The earthquake of January 12, 2010, weakened the foundations of the Haitian justice system which was already fragile. The objective of LWBC’s program in Haiti is to allow victims and members of vulnerable groups, in particular the victims of the earthquake, to access legal aid and alternative dispute resolution services.
LWBC also contributes to reducing the incidence of abusive preventive detention cases and to fighting against impunity for human rights violations.
The earthquake that took place January 12th, 2010 destroyed most of the legal infrastructure in Port-au-Prince and other affected areas and caused the death or disappearance of some of the justice sector’s key actors, weakening the basis of Haiti’s justice system, a system that was already fragile before the earthquake.
Today, the vast majority of disaster victims have not only lost their homes, but also their identity documents – if those existed- and legal and administrative documents that could attest to their rights (property deeds, rights to use land, family documents, work permits, etc.). On a daily basis, disaster victims are confronted with challenging situations in every sphere of private and public law.
In addition, in the temporary camps where more than 1.2 million displaced people currently live, civil and criminal law problems are particularly numerous. Legal abuses of the most vulnerable people, in particular women, children and handicapped people, have also increased.
In a context where the justice system is less able to resolve these legal problems, the absence of legal documents constitutes a barrier to victims' and vulnerable peoples’ ability to return to their daily lives and to satisfy their basic needs (food, health, housing, security).
While access to justice, already an issue before the earthquake, has been further reduced, the need for legal advice, orientation and representation has exponentially increased.
The restoration of a post-disaster justice is therefore one of the essential conditions to the success of the Haitian State’s reconstruction efforts. The feeling of impunity and the lack of hope in the justice system can lead to more disorder and to a deterioration of the stability and legitimacy that are necessary for the restoration of Haitian institutions.
Active in Haiti since 2006, LWBC answered the call made by its partners after the earthquake to contribute to offering victims and vulnerable groups access to front-line justice.
The program aims to provide Haitian citizens, in particular the most vulnerable disaster victims, with free access to justice and legal representation. The goal is to support the implementation of local legal services while at the same time establishing the basis for rebuilding the justice system and, if possible, influencing its reform.
To reach this goal, Haitian lawyers and members of civil society are mobilized, specifically in local legal centers located in or around some of the disaster victims’ camps, in order to offer the target population legal advice and conflict resolution alternatives (mediation, conciliation, arbitration) and, eventually, in collaboration with the relevant courts, a local or mobile enforcement body.
These activities are preceded and accompanied by legal research, training programs for lawyers, magistrates and other justice system actors, as well as activities to provide information and popular education to the disaster victims themselves.
The situation in Haiti is uniquely complex due to major logistical challenges, such as the need to first put in place the infrastructure to start the project. Nonetheless, many results have already been attained:
Disaster victims have access to legal assistance services from the Port-au-Prince Bar Association’s expanded legal assistance program, supported by LWBC. Hundreds of disaster victims have obtained death certificates for close relatives, an essential document for the normalization of civic activities (as an example, access to a bank account, the resolution of family law problems or inheritance rights can be dependent on the existence of a death certificate, the acquisition of which can be difficult in the current post-earthquake context). Many detainees, notably those facing abusive provisional detention, have benefitted from the Bar Association’s legal assistance services;
Completion of a comprehensive study on victims’ justice needs, notably in disaster victim camps. This study was carried out by the Movement of Haitian Women for Education and Development (Mouvement des femmes haïtiennes pour l’éducation et le développement or "MOUFHED");
Training program for Haitian jurists and members of Haitian civil society who are involved in providing legal assistance services and, in collaboration with the Québec Bar Association, the implementation of a support program for the initial and continuing education programs at the Port-au-Prince Bar School;
In Canada, the organization of an information and consultation session with the Québec legal community at the offices of the Québec Bar Association, implementation of a training program for volunteer cooperants from the Haiti project and conferences on the reconstruction of the justice system in Haiti.
The program is implemented in partnership with :
The Haïti program is also carried out in coordination with: