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Posted Thursday, June 10, 2010
A plan before a congressional panel that is intended to prod the Haitian
government to clean up its justice system could end up blocking funds for some
U.S.-backed judicial-reform programs in the earthquake-ravaged nation. The
proposed Senate Appropriations Committee measure takes aim at alleged killings
at the overcrowded prison in Les Cayes, (Signs
of cover-up after killings in Haiti prison)Haiti, in the wake of the deadly
Jan. 12 quake.
|U.S. Moves to Block Some
Funding for Haiti
The Haitian government said it is investigating a jail riot in the days after
the quake in which some prisoners died, but it hasn't elaborated on the
circumstances. The United Nations has launched an investigation into the alleged
shootings by guards of dozens of prisoners during the escape attempt. The
Appropriations proposal, put forth by Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont,
says that in light of the incident at Les Cayes "no funds ... should be
obligated for justice programs in Haiti until a thorough, credible and
transparent investigation occurs, the results of which are made publicly
available, and the [Haitian government] takes appropriate action." The language,
while not binding, is still powerful and would likely be honored. If the
proposal is approved, at least one U.S.-backed justice-reform program in Haiti
expects to shut its doors, according to people close to the group. For more than
a decade, Sen. Leahy, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, has
pressed for Haiti to shape up its badly corrupt justice system. Judges in Haiti
are frequently no-shows for court hearings, and many prisoners languish in
detention without being charged with crimes, experts on Haiti's justice system
"Reforming Haiti's dysfunctional justice system is an urgent necessity,
requiring more than good intentions," said David Carle, a spokesman for Sen.
Leahy. "The United States has spent many millions over the years trying to do
that, with few if any positive results. This pattern has to change." The
incident in Les Cayes was a prominent example of the Haitian justice system's
problems, Mr. Carle said, and merits a tough stance to prevent money being
wasted until the Haitian government can show it wants to change. Alice Blanchet,
a special adviser to Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, said the
inspector general of the Haitian National Police and the police department in
the city of Les Cayes are investigating the incident. "It is really sad to have
this situation block any funds that could come at a time when it's most needed,"
The riot in Les Cayes was first brought to light when an article in the New York
Times accused Haitian authorities of fatally shooting unarmed prisoners and then
trying to cover up the killings.
Because of Sen. Leahy's proposal, one program that was just getting up and
running has notified staff that it is likely to close next month. The program,
ProJustice, is financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development and run
by San Francisco-based DPK Consulting.
According to DPK's website, ProJustice trains Haitian judges in overseeing
property disputes, in dispute resolution and in protection of minors who have
become human-trafficking targets. It also aims to help the government update its
criminal code, offer infrastructure improvements to courthouses, give legal aid
to the poor and try to reduce pretrial detention, which experts say is often
misused in Haiti.
Officials at DPK and a spokeswoman at USAID declined to comment. A person
familiar with ProJustice's work said its contract was for about $20 million, to
be spent over five years with its funds paid in installments. It has enough
money to pay workers through July 7, and after that likely will need to fire its
24 staff members as well as support staff, this person said.
A U.S. government official said funding for the group was in flux and that it
was possible the program could remain open with a sharply curtailed mission.
"Congress also needs confidence that the U.S. officials who administer these
programs have the expertise to ensure that U.S. tax dollars are used well," said
Mr. Carle, Sen. Leahy's spokesman.
Some legal experts question whether severing funding would have the intended
effect on a justice system in which suspects can't post bail and prison
conditions are squalid.
"This kind of circular reasons of we'll give you help then abandon you is a
profoundly sad situation," said Gerald Shargel, a New York criminal-defense
attorney who has researched the Haitian justice system. "At the end of the day
the Haitian people are simply left to suffer."
Write to Dionne Searcey at
Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Reprinted from The Wall Street Journal of Thursday, June 10, 2010.
Stoppable, Haiti Preval to jam more radio stations, also assassinate earthquake
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