Affaire Belizaire: Judicial Reform Now
Haiti’s Justice System Broken on All Cylinders
Political analysts, journalists and many observers have, for nearly a month, exhausted all analytical perspectives: legal, judicial, critical, factual or simple logic, trying to peel Belizaire Affair to its atomic substance. Many people empathized with the humiliated Haitian parliament, explicitly advocating for respect of state institutions and encouraging lawmakers to assert their constitutional authority and punish President Michel Martelly and his minions. Other people who found Deputy Arnel Belizaire’s criminal record troublesome approved of the president’s antiseptic approach to eradicating the country’s systematic bed of corruption. This point of view overlooked blatant constitutional violations and abuse of authority, arguing that criminals didn’t belong in the parliament. There is yet another group of critics who exhorted lawmakers to avoid any political crises, calling to the country’s higher aspirations: a sovereign nation stumbling on the road to recovery.
As we cast punishing stones either on President Martelly, legislators or Belizaire, we may be doing a great injustice to the country and future generations destined to live with the consequences of our actions. The various points of view accumulated from the Belizaire mess are not so distinct from each other, rather the motivating factors. Perhaps then, we need to appeal to Haitians leaders to propose long-term solutions and signal a real rupture with the past.
The commission’s report catalogued a sequence of events that few would dare to call surprising and the senate’s interpellation session varied no less. Sadly, that session revealed impunity shopping around for the best deal on a get-out-of-jail-free pass. The inconceivable assault on the Haitian Constitution became a negotiation battle to determine which friend was more important and which should fall or not. Eventually, Justice Minister Josue Pierre Louis, the sacrificial lamb, became a singular casualty in the war of reckless endangerment of an entire government, though the report singled out more than a half-dozen culprits.
A public presidential acknowledgment of his mischiefs and the firing of Thierry Mayard Paul, Minister of Defense topped the list of the committee’s recommendations. However, beyond the salivating prospects of Martelly on his knees and lawmaker’s personal satisfactions from firing government officials, how does the senate’s decision addressed corruption problems embedded in Haiti’s judicial infrastructure? Surely, there would be an element of satisfaction for some people to see Martelly, Belizaire and/or lawmakers squeal, but the laughter would be as short-lived as that of the incompetent actors of the Deputy’s arrest last month. It is imperative to identify the culprits and question their actions and judgment, but it is even more important to find comprehensive solutions that benefit the entire nation. This rare opportunity should not only benchmark the end of corruption, but also initiate judicial reforms to propel Haiti into a new era of dignity and respect.
A squealing Martelly alone would not bring necessary historical changes nor would it liberate the judicial branch from manipulations and personal vendettas. Seizing upon this opportunity, lawmakers need to introduce and pass legislation establishing an autonomous justice system capable of providing a platform for the people to redress its grievances. Today, rather than relying on the corrupted judicial system, the Haitian population uses the press to seek justice, even against government officials sometimes, a responsibility the Constitution specifically assigned to an independent judicial branch. Unfortunately however, Haitian leaders use it as a persecution or intimidation tool. This moment should be a rallying point for the entire country to launch the first and necessary step in rebuilding Haiti.
Similarly, an incarcerated Belizaire will do little to ensure fair and equal treatment for thousands of voiceless citizens caught in the dark side of a system designed to protect them, many of whom unjustly. Far from condoning Belizaire’s past transgressions, the arbitrary actions perpetrated against him place us in front of the mirror, revealing Haiti’s human rights failures and the real enemy of progress.
In spite of the severity of the current situation, some senators engaged in creative political engineering to protect friendships and personal interests. Meanwhile, the population remains anxious and neglected, awaiting the House of Deputy’s resolve once back in session the second week of January. Whether the lower house is capable of transcending vindictiveness to restore honor and dignity to its ranks through comprehensive, sensible resolutions remain highly debated in political circles. Deputies could earn the respect of its constituency and emerge as great champions of justice by maintaining the spotlight on the dark alleys of prisons where the unrepresented rots, fading away gradually. Such unprecedented actions would end unlawful and prolonged detentions structured into the Haitian judicial system.