From March 7–9, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI)—in cooperation with the Haitian Ministry of Justice, the National Police Academy, the Magistrate School and the Medico-Legal Research and Action Unit (Unité de Recherche et d’Action Medico-Légale, or URAMEL)—conducted a workshop on sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) for 37 judges, justices of the peace, investigative magistrates, prosecutors and police officers. Held at the Magistrate School in Port-au-Prince, the training focused on effective investigation, prosecution and adjudication of SGBV cases, and covered local and international laws.
URAMEL and other human rights observers report that SGBV is one of the most serious problems that plague the Haitian society today. The World Bank estimates that as many as 70% of Haitian women have been affected by SGBV. While this form of violence predates the 2010 earthquake that ravaged much of Haiti, it has become an even larger problem in camps for people displaced by the earthquake.
Despite efforts by a number of local women’s associations to raise awareness of SGBV, Haitian courts and the justice system as a whole have failed to address this troubling phenomenon. Consequently, few perpetrators are prosecuted and convicted for SGBV-related offenses. Judicial operators’ unfamiliarity with basic techniques for collecting medical evidence and poor collaboration between key stakeholders—the police, the judiciary, legal aid lawyers, health professionals and women’s associations—limit the country’s capacity to prosecute and convict offenders.
The training was led by people with various backgrounds to underscore the multi-disciplinary approach that is required to address SGBV. A psychologist and a sociologist highlighted various approaches to ensure that victims are not stigmatized by the judicial process. The experts noted that stereotypes against women are the first barriers to overcome to ensure that victims are adequately protected before and during legal proceedings.
URAMEL physicians emphasized the importance of obtaining a medical certificate from a licensed professional to document that a violent offense was committed. They explained that cases would not likely reach the prosecutorial phase without this corroboration. Later, a URAMEL specialist introduced the growing trend of using DNA testing in SGBV cases—a method most training participants did not realize existed as a form of evidence in Haitian courts. Participants said that they were particularly interested in understanding the evidentiary requirements for admission of medical certificates as evidence.
Discussions were followed by demonstrations and mock exercises, allowing trainees to apply what they learned. Tests administered before and after the training showed a drastic improvement in the trainees’ knowledge and understanding of SGBV. ABA ROLI will coordinate with the Magistrate School and the Police Academy to hold two more SGBV trainings in 2012. ABA ROLI’s program in Haiti is supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
To learn more about our work in Haiti, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].