As their country explodes into chaos, two lawyers fight for the lives of all Haitians.

For weeks, a crisis has been brewing in Haiti. Armed gangs have broken into prisons and attempted to take control of vital infrastructure such as the main airport and roads to the capital. Prime Minister Ariel Henry agreed to resign after The gangs threatened civil war. if he stayed in power. In light of these recent events, it is evident that the foundations of the State are crumbling. In addition to political instability, institutions such as the justice system are struggling to maintain order in the face of escalating violence and anarchy.

In the heart of Port-au-Prince, in the middle of the current and ongoing humanitarian crisistwo determined lawyers, Atzer Alcindor and Jean Bonald Golinsky Fatal, are beacons of hope.

For the past year, the Human Rights Lab, the social justice organization they founded, has championed the cause of justice and representation in a legal system beset by corruption and deep inequality. His organization offers free legal advice and represents people in court who are in vulnerable situations and cannot afford a lawyer. In 2023, this included more than 20 female survivors of gender-based violence and 60 detainees subject to abusive pretrial detention, held in overcrowded penal institutions.

Now, more than ever, the continued work of people like Alcindor and Fatal is of immense importance. Their efforts not only shed light on the pressing issues currently plaguing Haiti, but also underscore the urgent need to strengthen and stabilize the country’s fragile institutions.

The call to justice

Fatal, a boisterous and talkative 50-year-old, comes from a family full of activism. His career took a decisive turn in 2008 after an unfair dismissal from a public service position over his union organizing efforts. This event prompted him to return to school to study law. Even now, his deep commitment to union leadership continues to inform and shape his advocacy approach.

A methodical, detail-obsessed man, Alcindor, 35, has devoted much of his practice to pro bono cases with the help of legal assistance programs. His introduction to human rights law in 2018, during an internship at the Port-au-Prince Bar Association, revealed the grim conditions in Haitian prisons. which are severely overcrowded and poorly maintainedigniting in him a deep passion for justice.

The two met shortly after Alcindor’s internship. while participating in various training programs with Lawyers Without Borders Canada. Both came from backgrounds where inequality is fought with care and compassion, they explain, and they soon decided to continue reforming the system from within to promote greater equity, this time together. “We quickly became brothers,” Alcindor recalls when talking about their collaboration.

In the heart of Port-au-Prince, in the midst of the current #humanitarian #crisis in #Haiti, two determined #lawyers, Atzer Alcindor and Jean Bonald Golinsky Fatal, who founded the #HumanRights Laboratory, stand as beacons of hope.

Shortly after starting to work together, Alcindor and Fatal took on a heartbreaking case of gender violence. They represented a young woman against her father accused of incest. Her father was a police officer who worked as security for the First Lady of Haiti at the time. (In Haiti, it is common for police officers to work as personal security for high-level people, such as judges and government officials.) The girl, who was only 16 years old, had been repeatedly raped by her father since she was 12 years old; At one point, he even threatened to kill her if he shared her truth. Together, Alcindor and Fatal achieved what seemed impossible: the attacker was convicted of rape with aggravated circumstances.

Reflecting on this, Fatal explains: “When you are a police officer or work for an important public figure, you often consider yourself untouchable in Haiti. Our goal was to demonstrate that no one, regardless of their position, is above the law.” This case, which culminated in a life sentence for the father, set a significant and never-before-seen precedent, as violence against women in Haiti, particularly when the attacker is in a position of authority, is often subject to impunity. It also further solidified the lawyers’ commitment to seeking justice for the underdog.

“It’s about people’s lives, rights and freedom,” says Fatal.

First line

In their work, Alcindor and Fatal have the mission of fighting against the discrimination and corruption they regularly face. in the justice system in a way that many other lawyers do not, either because it is a lot of work or because they themselves benefit from corrupt practices. Most of Alcindor and Fatal’s cases come to them either from a women’s shelter established in Port-au-Prince or from the Citizen Protection Office, a public office that acts as an ombudsman, addressing complaints against members of government agencies. and monitors human rights. conditions of rights. In addition to the legal advice they provide to survivors of sexual violence and detainees in poor conditions, Alcindor and Fatal’s work includes exposing and combating abuses of power.

A particularly striking recent example of their determination to tackle corruption is a case in which they took successful legal action against a prosecutor and, as a result, removed him – a rare occurrence. The prosecutor, who mishandled a rape case by refusing to send it to the investigating judge for investigation, released the accused in front of his accuser, who was pregnant from the rape. Moments earlier, during a preliminary interrogation in his office, the prosecutor had even begun to ask the woman why she was dressed so attractively, openly implying that he had caught her attention.

