Gonave Island: a Joint Mission for the United Nations and the Citizen Protection Office
In tandem with the imminent departure of the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH), the Mission’s Human Rights service, which monitors human rights violations in the country, led a joint mission with the Citizen Protection Office (OPC). The idea? Expand OPC action to the most remote areas. Created by the 1987 Constitution, the OPC is an independent institution that aims to protect individuals from abuse by the public administration (article 207) in the country’s 10 departments.
OPC is an important institution for the defense of human rights in Haiti. Unfortunately, it is still not well known by many Haitians, particularly in the most isolated areas of the country. This is why MINUJUSTH Human Rights division is collaborating with OPC to ensure the continuation of activities after the Mission leaves Haiti. MINUJUSTH Human Rights Monitoring and Research officer Sabrina Cajoly accompanied OPC Inmate Protection Legal Counselor Junior Roberto Cadet, to Gonave Island. They were headed to Anse-à-Galets, where the team met local authorities and civil society representatives to present OPC work and establish contact with the population.
How did you decide to carry out this joint mission to Gonave Island?
Junior Roberto Cadet: The project was originally an initiative by MINUJUSTH. OPC Director General, Mr. Amoce Auguste, contacted me to propose this mission to the island. I quickly followed up with Sabrina Cajoly. At a personal level, it was the first time that I came to the island. Above all, it was the first time that the institution was represented there.
Sabrina Cajoly: Our objective at MINUJUSTH is to ensure human rights are respected by all, including those who live in remote areas. The Gonave Island, situated in a gulf, is hard to reach; the crossing by boat is difficult and dangerous. At the Mission we were able to use a helicopter to access the island. We took the opportunity, as part of our monitoring activities, to involve OPC. The idea was to create an opportunity for the institution to present its mandate and the type of support they can provide to the population, but also facilitate contact.
What did you notice during the mission?
S.C.: Lack of transportation to the jurisdiction in Port-au-Prince; the accused are often kept in prison longer than the mandatory 48-hour limit, which is relatively respected in the rest of the country. The Justice of the Peace, the only magistrate in the island for more than two years, is responsible for taking care of all cases, even crimes and offenses which he is not competent to judge.
Access to justice is the island’s most urgent need
Besides authorities, we also met civil society representatives. They were all unanimous about access to justice being the most urgent need in the island, particularly considering the many land conflicts. In this kind of isolated place, it is usually more likely that social and economic needs – such as access to water, health or transport –will be mentioned first. The main risk is that the population decides to do justice themselves. The Communal Sections Administration Councils call on a large number of people. With badges, they practice skills that are normally the sole responsibility of the National Police.
J.R.C.: When we arrived, we met the inspector in charge of the Police Commissariat. The building was completely destroyed by the 2010 earthquake. The Chief met us in the courtyard, around a small table under a tree. That really astonished me. I would never think that a commissariat could still be in such state. And they count on only two police officers for a population of more than 70,000 inhabitants (2009 census).
The Justice of the Peace has his own police staff, some sort of militia that he uses to ensure security in court. For some time now, local authorities as well as civil society organizations have asked for his transfer and a complaint was sent to the Superior Judiciary Council. However, according to the authorities, no action has been taken so far. I’ve also met the Vice-Delegate for the Gonave area, the highest local political authority, and the Mayor of Anse-à-Galets, who asked us why the OPC was not present in the island. I submitted my recommendations to see what can be done.
Despite the constraints, how could the OPC be established in the Gonave Island?
J.R.C.: After my visit, I presented a report to the OPC. The institution must act to respond to the protection needs of citizens in the island. The mission of the OPC is to follow up citizens' complaints with State authorities. In my recommendations, I submitted the proposal to deploy an agent to Gonave. But this, of course, has a human and financial cost. The easiest way would be to identify candidates already living on the island.
S.C.: We will accompany OPC in this project if they wish. Meanwhile, the contact has been established with local stakeholders: they can now exchange and ensure the follow-up from Port-au-Prince on the steps taken by the citizens of Gonave. We are committed to do a follow-up mission in the coming months and return to Anse-à-Galets to provide answers to the stakeholders we met.
In view of MINUJUSTH exit strategy, how does this mission ensures the transition of the United Nations human rights mandate to OPC?
S.C.: The 7th indicator of MINUJUSTH exit strategy focuses specifically on OPC support. When the Mission is not here anymore, it will be up to OPC to continue our common fight for human rights and the protection of citizens. Once MINUJUSTH leaves, the OPC may not be able to afford a helicopter to access the Gonave Island. Since this joint mission has made it possible to establish contacts in the island, the link can be maintained with this isolated region. By working together, we can improve results.
J.R.C.: OPC works to promote human rights in Haiti. Once MINUJUSTH leaves the country, the institution will take charge of human rights defense in the country. The 1987 Constitution calls on OPC to defend every citizen against any form of abuse. We are ready to work to fulfill this mission. The new Protector is sending a strong signal. For example, he has instated departmental directors. These are all focal points for OPC in different regions. Within my section, I work daily to monitor the human rights situation in the National Penitentiary, Cabaret and Carrefour prisons. OPC is on the path to the future.