The IAWJ Held a Webinar in French in Commemoration of the International Day against Trafficking in Persons

On July 30, 2020, the National Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons (CNLTP), the Magistrates School of Haiti (EMA), the Haitian Chapter of the International Association of Women Judges (CHAIFEJ) and the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ), through the support of the BEST program: “Building a Solid Environment to Eradicate Human Trafficking” (The Best program is funded by United States Agency for International Development / USAID), hosted a webinar to  commemorate International Day Against Human Trafficking. The webinar focused on the Department of State’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons report and recommendations for Haiti, as well as the situation of child domestic workers in Haiti.

Twenty-three legal professionals, representatives of organizations, and law students joined this activity to discuss this topic. The webinar aimed to discuss the importance of a multisectoral approach to ending child domestic servitude. Ending the custom will require a much broader political commitment, a commitment that supports parents and children so that they no longer face desperate choices that make child domestic servitude a tempting option for many vulnerable parents. 

The new report noted that the government of the Republic of Haiti has made progress compared to the previous period. These efforts consisted of:

  • Investigations of a greater number of traffickers;
  • Establishment of an executive secretariat to improve the monitoring and analysis of trafficking within the National Anti-Trafficking Committee;
  • Addressing the weakness of the justice system and the lack of awareness of trafficking among law enforcement officials through targeted training;
  • Pursuing labor trafficking offenses and building the capacity of alternative shelters for vulnerable minors.

However, the government failed to meet minimum standards in several key areas. The government did little to combat the system of child domestic servitude (restavek).

The webinar showcased the following panelists/speakers: Judge Jean Kesner Thermesi (Director of the EMA), Mr. André Ibréus (President of the CNLTP); Judge Maguy Florestal (Director of Training at EMA); Prosecutor Marie Paule Valentin, with Judge Joceline Casimir (Substitute Government Prosecutor for the Court of Cassation) as moderator of the panel.

Judge Florestal opened the discussion to remind participants that human trafficking/modern slavery is a serious violation of human dignity and fundamental human rights. The victims, most often women and children, are deprived of their normal life and are forced to provide sex work and service through a wide variety of coercive practices for the direct benefit of those who take advantage of them. She explained that the School of Magistrates provides initial training for judges, prosecutors, and court personnel and continues to train judicial actors in order to strengthen their capacity with regard to this heinous crime, which feeds on inequalities and instability, and conflicts. According to her, too often close relationships create impunity in the system. The law must apply equally to all. 

Judge Thermesi pointed out that judges, thanks to the initial training and continuous training at the EMA, are able to distinguish and understand the evolution of the different forms of trafficking, which is harmful to women and children, not to say the most vulnerable layers of societies. Magistrates and police officers must coordinate their efforts in order to produce results that meet the expectations of society and the international world. Justice and human rights must harmonize and strengthen themselves against all crimes of any kind because society needs them.

Judge Casimir then introduced the two panelists and offered the floor to Mr. Ibreus and Magistrate Valentin.

Mr. Ibreus spoke of the advances in the fight against trafficking at the international level, the advances at the local level, and the achievements of the Committee.

With reference to the 2020 report published by the State Department, Mr. Ibreus explained Haiti’s positioning at Tier 2. Tier 2 ranking reflects countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s (Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000) minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance. In order to encourage Haiti to put in much more effort, the State Department has made some recommendations relating to the investigation of traffickers and the prosecution of those responsible for domestic servitude.

As for the issue of servitude, in addition to the activities initiated by the Institute for Social Welfare and Research, partnerships have been developed with international actors including UNICEF within three departments: Oueste, Grande-Anse and Sud. Through these partnerships, several awareness campaigns were carried out, the list of hazardous work prohibited for children and the national action plan against child labor was finalized.

In terms of vocational training, in coordination with the National Institute for Vocational Training (INFP) and the International Labor Office, a vocational training program has been launched.

According to Magistrate Marie Paule Clairejuste Valentin, at the level of the organization of Courts in Haiti, there are quite a few obstacles preventing impartial justice from being rendered to victims of trafficking. 

The Judge mentioned four major problems that prevent victims from accessing justice. She also proposed solutions for each step. 

  • The problem of victims’ access to justice: Victims have to travel kilometers in order to seek justice. One solution is to bring justice closer to litigants, more Courts of the Peace should be placed in the most remote places of the country. 
  • The problem of how victims are received within the Courts: Court personnel can often re-victimize victims and litigants that come to the courts, deterring them from seeking justice. To remedy this problem, she suggests that the staff accredited judiciary must be better trained to accommodate all victims, with particular attention to that of trafficking and servitude.  
  • The problem of reclassifying cases: It is recognized that the magistrate has the power to reclassify offenses, which they are called upon to judge even up to the hearing. There are many officials who have a child domestic servant and is interested in trivializing the case that is brought before him/her. Since there can be bad treatment without it being a case of Trafficking in Persons, there can be rape without it being a case of Trafficking in Persons, but as soon as the constituent elements of the offense are met, the magistrate should qualify the case as such. The magistrate will therefore have to apply the law punishing trafficking in persons and TIP cases will be better documented. 
  • The problem of access to services and support for victims: Sometimes the victim is alone, without any means, the victim has no lawyer at his/her disposal, whereas the accused can have several lawyers for his/her defense. Thanks to the efforts of CHAIFEJ and other institutions working in the dissemination and awareness building on the law of 2014, people are beginning to be informed of this law. They do not want to break this law.

Magistrate Valentin ended by saying that the fight against human trafficking has already been won with the contribution of everyone as far as they are concerned. The magistrates who are called upon to apply the law must do so in a timely manner, the victims must find reparation as it should be and the aggressors must be imprisoned to answer for their crime.

You can watch the full video recording of the webinar here.