The Guardian 30 November, 2005
Haiti: justice system in state of collapse
Two years after a US-backed coup ousted democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Haitiís judicial system is in a state of collapse. According to William Quigley, law professor at Loyola University of New Orleans, "The justice system is in shambles at this point, worse than six months ago when it was terrible ó no trials are being held and none anticipated.
"People who are arrested can only expect jail unless they are willing to try to bribe their way out. All justice is being put on hold until after the elections", slated for mid-December at the earliest.
A good case study is Father Gerard Jean-Juste, a Catholic priest associated with Aristideís Lavalas movement. Quigley spent time in Haiti last year helping defend Jean-Juste, who had been charged with "inciting violence" and other offences because, his supporters say, he opposed the US-installed regime of Gerard Latortue and stood up for the rights of the poor.
While a judge eventually threw out the charges for lack of evidence, Jean-Juste was re-arrested this year and is currently sitting in jail without being charged with any crime.
Brian D Concannon Jr, director of the Oregon-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, agrees the justice system has collapsed. "Everyone is ignoring the constitution, from the Prime Minister to the Minister of Justice, the judges and prosecutors", he said.
Another example of the justice systemís breakdown occurred recently with jailed deposed Prime Minister Yvon Neptune. After being held for over a year without being charged, Neptune finally won a court ruling that a judge should try him for his alleged offences. However, UN human rights monitor Thierry Faggart said that the constitution requires that Neptune be tried by a jury.
Faggart noted that, in general, the justice system "barely functions" and that "the state of the judiciary is so bad that people have lost all hope in it."
While critics blame the collapse of Haitiís judicial system on the countryís interim government, they also say the US and Canada share responsibility. In the report, Haiti: Human Rights Investigations, released earlier this year by the University of Miami Law School, then-Deputy Minister of Justice Philippe Vixamar told investigators that the US and Canada are playing key roles in the justice system, paying the salaries of high officials. He also said that the Canadian International Development Agency had assigned him his job and was paying his salary.
In addition, Canadian police lead the UN police mission responsible for training and overseeing the Haitian National Police (HNP), which commits regular human rights abuses, including massacres, human rights groups charge. According to the Catholic Institute for International Relations, "Many of the 5,000-strong force have links to the previous military or have been involved in drugs rackets, kidnappings, extra-judicial killings or other illegal activities." The US supplies arms to the HNP.
Concannon said that since the US overthrew Aristide in February 2004, "the human rights problems of a dictatorship have returned with a vengeance, to the great detriment of most Haitians."
Peopleís Weekly World