By Ben Buchwalter
“You make us think instead of just memorize facts,” said a fourth year Haitian law student on our last night in Jérémie, a rural coastal town in western Haiti. For the week before, the Hastings to Haiti Partnership (“HHP”), a group comprised of professors and law students from UC Hastings College of Law in San Francisco, had led a number of presentations on issues related to mediation and environmental law before a group of more than one hundred Haitian law students. HHP has visited L’Ecole Supérieure Catholique de Droit de Jérémie (“ESCDROJ”) for nearly fifteen years with the goal of strengthening the rule of law in Haiti by supporting legal education. This year, the trip was made possible partially due to a generous donation from GJEL Accident Attorneys.
Before law school, I worked at GJEL for nearly two years as Director of Client Outreach and decided to reach out to the firm for support because I knew that the firm was dedicated to supporting local public interest organizations. All of the firm’s partners started their careers in public service, and managing partner Andy Gillin frequently says “We love fighting for the little guy.”
But this year’s delegation to Jérémie was particularly close to GJEL’s daily mission. One of the main focuses of this year’s delegation was to support ESCDROJ’s new legal clinic. The purpose of this clinic is to give Haitians an opportunity to take control of their legal issues by obtaining access to legal representation without necessarily having to use the country’s overburdened court system. Once the clinic gets off the ground, it could serve as a powerful example of the potential for alternative dispute resolution in Haiti.
To support this goal, UC Hastings Professor Melissa Nelken presented a series of workshops related to negotiation. The students were asked to split up into groups of three to simulate a mediation discussion. One student acted as the aggrieved party, another acted as “the defendant,” and the third acted as a mediator. At first, the students were hesitant because this interactive format is not typically used at ESCDROJ. But the students quickly caught on and learned a great deal from the experience. A number of students told me that they consider this type of dispute resolution to be preferable to having to use the court system, and some even said that the presentations persuaded them to join the criminal clinic themselves.
This Spring 2013 delegation was one of the group’s most successful yet, particularly in terms of the amount of ground we covered. For another presentation at ESCDROJ, UC Hastings Professor Brian Gray discussed the failures of American law related to mining and resources extraction. Professor Gray focused on the lessons that Haiti can learn in order to avoid making the same mistakes as gold mining grows more prevalent throughout Haiti.
HHP members also conducted a number of interviews with government officials, police officers, and represenentatives of civil society organizations to learn more about the condition of rape laws in this rural community, particularly in relation to the de facto requirement that women obtain a medical certificate confirming that they have, in fact, been raped before having an opportunity to challenge their assailant in court. A few HHP members also led a human rights training workshop with nearly thirty Haitian teenagers. Since this was the second year leading such a workshop, it was incredible to see how comfortable the teenagers have become in terms of speaking in public and expressing their views.
As always, HHP valued the opportunity to support ESCDROJ’s criminal clinic, present other legal issues that impact the United States and Haiti, and monitor certain human rights abuses in this rural town which impact access to justice for Haitian women. Now that this delegation is complete, HHP is also excited to continue our yearlong commitment to supporting the rule of law in Haiti. This takes a number of forms, including conducting additional research and writing reports on the human rights situation in Jérémie and Haiti writ large, but also inviting some ESCDROJ students to visit San Francisco and take part in legal education at UC Hastings. This collaboration is why we are proud to have a true partnership between UC Hastings and ESCRDOJ.