Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Speech on Judicial Corruption at UC Hastings Symposium

Mario Joseph spoke at a panel in UC Hastings’ 2-day symposium on professional ethical integrity. Below is a transcript of his speech.

UC Hastings Ethical Integrity Conference: Ethical integrity Challenges Facing the Judiciary Around the Globe

February 26, 2015


First, I would like to thank faculty and staff at UC Hastings that helped make this event possible.  Thank you to Hastings Professor Morris Ratner for your assistance in organizing this important panel discussion.  Thank you to Professor Kate Bloch for organizing this conference.  Professor Bloch came to my office, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in Port-au-Prince last summer and gave a wonderful training to our lawyers and interns on ethical practices.

I would like to also thank my fellow distinguished panelists, Professor Fu Hualing and the Honorable Anthony Scirica.

It is also a great pleasure to be at this symposium with my distinguished Haitian colleagues, attorney Carlos Hercule and Dr. Jomanas Eustache.

The BAI has around 20 lawyers and legal interns. Together, we represent for free Haiti’s poor who do not otherwise have access to legal representation.  One of the BAI’s biggest projects is the prosecution of gender-based violence claims; we currently have over 500 sexual assault cases. But the majority of our cases involve trying to hold government officials and Haiti’s elite bourgeoisie accountable for corruption and exploitation of poor people. For example we represent victims of the former brutal dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier. We also represent human rights defenders and victims of police brutality.

For me as the managing lawyer of BAI, legal ethics is a relevant and very important topic.  This afternoon, I will talk about issues plaguing the Haitian legal system that we see in our cases every day, including the lack of an independent judiciary, judicial corruption, conflicts of interest, and the lack of discipline for judges and lawyers.

First, I’ll start with the lack of an independent judiciary and judicial corruption. Judicial corruption is pervasive and part of our legal culture. Bribes to police, judges and prosecutors are the norm in most cases in Haiti. It has become part of the legal culture.  Allegations of corruption are not investigated or punished, so there is little incentive to not pay or accept bribes. As Me Hercule said this morning, all lawyers must act with honesty and integrity for the benefit of the legal profession and rule of law. The practice of BAI is to not use bribes, but we are one of the few law offices with this practice.

Another part of the corruption is the political interference with the justice system. The following are examples of the lack of an independent judiciary. All of these are my cases now.

The first case is the prosecution of former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier and his regime.  There is no political will to prosecute this case. Haitian President Michel Martelly replaced the prosecutor and investigating magistrate on the case when he took office in 2011.  A few months later, the political violence charges against Duvalier were dismissed. I represent 8 victims in the case.  I started receiving death threats when I denounced the judge’s arbitrary dismissal as politically-motivated. We appealed the case to the appellate court.  Fortunately, after six months of evidentiary hearings and legal argument, the appellate judges reinstated the case. But the Martelly administration continues to obstruct justice.  For example, they refuse to release critical documents to the court’s investigation, stalling the proceedings.

Another example is with Judge Lamarre Belizaire. Judge Belizaire was appointed by President Martelly even though he was not qualified to be a judge under judicial rules.  Belizaire did not meet Haiti’s 5-year legal experience requirement for judges.  He was also disbarred by the Port-au-Prince Bar Association for 10 years for his illegal pursuit of political dissidents, thanks to the courageous work of Me Carlos Hercule.  Judge Belizaire was appointed by President Martelly to handle politically sensitive cases, such as baseless criminal charges against human rights defenders.

For example, last August, Judge Belizaire opened an investigation involving 10-year old money laundering and drug trafficking charges against former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who heads Haiti’s most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas. Lavalas is one of sixteen political parties arbitrarily excluded from the 2010 election. Judge Belizaire’s investigation targeted many members of Lavalas. An arrest warrant remains pending against President Aristide, even though no evidence has been presented of his culpability.

Judge Belizaire also handles a case against lawyer and political opponent André Michel. Attorney Michel, who has repeatedly denounced the President’s handling of election procedures, was detained and unlawfully arrested in October 2013 following harassment and death threats. Michel also brought corruption claims against President Martelly’s wife and son. Last August, Michel and his two clients were indicted by Judge Belizaire for murder without any formal investigation.  Fortunately the Appellate Court overturned the indictment late last year.

Lastly, there is the case of Mayor Jean-Morose Villiena. Villiena is a corrupt mayor in a small remote town in the south of Haiti.  Mayor Villiena ordered the murder of several human rights defenders in his town, and burned down 30 homes of people who opposed his corrupt and illegal conduct. After hearing all of the evidence from dozens of witnesses, the investigating magistrate recommended the Mayor and 20 of his accomplices be tried for murder and attempted murder. But the trial judge refused to prosecute the Mayor. Today the Mayor is a free man, as are most of his accomplices responsible for the crimes. Meanwhile the victims of his crime live in terror of another violent attack and the indignity that the murderers of their family members are free.

The lack of discipline for judges is also a significant problem in Haiti. The Superior Council of Judicial Power (CSPJ) was established in 2012, and is charged with appointing judges, investigating complaints of judicial misconduct, and disciplining judges. There are some ethical attorneys on the CSPJ, but unfortunately it has become a politicized council. Judges are nominated by the Martelly administration in an irregular manner that violates ethics and the Constitution, often done based on political alliances, and without the consent of the CSPJ.  The CSPJ is used as a political tool of the Haitian government, such as by appointing members of the electoral council and unqualified Supreme Court justices.

The CSPJ should create a technical body that tracks the judges’ decisions and the length of time judges take to render the decisions to evaluate each judge’s performance.  This will help prevent judges’ performance from being based solely on political factors.


In conclusion, the result of our corrupt judicial system is that lawyers feel like they need to play the game in order to be respected and win cases.  BAI lawyers sometimes complain that they will never win our cases without bribing. We need to work twice as hard and be twice as skillful as our opposing counsel.  But as we’ve seen with many of our case, many Haitian judges and prosecutors are ethical, justice can prevail, and we do win.

Our clients and the Haitian people are well aware of the blatant corruption and political interference. The result is a lack of confidence in the justice system.  With each case that the BAI brings, whether it is on behalf of rape victims, political prisoners, or victims of the Duvalier regime, we are trying to fight corruption and give judges the opportunity to act with integrity.

Haiti’s endemic judicial corruption and lack of political independence impacts Haiti’s poor people the most, which is most of the country.  Seventy-eight percent of Haitians live on less than two dollars a day, and most will be exploited by their employer, landlord, business partner, husband, or police officer.  Most human rights victims will not know their legal rights and will not have legal representation to defend their rights.

The lawyers and judges in Haiti must stand up to fight the corruption in our justice system. It is not easy, but we must do it one case at a time. We must teach ethics in law school and train lawyers and judges about ethical practices to change our legal culture.

Thank you again for inviting me to speak on this distinguished panel about such an important and relevant topic.

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