — it transforms the unjust structures that keep my country unstable and the majority of Haitians poor and vulnerable.
These victories do not come easily. As you know, my country has its challenges. Our clients—Haiti’s poor—have been systematically excluded from the courts for centuries. The BAI’s work threatens Haiti’s unjust power structures so much that we get threatening phone calls, menacing graffiti and government harassment.
But we keep fighting, and winning, despite these obstacles. Our grassroots partners attend court sessions, meetings and press conferences and our lawyers work long hours despite the threats because they know that justice—as basic a need as healthcare or food—is both achievable and necessary for true change in Haiti. Our innovative collaboration model with our partner, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), brings resources and support from human rights groups, activists and lawyers throughout the world to the front lines of the fight for justice in Haiti.
We could not have won these victories for the people without help from our friends outside Haiti in 2012. Lawyers from the U.S. and France made our legal advocacy stronger and a host of collaborators helped us keep human rights in Haiti on the world’s radar screen.
But we need your support to keep providing free services to our clients. Our provocative cases and the challenges of Haiti make institutional funding difficult to secure, so BAI and IJDH truly depend on people like you who believe in our victim-centered approach and in justice for Haiti’s poor. Thank you for considering a generous gift of justice for Haiti’s poor—your holiday gift is so important to the people who rely on BAI’s legal services and for the long-term justice and stability for the people of Haiti.
Managing Attorney, BAI
P.S. Your gift to IJDH and BAI will help us defend even more victims of rape find justice and stop more cholera deaths.