BAI just launched the Pak Elektoral (Electoral Pact) to support democracy in Haiti. The Pact comes from BAI’s Civic Engagement Program: During the program, many communities spoke of seeing candidates only during elections and never again after they got elected, unless it was time for another election. They also discussed the necessity for strategies to make candidates keep their promises after elections. Together, they created the Pact. Mario Joseph, Managing Attorney of BAI, invites other organizations to use the Pact too, so they can engage candidates on human rights questions.
May was a great month for human rights collaboration at the BAI office in Port-au-Prince. From presentations by human rights legends to student delegation visits, there was a strong focus on examining human rights problems in Haiti, and working together towards solutions.
One of the most memorable presentations came from BAI’s Managing Attorney Mario Joseph, who treated a group of students from Centenary College of Louisiana to a passionate talk on BAI’s Civic Engagement Program and the struggle for human rights in Haiti. Two of these students shared their reflections on the visit and their appreciation for those who are fighting for justice in Haiti, despite the odds and lack of recognition.
Centenary College junior DeiAnna Hall wrote, “People like him inspire me to become a person who looks to help, not for the sake of myself, but for those who aren’t fortunate enough. With so many corrupt things going on in this world and especially in Haiti, I find the BAI to be a blessing. So, as in the [words of] Mario Joseph, for whenever there is an attempt to stop the advancement of people and the community, “Nou la,” which means “We’re here.”
Junior Rebecca Thompson echoed these thoughts, writing, “I learned that in Haiti every project should include community building. Whether it is science, philosophy, law, or any other discipline, community is central for projects to be successful here. Mario Joseph works very hard to be close to the people he wants to help and to respect what they need and want . . . Mario Joseph helped to kick that ball down the mountain, now it is gaining momentum. I will always think of him when I reach the next mountain.”
On March 8, PEC lawyers and facilitators gathered in Saut d’Eau for a community meeting in honor of International Women’s Day. Over 125 community members met to discuss the challenges women face in enforcing their rights to education and health. Representatives from grassroots women’s groups such as KOFAVIV (Commission of Women Victims for Victims) and FAVILEK (Women Victims Get Up Stand Up) spoke passionately about the disparities in access to education as well as the barriers that women who have been victims of sexual violence face in accessing the healthcare system. Many community members noted that while there have been recent reforms to the penal code and public health law regarding sexual violence, there are significant gaps in implementation.
Sunday’s meeting marked the first step in the long-term collaborative effort between Bureau des Avocats Internationaux’s PEC and its network of grassroots women’s groups. Groups such as KOFAVIV and FAVILEK have built trusting relationships within the local communities and PEC is committed to continue working with them to address the unique, intersectional problems women face in Haiti regarding the right to health and education. Concurrently, by engaging in a strategic partnership with PEC that provides education rooted in a solid legal framework, these groups seek to build their capacity and amplify their impact. Together, PEC and grassroots women’s groups are working to obtain a more just society for women in Saut d’Eau and all across Haiti.
On a rainy day in January, BAI attorneys traveled to the outskirts of Saut d’Eau to meet with community members as part of BAI’s Civic Engagement Program. Meeting face to face with community members enables BAI attorneys to gain firsthand insight into the problems specific communities are facing, and to support community-led solutions. Today, the community members chose to tackle a particularly pressing problem — access to justice.
BAI Managing Attorney Mario Joseph began by asking community members about their experiences with the Haitian legal system, and their candid answers revealed unfortunate truths about systematic barriers to justice in Haiti. Fok ou penche, one man responded matter-of-factly, “you have to bribe.” Another man answered that if you want your case to move forward, then it’s your obligation to pay a bribe to a judge. There’s simply no other way to ensure that your case will be reviewed in a timely manner, if at all.
Many community members echoed these sentiments, and their encounters with Haitian courts demonstrated how corruption had transformed from a transgression of the legal system to a law in itself. Officials within the legal system who wish to make a change often lack the institutional support to do so, whereas everyday Haitians lack the resources to speak out in a unified way.
Addressing systematic corruption in the legal system will require comprehensive reform from all actors in the legal system – which means local communities have a role to play too. Local communities can act as a first line of defense against corruption by holding judicial officials to a higher standard. Using collective action, local communities can push judges to respect their constitutional rights to have their cases reviewed. Through BAI’s Civic Engagement Program, community members in Saut d’Eau now have the resources and the space to start to develop their own strategies for tackling corruption in the legal system, and to contribute to Haiti’s development.
In 2014, a group of lawyers from Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) traveled to three low-income communities, Saut d’Eau, La Chapelle and Boucan Carré, to announce the launch of their Civic Engagement Program (CEP). Through CEP, attorneys from BAI will train facilitators – who are chosen by their local communities – in human rights law and advocacy. Upon receiving this training, these facilitators will lead meetings within their communities to assess the condition of their human rights, and develop strategies for claiming them.
Mario Joseph, the Managing Attorney of BAI, introduced the program by posing questions about the status of human rights in each community. Each time he asked “does every school-age child in your community go to school?” and “can everyone in your community easily travel to a hospital and receive care?” the community response was a resounding “no.” But Mario continued to ask these questions in order to give rise to an essential conversation: a conversation about the human rights to education and health which are enshrined in the Haitian constitution. These conversations demonstrated that although the majority of community members already knew of the poor conditions of human rights in their communities, many community members didn’t know what recourses were available to remedy these poor conditions.
By training facilitators to provide human rights knowledge to their own communities, CEP helps to fill a significant gap in Haitian civic life. CEP empowers low-income communities with the tools to develop community solutions for community problems – an opportunity which few communities in Haiti are afforded. The launch meetings of the program already demonstrate how this empowerment works in practice.
After receiving Mario Joseph’s introduction of CEP, a number of community members in La Chapelle started a discussion about the composition of the program. “We should have one facilitator for each of the three regions in La Chapelle,” said one member, “one in the lower region, one in the center, and one in the mountain region. What do you think, Mario?” Mario responded, “I think that’s up to your community to decide. You all know best.”