Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI)


IJDH’s Haiti-based partner, the Bureau des Avo­cats Inter­na­tionaux (BAI), in Port-au-Prince, has helped vic­tims pros­e­cute human rights cases, trained Hait­ian lawyers and spo­ken out on jus­tice issues since 1995. The BAI used to receive most of its sup­port from Haiti’s con­sti­tu­tional gov­ern­ments, but since Feb­ru­ary 2004, it has received most of its sup­port from the Insti­tute for Jus­tice& Democ­racy in Haiti (IJDH), and no sup­port from any polit­i­cal organizations.


Victim-Centered Approach

earthquake-response-2The BAI has pio­neered a “vic­tim cen­tered approach” that com­bines tra­di­tional legal strate­gies with empow­er­ment of vic­tims’ orga­ni­za­tions and polit­i­cal advo­cacy. BAI lawyers argue in court, but also help vic­tims engage judi­cial and gov­ern­ment author­i­ties through media advo­cacy, writ­ing let­ters, meet­ings with offi­cials and even orga­niz­ing demon­stra­tions. The office helps its clients advo­cate on a global level as well, through inter­na­tional courts, media appear­ances, and help­ing orga­nize inter­na­tional cam­paigns in sup­port of its clients. BAI lawyers advo­cate beyond the con­fines of their cases in sup­port of the rule of law in Haiti.

Grass­roots Advo­cacy Component

The BAI cal­i­brated its strat­egy to the pos­si­bil­i­ties and frus­tra­tions of Haiti’s demo­c­ra­tic tran­si­tion. It under­stood that Haiti’s jus­tice sys­tem was unac­cus­tomed to pro­vid­ing jus­tice for poor vic­tims, but that it could be induced to change through the tools of demo­c­ra­tic par­tic­i­pa­tion. The BAI helped estab­lish an informed, activist grass­roots con­stituency that could hold the elected gov­ern­ment account­able and effec­tively advo­cate for jus­tice over the long term. Although Haiti’s demo­c­ra­tic devel­op­ment was, like any other country’s, slow and frus­trat­ing, these strate­gies achieved sig­nif­i­cant victories.

Raboteau Mas­sacre Trial Victory

The BAI’s most promi­nent case, the Raboteau Mas­sacre trial, was the best com­plex pros­e­cu­tion ever in Haiti, and one of the most sig­nif­i­cant human rights cases any­where in the Amer­i­cas. The trial con­victed fifty-seven defen­dants, includ­ing the top mil­i­tary and para­mil­i­tary lead­er­ship of Haiti’s 1991–1994 de facto dic­ta­tor­ship. The Raboteau case suc­ceeded because BAI clients and other human rights groups forced it through the sys­tem, step by step, a process chron­i­cled in the award-winning film, Pote Mak Sonje. The BAI had sev­eral other promis­ing cases in the pipeline at the time of the coup d’etat. The BAI’s approach has become a model for tran­si­tional jus­tice pro­grams, and was a focus of a case study at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Gov­ern­ment.

Civil Soci­ety Development

The BAI also helps NGOs in Haiti develop a strong inde­pen­dent advo­cacy capac­ity. The BAI space pro­vides grass­roots groups with tele­phones, com­put­ers and work­ing space, along with human rights report­ing train­ing, legal analy­sis, and intro­duc­tions to poten­tial for­eign col­lab­o­ra­tors. Many of these orga­ni­za­tions receive little or no sup­port, because they do not yet have the skills nec­es­sary to get on fun­ders’ radar screens (com­mu­ni­ca­tion, account­ing, even lit­er­acy). The BAI helps groups move their advo­cacy beyond the jus­tice sys­tem to crit­i­cize poli­cies that com­pro­mise the civil, polit­i­cal eco­nomic and social rights of poor Haitians, whether imple­mented by their own gov­ern­ment or by the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity. TheBAI’s train­ing pro­gram for appren­tice Hait­ian lawyers gave young lawyers the skills and ori­en­ta­tion to effec­tively rep­re­sent the poor.

Transna­tional Justice

The BAI suc­cesses are not limited to Haiti. Three mem­bers of the Army High Com­mand were deported from the U.S. to face charges for Raboteau, includ­ing the for­mer Assis­tant Com­man­der in Chief, the high­est ranked sol­dier ever deported from the U.S. on human rights grounds. The inter­na­tional grass­roots cam­paign forced the U.S. to return the FRAPH/FADH doc­u­ments stolen from Haiti in 1994.

Focus Post-2004 Coup

After the Feb­ru­ary 29, 2004 coup d’etat, the BAI switched gears from pros­e­cut­ing human rights vio­la­tors to defend­ing vic­tims of human rights vio­la­tions. The BAI rep­re­sents over 100 polit­i­cal pris­on­ers. Our legal inter­ven­tion, com­bined with polit­i­cal pres­sure on the Hait­ian author­i­ties, has led to the lib­er­a­tion of sev­eral high pro­file polit­i­cal pris­on­ers, includ­ing Catholic Priest Fr. Ger­ard Jean-Juste, sev­eral for­mer gov­ern­ment offi­cials and jour­nal­ists. The BAI also brings cases out­side of Haiti on behalf of its clients, notably before the Inter-American Com­mis­sion on Human Rights.
The BAI also helps doc­u­ment human rights vio­la­tions in Haiti. It pro­vides infor­ma­tion for reports and action alerts by IJDH, but also to jour­nal­ists, mem­bers of the U.S. Con­gress, and to del­e­ga­tions from the United Nations, the Inter-American Com­mis­sion on Human Rights and U.S. law schools, and to inter­na­tional human rights organizations.



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Institute for Justice & Democracy In Haiti
15 Newbury Street
Boston, MA 02116

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