September 18, 2018

ABA ROLI Assists in Decreasing Lengthy Detentions in Pilot “Garde à Vue” Program

Excessive and arbitrary detentions in police stations are unfortunately the default in Haiti’s criminal justice system. For many years, international and local human rights organizations have condemned this practice, as it violates the allowable detention timeframe established by Article 26 of the Haitian Constitution, which states the accused must be brought before a judge within 48 hours of being detained (commonly called “garde à vue”).



Members of the ABA ROLI-supported steering committee planning the police station detention pilot activity.

Through its Program to Strengthen the Haitian Criminal Justice Sector (Program), the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) is committed to decreasing the number of individuals detained beyond the 48-hour legal limit in a pilot police station. ABA ROLI’s goal was to decrease excessive pre-trial detention in the Pétion-Ville station police station by 50 percent, which it proposed to achieve by implementing best practices and procedures. Less than halfway into the Program funding period, this objective has been surpassed. The pilot “garde à vue” program has decreased excessive detentions by 93 percent.

The basis of this rests on a sample test ABA ROLI conducted in March 2016 at the Pétion-Ville police station, revealing 100 percent of individuals detained between January and March 2016 spent more than 48 hours in detention at the police station before being brought in front of the judge as required by the Constitution.

ABA ROLI supported the establishment of a steering committee comprised of the Port-au-Prince chief prosecutor, the Inspector General of the Haitian National Police (Inspection Générale de la Police Nationale d’Haïti), the Director of the West Department of Haitian National Police (Directeur Départemental de  l’Ouest), the Ombudsman (Office de protection du citoyen), the Port-au-Prince Bar Association and local justices of the peace. The steering committee worked to promote the adoption of a set of procedures and best practices to reduce lengthy detentions at police stations.

As a result of the implementation of this mechanism, the number of detainees that spend more than 48 hours in detention in the pilot police station (Pétion-Ville) has drastically declined. From March 23 to August 17, only 37 individuals out of 521 (7 percent) in “garde à vue” were detained more than 48 hours.

In order to achieve this impressive result, ABA ROLI worked with the steering committee to implement the following steps:

  • Organized meetings between police officers and the Inspector General of the Haitian National Police, during which the police were told they would be sanctioned if they did not respect the “garde à vue” detention limit.
  • Ensured that all court staff were told which procedures to follow, including the establishment of a duty office for justices of the peace to oversee the police station, and a weekly report on “garde à vue” that is to be sent to the prosecutors’ office.
  • Ensured that the three prosecutors in charge of Port-au-Prince “garde à vue,” together with a representative of the Ombudsman, regularly visit the Pétion-Ville police station.
  • Supported the High Judicial Council’s (Conseil Supérieur du Pouvoir Judiciaire) Judicial Inspection Unit in conducting an inspection of the Pétion-Ville Justice of the Peace court, which revealed several deficiencies in the court, resulting in changing the head of the court.

“This initiative is so successful that it has to be implemented in the entire country,” said Me Jean Danton Leger, the Chief Prosecutor of Port-au-Prince. He proposed first expanding it gradually to the police stations in Port-au-Prince, beginning with Delmas, which is struggling with “garde à vue” delays. ABA ROLI will assist the steering committee in implementing the successful program in other Port-au-Prince police stations.

ABA ROLI activities in Haiti are funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.  To learn more about our work in Haiti, please visit www.abaroli.org, or contact ABA ROLI at rol@americanbar.org.