In a historic blow to Haiti’s already dysfunctional justice system, a judicial oversight board has reprimanded more than two dozen judges for misconduct and cleared the way for their dismissal. , from corruption to gang violence to drug trafficking.
The Supreme Court of the Judiciary informed the Minister of Justice of 30 judges whose certifications will not be renewed for offenses ranging from drunkenness and theft of property to lack of moral integrity and academic qualifications to abuse of authority and facilitation of release of notorious criminals.
The corruption in Haiti’s judiciary is exposed just five months after the government’s anti-corruption unit released a report on corruption in government institutions and agencies. That report concluded that Haiti’s public administration is a cesspool of corruption in which the actions of officials and elected officials become unchecked and they do as they please without concern for the consequences.
The list of judicial supervision shows that the judiciary is no better off.
Among the judges reprimanded by the board are two investigative judges involved in two of Haiti’s most high-profile investigations: the investigation into nearly $2 billion in missing aid from Venezuela’s PetroCaribe oil program and the assassination of President Jovenel Moise.
Based on complaints, the board decided not to certify Ramoncite Accimé, who was accused of getting to the bottom of the PetroCaribe corruption scandal and was later charged with building a $500,000 home on a salary of less than $400 per month. month. The council also punished Garry Orélien, who was assigned to investigate Moïse’s July 7, 2021 murder and was later charged with corruption while conducting the investigation.
Also named: Jacques Lafontant, the chief government prosecutor in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s largest jurisdiction, and a judge on the Court of First Instance. In a radio interview Monday, Lafontant said he will not resign despite being publicly denounced for lack of moral integrity. Another notable judge who has been publicly indicted is Ikenson Edumé, the president of the national network of Haitian judges, RENAMAH.
Edumé is the brother of Josue Pierre-Louis, the current Secretary General of the National Palace. Edumé was the subject of corruption complaints about property he owned that did not match his salary.
“Firing them would be too easy. If you commit a crime, you have to pay for it,” said Marie Yolène Gilles, a human rights activist who closely monitors judicial and police misconduct. these corrupt judges; there are people who have lost their homes, their lands; there are people who have been imprisoned illegally.”
Gilles, who runs Fondasyon Je Klere of Eyes Wide Open Foundation, is demanding charges be brought against the judges. Her organization led the investigation into Accimé. On Tuesday, her organization demanded that the new dean of the courts, Chavannes Etienne, appoint a new investigating judge to conduct the investigation into the PetroCaribe corruption allegations.
“This country is so rife with corruption that if an example is not set, we will say every day ‘the justice system is no good,'” Gilles said. “Today we have the chance to get rid of some corrupt judges.”
Haiti’s justice system has long been crumbling, with inmates spending more than a decade in prison without being heard. Such illegal and arbitrary preventive detentions have increased in recent years, say activists and lawyers who invoke delayed judicial appointments, protests by clerks demanding higher salaries and gang violence because of the poor functioning of the courts.
It got so bad that in December 2020 the head of a judges’ association warned the Haitians on the radio: “Don’t get arrested, because you don’t know when you’ll get out of jail.” Things got worse in June when a notorious gang took control of the main courthouse in Port-au-Prince.
Still, that doesn’t excuse corruption among judges, say observers.
The decision not to certify the judges stemmed from a vetting process and complaints had already been filed against many of the judges mentioned. In at least one case, the judge continued to work despite previous reprimands.
Moise himself spoke shortly after taking office in 2017 about appointing 50 “corrupt judges” to the bench. During a visit to France, the then president claimed that he was forced to appoint the judges under pressure. At the time of his comment, Moïse was on a presidential visit to France and spoke about the failure of the certification and vetting process in Haiti’s justice system.
The president’s statement at the time was heavily criticized by a number of people who accused him of endangering the independence of the judiciary and seeking an excuse for his appointments while ensuring the proper functioning of the country’s institutions.
Among the president’s critics at the time was then Supreme Court Justice Windelle Coq Thélot, who is now a suspect in Moïse’s murder and is still on the run. She accused Moïse of violating the constitution and of being “incompetent.”
“In due time, the president will have to answer the questions of justice, because he has violated the constitution,” said Coq Thélot, then vice president of the Supreme Court. .
While the Supervisory Board, which currently enjoys greater autonomy, can reprimand and discipline judges, it cannot dismiss them. That task belongs to the government, which must now decide what to do with the 30 judges.
“Ariel has an important role to play in ridding the system of these corrupt judges,” Gilles said of interim Prime Minister Ariel Henry. “We think it’s time to clean up the system. We need to see if there is real political will.”
This is not the first time judges’ right to practice has been revoked. But it is the first time, observers say, that so many judges have been cited for removal at the same time.
In all, the judicial oversight body was instructed to review the files of 69 judges working in courtrooms across the country. It turned out that 31 of the jurors passed vetting. The team is still reviewing the certification of eight other judges.
In a statement, Gilles’ group said the 31 judges who passed the vetting should see it not as “an achievement, but an additional requirement of morality.”
“The country has a right to expect higher morals from these magistrates than ordinary citizens,” said Fondayson Je Klere.