With Haiti still mired in poverty and desperation, and its population often abused or ignored, the question of human rights there continues to be of paramount importance.
To address the issue, Miami Law's International Law Lecture Series recently welcomed Michael Forst, a United Nations expert on human rights in Haiti. Forst is Secretary General of the Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l'Homme de la République Francaise. He previously worked in the human rights section of UNESCO's headquarters in Paris, is a former director general of Amnesty International in France and was Secretary General of the 1998 Paris Summit for Human Rights Defenders. His appearance at the law school was co-sponsored by the International Graduate Law Programs and the Human Rights Clinic.
Haiti's severe problems are compounded, Forst said, by police officers who are dangerous and corrupt and who take bribes from drug gangs. He said a study had determined that at least 200 Haitian police officers should be dismissed from the force immediately, and that it is impossible to establish order and the rule of law unless the national police force and the judicial system are reformed. In addition, Forst said, his visit to a prison in Port-au-Prince had shown it to be in "horrible" condition, with so many prisoners crammed into cells that often only one man at a time could lie down to rest, while the rest stood.
"You would be very moved," Forst said to the students. "Can you imagine this happening two hours from Miami?"
He said also that he had visited a women's prison just down the street from his hotel in Pétion-Ville, a Port-au-Prince suburb, where he spoke with a young woman who had been sentenced to life in prison for two murders she allegedly committed when she was 14, and had already spent six years behind bars. Forst suggested that, without adequate legal intervention, any chance of an appeal or commutation was hopeless. He said it was imperative that "we all press for the rights of the people in detention" in Haiti.
"It was such a privilege for the Miami Law community to have Michel Forst come and join us as part of our International Law Lecture Series," said Jessica Carvalho Morris, director of the International Graduate Law Programs. "We all had the opportunity to hear first-hand from an independent source how the conditions in Haiti remain. Mr. Forst brought to light several of the human rights abuses taking place &ndash from police brutality to gender-based violence &ndash and the steps needed to address them."
Before Forst spoke, Morris welcomed him to Miami Law and turned the podium over briefly to Caroline Bettinger-López, Associate Professor of Clinical Legal Education and Director of Miami's Law's Human Rights Clinic, who had just returned from a trip to Haiti with two of the clinic's students. Referring to the large number of Haitians in South Florida who are subject to deportation, Bettinger-López said human rights remains "a very pressing issue, something that's very relevant in Miami."