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Haiti is particularly plagued by gender-based violence (GBV), with up to 70 percent of Haitian women having been personally affected by the crime, according to World Bank estimates. Until recently, Chief Justice Vernet Simon of the jurisdiction of Hinche had never participated in any formal training on the crime, despite the unusually high rate of GBV in his community. The same was true for his fellow magistrates. Consequently, he and his colleagues had limited understanding of GBV crimes and were unfamiliar with the related legal framework. This lack of information fueled weak enforcement and led to an especially low prosecution and conviction rate for GBV cases in Hinche. Moreover, there have been cases in which rape victims sought justice in courts that allowed perpetrators to compensate their victims with cows or other valuables.
“This training would allow me to learn more about combatting a crime that was affecting so many in Hinche.”
Chief Justice Simon knew that there had to be a better way to combat GBV. When he learned about ABA ROLI’s training in Port-au-Prince, he was excited to attend and to be able to offer a more comprehensive path to justice for vulnerable members of his community. “This training would allow me to learn more about combatting a crime that was affecting so many in Hinche,” he says. “How could I let the opportunity pass by?”
Due to its complex nature, GBV requires a multi-disciplinary approach that engages prosecutors, judges and police, for whom the U.S. Department of State-funded courses were designed. ABA ROLI developed training in partnership with the Magistrate School, the Police Academy, the Ministry of Justice and a local medical and legal non-governmental organization, Unité de Recherche et d’Action Medico-Légale or URAMEL. Magistrate Anel Joseph, president of both the Supreme Court and the High Judicial Council, who opened the workshop, emphasized that the justice sector cannot neglect GBV cases or victims’ needs.
During the training, URAMEL physicians presented on physical evidence and highlighted the prosecutorial need for a medical certificate from a licensed professional that documented the violent offense. Psychologists and sociologists proposed approaches that would not stigmatize GBV survivors during the judicial process, while lawyers discussed the importance of protecting and guaranteeing victims full rights during legal proceeding and how to establish punitive damages for such offenses. Additional discussion topics included GBV-related legislation, victim assistance services and methods for inter-institutional collaboration around such crimes.
After the training, Chief Justice Simon was determined to share what he had learned with others working to combat GBV crimes by designing a civic education program. First, the chief justice drew upon his training and collaborated with others in the justice sector to develop a presentation about GBV and how best to address such crimes in Hinche. Then he turned to radio—the most effective means of communication in Haiti—reaching out to local station Rossignol. He also took this civic education presentation to schools in the community, with the mindset that educating youth about GBV could help prevent future crimes. According to Jean-Claude Simon, head of the nearby Cerca Cavajal police station, the number of GBV cases has decreased since the civic education initiative began.
“Over the years, I have seen a lot of GBV crimes, which has been heartbreaking,” says Chief Justice Simon. “This training made me feel empowered—not only as a magistrate who can work with others in the psychological, medical and legal fields to address crimes after they occur, but also a community leader who can take a stand and educate citizens about the consequences of this horrific crime.”