[Dateline: Port-au-Prince | Author: DPKO/MINUSTAH]
On 12 March, a delegation from the Security Council attended the official reopening of the School for Magistrates in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. More than just a ceremony, the reopening marked an important step in the justice sector reform process, and the achievement of one of the key benchmarks in the mandate of MINUSTAH, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti.
The event was attended by the Prime Minister of Haiti, Michèle Pierre-Louis, who stated: “The training of professionals in the judicial sector is part of the larger reform policies of the Government, along with the strengthening of the justice sector and police, the fight against narcotics, money laundering, organized crime, and the restoration of state authority.”
“The presence of the Security Council at this inauguration sends a very clear message to the Haitian citizens,” emphasized Ambassador Jorge Urbina of Costa Rica, who led the delegation, during the inauguration ceremony. “We understand that there have been challenges to the implementation of laws that support the reform of the Haitian justice system, including with respect to the School for Magistrates. There has been resistance, because justice is not in the interest of everyone. But we affirm that we support very strongly the implementation of these reforms.”
Created by the Constitution of Haiti in 1987, the Magistrate’s School was first opened in 1995, but later closed in 2003 “for political and judicial reasons,” noted the director of the institution, Lionel C. Bourgouin, in his recounting of past events. The institute’s mission is to deliver the initial training programme to professionals who have been selected to become judges, and to implement continuing education programmes for judges and justice sector personnel. Completion of the training programme is mandatory, and no one can become a magistrate in Haiti without having successfully passed through the School for Magistrates, according to Mr. Bourgouin.
On the occasion of the reopening of the School for Magistrates, several officials who are presently engaged in the reform process for the Haitian justice system commented on the importance of this institution to the justice sector and the protection of human rights. Among them was the Coordinator of the Haitian Working Group on Judicial Reform, Micha Gaillard. “The School for Magistrates will provide training for judges that will result in increased professionalization. Judges who are better trained will be more efficient in their positions and will strengthen the integrity of the system. The School for Magistrates will contribute therefore to an improvement in the functioning of the Haitian judicial system,” he noted.
In the opinion of André Saint-Isert, Deputy Judge of the Peace in Pétion-Ville, and a member of the third graduating class of the school before its closure in 2003, “Because of the responsibility imparted to judges, a strong training programme is necessary. And it is the School for Magistrates that can provide such training.” For him, indeed, “no country can progress without a strong judicial system that can guarantee the rights of citizens and inspire confidence.”
The reopening of the School for Magistrates is among several ongoing activities envisioned for the reform of the judicial system in Haiti. The reestablishment of a functioning judicial training institution is the product of the implementation of the three laws concerning the independence of the judiciary, passed in 2007.
“The Haitian State has neither the capacity nor the means to effectuate the necessary reforms to the justice system without the support of the international community, working in concert with the national authorities,” emphasized Danielle Saada, Chief of the Justice Section of MINUSTAH. For that reason, “MINUSTAH participated extensively in the efforts to reopen the School for Magistrates. We supported on a daily basis the director of the school in numerous aspects, notably in forming the organizational concept for the school and in the development of the training courses. After almost two years of work to support the reopening of the school, we are delighted to witness this event.”
Ms. Saada noted in particular the significant and ongoing support to the School for Magistrates and its reopening provided by the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), the European Union and the Government of Canada.
The reopening ceremony was held at the renovated site for the School for Magistrates in the presence of several Haitian and foreign dignitaries. Among those attending were the Minister of Justice, Jean Joseph Exumé (who occupied the same post when the school was first opened in 1995), and the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Hédi Annabi.