Trainings Help Haitian Police and Judiciary Combat Kidnappings

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December 2013

Since the 1990s, kidnapping—which in many instances leads to physical and sexual abuse or even death—has been among the major challenges arising from Haiti’s political instability. National police records show that kidnapping reached a peak in 2005 with 600 reported cases. To combat such crimes, in 2009, the Haitian Parliament adopted legislation that expands search-and-seizure authority, prevents pre-trial release of those accused of kidnapping and imposes sanctions on judges who violate kidnapping-related provisions.

During the trainings, experts from the national police’s anti-kidnapping and scientific units led sessions on the various components of an investigation—including negotiation techniques, protection of families and ransom—and the use of forensic evidence.
During the trainings, experts from the national police’s anti-kidnapping and scientific units led sessions on the various components of an investigation—including negotiation techniques, protection of families and ransom—and the use of forensic evidence. 

The ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and the magistrate and police schools in Haiti are supporting the fight against kidnapping by conducting three-day trainings that focus on the 2009 legislative changes, investigation techniques and inter-institutional coordination. From late May to early September, ABA ROLI held three joint workshops for police and justice sector actors at the Magistrate School in Port-au-Prince. ABA ROLI had previously held a similar training for students of the magistrate school. A total of 156 police investigators, judges, investigative judges, prosecutors and magistrate school students took part in the four trainings. Experts from the national police’s anti-kidnapping and scientific units led sessions on the various components of an investigation—including negotiation techniques, protection of families and ransom—and the use of forensic evidence, such as blood samples and fingerprints. They later led small-group exercises that allowed participants to apply what they learned to several case studies, identifying types of offense, weighing evidence and handing down verdicts and sentences. Each group presented its conclusions to all participants. Finally, the trainers provided points of contact in each unit to ensure close collaboration between their units and the judiciary.

Tatianna Bernadel, a prosecutor from Jacmel, is one of those who took part in the September workshop. She said, “This is exactly the training I need to successfully [handle] kidnapping cases.” When asked how the training might impact her work, she recalls a prior kidnapping case. Bernadel said that she and the presiding judge were unaware of the 2009 law, which sets a minimum sentence of 15 years imprisonment for those convicted of kidnapping. Without this information, the judge followed the older criminal code and sentenced the convicted kidnapper to two years in prison.

“Like most participants, prior to the training, I could not differentiate between abduction, kidnapping and hostage taking,” said Bernadel. “I also was not aware of several critical [provisions] of the 2009 legislation that differ from standard criminal procedures, like cumulative sentences and the exclusion of pre-trial release mechanisms.” Bernadel added that the training allowed her to learn about special units within the national police “that are critical to [preparing] kidnapping cases.”

Several weeks after taking part in the workshop, Bernadel said that she has been sharing the knowledge she gained from the training with her colleagues. She has also distributed copies of training materials, including copies of the 2009 anti-kidnapping legislation to judges and prosecutors.

Jean-Miguelite Maximé, former head of the Police Academy, said that since ABA ROLI began providing its trainings, police and judges have become more efficient in dealing with kidnapping cases. Chief Justice Robert Cadet, of the Jacmel First Instance Court, another participant in the September training, said that there’s a high profile kidnapping case involving 14 codefendants pending before his court and that because of the workshop “our court is now armed to face this challenging kidnapping case.”

ABA ROLI’s program in Haiti is funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.

To learn more about our work in Haiti, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.

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