Strikes, violence overwhelm Haiti’s crumbling judiciary

Originally published in AP News. An excerpt is below.

“A warning from a well-known judge in Haiti crackled recently over the radio: “Don’t let them arrest you, because you don’t know when you will be released from prison.”

Haiti’s justice system has long been dysfunctional. But in recent years delayed judicial appointments, a spike in violence and protests by judges and court clerks demanding higher salaries and better working conditions have overwhelmed a system in which some 80% of inmates are being held with no trial amid a rise in what activists say are illegal and arbitrary preventive detentions.

“These conditions are so unacceptable that they constitute a violation of the prohibition of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment,” the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti said in a statement this week.

Overall, some 11,000 inmates are being held in prisons across Haiti, including the National Penitentiary in the capital of Port-au-Prince, which was built for 800 prisoners but holds an estimated 3,800.


The lack of judges also contributes to a backlog in cases, he said, noting that some 40 judges once worked at Haiti’s main courthouse, compared with the 25 there now.

Brian Concannon, an adviser for the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, said not appointing judges results in fewer voices ruling against the government and sends a message to current judges that their terms won’t be renewed unless they fall in line with Moïse’s administration.

It also has the effect of politicizing the judiciary, with well-known cases involving crimes against humanity and high-ranking officials being stalled while those of few resources and power await trial in detention, said Alexandra Filippova, a senior attorney at the institute.”

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