Special Project on Haiti

Special Project on Haiti

In response to the massive earthquake in Haiti on January 12, 2010, which left over 200,000 dead, over 300,000 injured, and at least one million Haitian citizens homeless the Section has responded to help restore the rule of law.  The capacity of the court system was substantially diminished; at the same time, demand for legal services dramatically increased, the Section will address that need by training attorneys in legal advocacy skills.

Over the past several months, the Section of Litigation reviewed the ways in which it might assist with the restoration and improvement of the Haitian justice system.  We reached out to, and had productive conversations with, several of the key organizations working in Haiti to revive and strengthen the justice system, including the International Senior Lawyers Project (“ISLP”), the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (“IJDH”), the ABA Rule of Law Initiative, and Avocats sans Frontieres.  We have been in contact with the Deputy Minister of Justice for Haiti, who has indicated an interest in and willingness to support Section efforts in Haiti. 


Through our research, we determined the areas of greatest need is legal training.  Lawyers in Haiti pursue a legal career immediately after high school, such that many of the lawyers working in these legal aid offices are closer to interns than practicing attorneys.  These lawyers benefit immensely from training and supervision provided by volunteer senior lawyers.  The Section of Litigation and the American Bar Association have extensive experience providing training and educational seminars to foreign lawyers.  In 2008 and 2009, the Section held two conferences for lawyers from Darfur, providing training on the International Criminal Court and on advocacy skills.  These trainings were highly successful and received support from the MacArthur Foundation, as well as from numerous NGOs.  In light of this experience, the Section is in a strong position to provide similar training and education to lawyers in Haiti. 

Below is our current plan for the training sessions.

  • Timing and Location.  We will host a training in Spring 2011.  The training will take place in-country, in Haiti. 

  • Haitian participants for the training.  The Section will convene a large group – twenty to thirty Haitian lawyers – for a short, intensive skills training with their U.S. lawyer counterparts.  The Haitian attendees could be selected from legal aid offices. 

  • U.S. participants for the training.  For the U.S. faculty members, the Section will identify lawyers skilled in advocacy and in legal education, who would bring particular expertise to the conference that would benefit the Haitian lawyer-students.  The Section also will seek lawyers who speak French and/or Creole and could serve as informal (unpaid) interpreters for the Haitian students.

  • Curriculum.   Based on our research, we have identified several important areas in which training would be extremely beneficial:  (i) advocacy skills, both written and oral; (ii) conflict resolution and mediation, which we understand would be useful as an informal tool for lawyers while the justice system gets back on its feet; and (iii) basic civil law principles, with a focus on, for example, property, disability, and family law issues that have arisen and become critical in Haiti following the earthquake.

All programs will be taught using a combination of formal lecture presentations and small group exercises, interspersed with guest lectures and social events.  All lecture presentations will be interpreted as necessary into Creole in order to be understood by our Haitian attendees.  In the small group exercises, each group would be assigned an interpreter to help facilitate the dialogue between the American and Haitian lawyers. 


Finally, in addition to our instructional objectives, portions of the seminar would be used to allow the lawyers to voice and discuss the significant obstacles they face in the Haitian system and strategies for change.