Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Michele J. Sison at the event “Towards a Modernization of Haitian Criminal Law”

Good morning and I am honored to be here today to discuss such an important topic as the modernization of Haiti’s criminal justice legislation with you.  It is exciting to see so many from Haiti’s government, academia, civil society, and the media gathered to discuss the future of their country’s legal system, and the impact that the new penal and criminal procedural codes will have on the rule of law in Haiti.

The rule of law serves as a pillar of any society.  Lasting prosperity requires strong rule of law and effective democratic institutions that deliver results for their people, provide economic and social opportunity, and safeguard citizens’ security.  At the U.S. Embassy, we have been proud to work with you to strengthen the rule of law in Haiti and promote laws and court systems that are fair, legitimate and accountable.  We believe in security through justice; we want to work with you to keep Americans and Haitians safe at home by countering transnational crime.

Through our State Department INL program and USAID, our work with you is designed to help reduce crime, promote public safety, and ensure that Haitian citizens have access to a functioning and fair justice system. For all of us here today this requires engaging across the entire spectrum of criminal justice, including law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, bar associations, and correctional institutions, to build a fair, transparent, and accountable justice system. A public that has confidence in the legal framework, law enforcement, its prisons, and courts strengthens the stability and resiliency of a country.  This in turn benefits the security not only of Haiti, but of the entire region, including the United States.

Well-drafted and comprehensive penal and criminal procedural codes define the operating rules in society and guarantee the rights and freedoms of citizens.  They outline the penalties for those who do not abide by the law, and regulate procedures to protect the rights of the accused in order to preserve justice for all.  Passage of updated criminal and criminal procedural codes that are consistent and coherent will ensure that the legal basis for investigations and judgments are solid, that the rights of Haitian citizens are protected, and that citizen and business sector confidence in the judicial system is increased.

Prime Minister Céant declared in the new government’s general policy statement that “the integrity of justice and the health of the economy are intimately linked.”  I strongly agree with this analysis, and with the priority that reinforcing state institutions is given in President Jovenel Moïse’s seven priority axes for development.  Adoption of these new penal and criminal procedural codes will help strengthen the rule of law in Haiti, which will in turn promote investment and economic growth.  Nations with efficient legal systems and solid legislative frameworks are more likely to attract both domestic and foreign direct investment:  strengthening of the rule of law spurs economic growth by attracting investors that value the protections offered by transparent and just systems.

Promoting stability and economic development in Haiti are top priorities for the United States.  Through our Department of State-American Bar Association project and USAID-Projustice and Justice Sector Strengthening Programs, we are pleased to have collaborated with the Haitian government for the last 10 years to support the Haitian people in their quest to modernize the penal and criminal procedural codes.

To give you an idea of the magnitude of this project, each code contains more than 1,000 articles.  I therefore want to thank Me. Rene Magloire, Me. Jean Joseph Exumé, Me. Sibylle Theard Mevs, Me. Jean Vandal, and other judicial experts who contributed to the project for their inexhaustible work that led to the drafting of these new codes.

Of course, I also want to highlight that the new codes are very much the product of a Haitian-led process.  This is important because such an expansive, modernization process of the legal system must reflect Haitian values and Haitian voices.  As our USAID Administrator, Mark Green, has aptly stated, it is citizen-centered, citizen-responsive governance that truly matters. We want to support governance that listens to every voice.  And of course, freedom must also include the freedom to be safe and secure in your own home and your own community.  That is important in the U.S. and its important here in Haiti, as well.

For that reason, the U.S. government partnered with the Penal Reform Commission and later the Senate’s Justice and Security Commission to host workshops and public consultations around the country to collect exhaustive feedback from Haitians, including representatives of civil society and legal professionals.

We are pleased to have also worked with the Port-au-Prince Bar Association, Haitian Chapter of the International Association of Women’s Judges, and Professional Association of Judges to provide technical feedback on the draft codes to Senator Senatus’ commission.

The countries most successful in implementing reforms to their penal and criminal procedural codes have been those whose governments and broad sectors of society shared a commitment to enacting the reforms.  That is why the presence here today of women and youth organizations, universities, human rights and religious groups, and business and government leaders is so important.  The successful adoption and implementation of the penal and criminal procedural codes will require everyone’s support.  Civil society has such an important role to play in this regard.

I know you are concerned about the number of individuals held in prolonged pretrial detention; we share this concern as we noted in our annual Human Rights Report. This is why our USAID Mission will continue to work with you in addressing pretrial detention through the provision of equipment, technical assistance, and improved case management in targeted jurisdictions.  As many of you are aware, USAID deployed Haiti’s first computerized case management information system in Fort-Liberté, Cap Haitien, Saint-Marc, Croix-des-Bouquets, and Port-au-Prince.

The adoption of the legal assistance law by the Chamber of Deputies on September 10, which will establish a national legal assistance program to help Haitians who cannot afford an attorney, is aimed at reducing rates of pretrial detention.  In this regard, I am pleased to announce that this year we will be supporting the Ecole Superieur de droit de Jeremie and the University of California Hastings School of Law to provide foundational educational opportunities for the Clinique de recherche d’analyse et d’assistance légale professors and students to engage with clinical legal education, including curriculum development and clinical teaching methodologies.

I congratulate ANAMAH for hosting today’s event, and all the other stakeholders who have contributed to the development and advancement of the codes. I urge you to remain actively involved.  Again, I appreciate this opportunity to bring together different actors from across Haiti’s  justice system today for this discussion; collaboration and effective communication is crucial to developing and maintaining a fair, effective, transparent, and accountable justice system.  Your important work helps reduce the threat of impunity through support for criminal justice reform, promotion of judicial transparency, and enhancement of citizen participation in judicial reform efforts.  You have our attention and our support; we want to continue to support your work to strengthen Haiti’s legal framework, protect citizens’ lawful rights, and increase accountability and oversight within the justice system.  The United States will continue to support Haitian efforts to adopt and implement these important codes as soon as possible.  We agree with you that they will help strengthen the rule of law and provide an environment conducive to Haiti’s long-term prosperity, economic growth, and development.  Thank you.