A panel including Haiti’s former Minister of Justice René Magloire discussed the future of justice in Haiti at the College of William and Mary’s Marshall-Wythe Law School Monday.
Speaking through a translator, Magloire, who served as Minister of Justice from 2006 to 2008, said that the
earthquake that struck Haiti Jan. 12 severely damaged the rule of law in the country.
“As you’re well aware, the three branches of government have been devastated by the Jan. 12 earthquake,” Magloire said. “In regard to judicial institutes, they have sustained multiple damages.”
The Ministry of Justice was particularly affected. Only 60 of 300 employees have been able to work.
“Most of them didn’t even have clothes to go to work,” Magloire said.
Magloire said restoring judicial foundations would be a key factor in Haiti’s recovery from the destruction caused by the earthquake.
“Two weeks ago, [Haitian] Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive stated it would take up to four to five years to bring the country back to where it was Jan. 12,” Magloire said. “Justice must not be stopped.”
Professor Louis Aucoin of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University agreed with Magloire, saying that Haiti would be thrown into deeper turmoil if the rule of law was not quickly reinstated.
“You can’t neglect justice,” Aucoin said. “Even if it seems like it’s secondary, it isn’t. The criminals will seize this opportunity and crime will rise. That’s why we need to re-establish the judicial system as quickly as possible.”
While restoring legal functions will be important for Haiti’s recovery, according to Magloire, the country’s justice system has not always been an effective or organized institution. He said Haitians have long desired some kind of judicial reform.
“The judicial reform appears to be essential to establish a society based on laws,” he said. “It is especially necessary for the development of state laws so desired by the Haitian people. … Now the question is, ‘how do I establish the state laws in Haiti?’ Before answering these questions, we must take stock.”
The selection and performance of unqualified candidates for judicial positions, like judges, has been criticized by many Haitians. Aucoin said that many “juges de paix” — justices of the peace — in Haiti had massive jurisdictions and wide latitudes to exercise their legal powers.
“There’s been an immediate action on the part of the Minister of Justice to go out and assess,” Aucoin said. “It will definitely professionalize the judiciary in the aftermath of the earthquake.”
Magloire listed several points of possible reform, including strengthening the capacity of judiciary schools,
reforming Haiti’s criminal and penal codes and restructuring the Ministry of Justice itself.
“Implementation of these reforms requires materials and resources that the Haitian state does not possess at all,” Magloire said. “The challenge is huge.”
Aucoin said that any reforms should be extensively planned and Haiti-centered, rather than implemented on the country by foreign organizations.
“The other thing is the need for strategic planning,” Aucoin said. “I think there has been a lot of strategic planning already. A lot of the plans are there.”
While the path to recovery may take time, Magloire said that the Haitian people must not give up hope for judicial reforms and national healing.
“Despite the tragic events, we must continue the epic journey to justice,” Magloire said. “Like the moral of King Christophe, ‘I am reborn from my ashes.’”