Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Building Back Better Requires Justice and Haitian Participation



Mario Joseph, BAI,; (011) 509 3938–9831 (in Haiti, speaks French and Cre­ole)
Beat­rice Lind­strom, IJDH,; (011) 509 2943–2106 / –2107 (in Haiti, speaks Eng­lish and French)
Brian Con­can­non, IJDH, ; 541 263 0029 (in U.S., speaks Eng­lish, French and Creole)


Build­ing Back Bet­ter Requires Jus­tice and Hait­ian Participation


Boston, Port-au-Prince — Human Rights lawyers in Haiti and the United States affirm that progress in Haiti is achiev­able if Haitians are involved at all stages and the build­ing is done on a foun­da­tion of jus­tice. Despite the frus­tra­tion with the uneven progress at the 3rd anniver­sary of Haiti’s Jan­u­ary 12, 2010 earth­quake, the lawyers note that well-designed projects have pro­duced results.

Accord­ing to Mario Joseph of the Port-au-Prince-based Bureau des Avo­cats Inter­na­tionaux (BAI), “Haiti can be built back bet­ter, but only if it is built back more justly, with the Hait­ian peo­ple involved in the choice, the plan­ning and the exe­cu­tion of the projects.”

Attor­ney Joseph cites the efforts to fight rape after an increase in rapes fol­low­ing the earth­quake, espe­cially in the Inter­nally Dis­placed Per­sons (IDP) camps. The Hait­ian jus­tice sys­tem has his­tor­i­cally not pros­e­cuted rape well, but in last summer’s trial ses­sions in Port-au-Prince, 22 out of a total of 78 crim­i­nal tri­als were for rape. Of the 14 publicly-known ver­dicts, 13 were con­vic­tions, with just one acquit­tal. The BAI brought seven rape cases to trial in 2012, all result­ing in convictions.

“These cases worked because grass­roots women’s groups made them work. They par­tic­i­pated in the legal process, formed court obser­va­tion teams, and lob­bied their gov­ern­ment,” said Attor­ney Joseph. “This encour­aged Hait­ian offi­cials from police offi­cers to judges to step up and pros­e­cute rape bet­ter than ever before.”

Beat­rice Lind­strom of the Boston-based Insti­tute for Jus­tice & Democ­racy in Haiti (IJDH) stated that “this progress is sus­tain­able and has a rip­ple effect. Every­one involved has improved advo­cacy skills that can be used the rest of their lives. Pros­e­cut­ing rape frees women to par­tic­i­pate more fully in Haiti’s eco­nomic, polit­i­cal and social spheres. That ben­e­fits the women, their fam­i­lies and the coun­try.” Joseph added, “poor women vic­tims of rape—among the most mar­gin­al­ized peo­ple in the hemi­sphere, enforc­ing their rights—with a lit­tle help—within Haiti’s trou­bled jus­tice sys­tem. That is what build­ing back bet­ter looks like.”

In con­trast, another urgent need — hous­ing for those dis­placed by the earth­quake— has stalled, in large part because courts can­not deter­mine with cer­tainty who owns the land. Instead of tar­get­ing the cause of the prob­lem, using avail­able legal pro­ce­dures such as emi­nent domain and work­ing col­lab­o­ra­tively with dis­placed per­sons, the inter­na­tional com­mu­nity and Hait­ian gov­ern­ment have tar­geted IDP camp res­i­dents through ille­gal evic­tions and short term pay­offs, with­out pro­vid­ing viable hous­ing for dis­placed fam­i­lies. “These are band-aid solu­tions to a fun­da­men­tal prob­lem,” said IJDH’s Brian Con­can­non. “The prob­lem of IDPcamps sit­ting where jour­nal­ists will see them is being solved; the prob­lem of earth­quake sur­vivors with no homes is not.”

The lawyers point to a sim­i­lar dynamic in the United Nations’ response to the cholera epi­demic brought to Haiti by UN troops in 2010. Instead of coop­er­a­tively pro­vid­ing timely infor­ma­tion about the epidemic’s ori­gins, the UN with­held infor­ma­tion, gen­er­at­ing a panic that facil­i­tated the epidemic’s spread. Instead of accept­ing legal respon­si­bil­ity for its actions and pro­vid­ing the clean water and san­i­ta­tion nec­es­sary to stop the cholera’s killing, the UN has denied the facts estab­lished by the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity, includ­ing the UN’s own experts, while 8,000 Haitians died.

“Involv­ing Haitians and respect­ing the law are, in prin­ci­ple, uncon­tro­ver­sial,” accord­ing to Con­can­non. “They are just widely dis­re­garded in prac­tice, by orga­ni­za­tions that know bet­ter.” Attor­ney Joseph expressed his appre­ci­a­tion for the con­tin­ued atten­tion to his coun­try since the earth­quake, but noted that “when inter­na­tional devel­op­ment efforts in Haiti fail, it is frus­trat­ing for the world, but deadly for the poor of my country.”



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