“Several people present were shocked by such comments from a prosecutor,” recalls Alcindor.

“These are cases that we believe should not go unpunished,” says Fatal. “This is an excellent example of impunity, corruption and poor governance of the justice system,” she says, referring to the prosecutor’s behavior.

Fatal and Alcindor filed an official complaint and did not desist until they reached the attorney general’s office. After a few months, the prosecutor was suspended indefinitely.

Fatal explains that there is an entire network of individuals who depend on the unscrupulous practices they undertake in Haiti’s courts, not limited to prosecutors who do not exercise due diligence. “People come with money in hand, basically buying their own justice,” he says. There is also nepotism and other forms of bribery. According to the two attorneys, taking on these cases is emblematic of their efforts to set precedents, curb criminal behavior and strategically address deep-rooted systemic issues.

However, unsurprisingly, their efforts are often met with negative reactions. “When you take this kind of action, the whole system turns against you,” Alcindor says, reflecting on the negative comments in court he and Fatal have received after incidents like these.

“Some judges, commissioners and even lawyers turn against you,” adds Fatal.

A bullet once hit the dashboard of Fatal’s car while he was driving to work, adding to the daily pressure both men face. They still don’t know if the bullet was aimed at Fatal or if it was random.

As a result of their tireless advocacy, Alcindor and Fatal have seen small changes in the behavior of previously corrupt judges and prosecutors. Some are now tending to take a more cautious approach to their activities, reflecting a greater awareness of scrutiny. “Although they have not stopped their questionable practices, it can no longer be done openly,” says Alcindor.

Forgotten behind bars

An important part of Alcindor and Fatal’s work, perhaps born from Alcindor’s early days as a lawyer, involves defending those who are imprisoned without charge or representation. In Haiti, it is estimated that more than 80 percent of prisoners have never seen a judge., based on data from 2023. Most of the prisoners the two lawyers have represented since 2019 lost their files in the 2010 Haiti earthquake, meaning they have literally been forgotten in prison. Each year, the justice system also arrests more people than it can process, resulting in overcrowded prisons lacking basic needs. The number of prisoners exceeds the designed capacity of prisons in more than triple And these people, often ignored, suffer from conditions far beyond the human.

Inside the prisons, the smell is almost unbearable, since the prisoners do not shower regularly, Alcindor says, and they do not eat much either. In just three months last year, 73 prisoners, out of 11,800, died, mainly due to diseases related to malnutrition. In the space of more than five years, Alcindor and Fatal, with the support of Lawyers Without Borders Canada, have successfully freed more than 500 illegally detained prisoners. In one case, a man named Destin was released after spending 14 years behind bars without appearing before a judge. “I would never forget his name,” Alcindor says, audibly disturbed.

With the help of Lawyers Without Borders Canada, which until recently was the main financial supporter of the Human Rights Laboratory, Alcindor and Fatal have developed a unique approach to obtaining the release of these detainees. They group together multiple similar cases to be treated collectively, which has made it possible to enforce the rights of more than one detainee in a single procedure.

This departure from the traditional processing of individual cases has resulted in a significant acceleration of legal proceedings. It has lightened the load on overwhelmed judges, who can now issue a single ruling covering multiple cases, and has simplified operations within the slow-moving bureaucratic system. And this type of request is also being used in other jurisdictions in the country, thanks to the work that Fatal and Alcindor have done on a habeas corpus guide that is now also used by other Haitian lawyers.

“In recent years, Canada, as a long-standing ally, has helped offer hope in Haiti. Important progress has been made that… could now be at stake,” says Taïna Noster, director of Lawyers Without Borders Canada’s Haiti office. “Haitian human rights defenders are ambitious, but the means are lacking. It is crucial to continue believing in them, to believe in justice and the rule of law.”

Alcindor and Fatal fight daily to provide free access to justice to those who would otherwise have no way to even defend a case. “If someone doesn’t have the means, they get trapped in the penal system,” says Fatal. “That’s why we created the lab.”

Amid Haiti’s corruption and failed legal system, Alcindor and Fatal’s unwavering dedication to justice not only defends the forgotten but also illuminates a path toward a more equitable future. In a country desperate for justice, they are not only lawyers but also symbols of a better future for all Haitians.

Fatal’s optimism fuels his mission: “If we had lost hope, we would have left the country by now,” says Fatal. “We believe that the system will change. [So] “Many things have already changed.”

This story was originally produced and Posted by Narratively as part of its association with Bigger than our bordersa collaboration of Canadian non-profit organizations.

Leave a Comment