Haiti – Establishing Legal Aid Offices
ILAC conducted a post-conflict assessment of the Haitian judicial system in January 2005, at the invitation of the UN Mission in Haiti. Because of difficult relations with the then interim government, ILAC initially decided to focus on civil society activities. In August 2006, ILAC sponsored the first meeting of the Federation of Haitian Bar Associations, in order to help the 15 local bar associations to consolidate into one national bar association. In November 2007, ILAC, UNDP and key civil society organisations held a two day hearing in Port-au-Prince to discuss the lack of confidence between civil society and the legal establishment. Close to a hundred representatives from civil society and the administration attended the hearing, including the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice and several other cabinet members as well as a number of top judicial officials.
However, the centerpiece of ILAC´s activities in Haiti since 2008 has been a nation-wide legal aid programme, the SYNAL (Systeme Nationale d´Assistance Legale), which is designed and administered by ILAC, with logistical support by the UN mission in Haiti, which also seconds key staff to the ILAC Haiti office. In November 2011, SYNAL employed some 250 Haitian lawyers in 14 offices around the country. Most of the work consists of legal aid in criminal cases. During the three years that the SYNAL has been operative, we have handled some 9 000 cases, and managed to get more than 4 000 individuals out of jail. An important contribution to the SYNAL programme is being made by the New York-based ILAC member ISLP (International Senior Lawyers Project), which provides pro-bono mentor attorneys on a continuing basis to the SYNAL offices. (The SYNAL project is highlighted by International Crisis Group report 27 October 2011, “Keeping Haiti Safe”, pp. 7-8 “The International Legal Assistance Consortium, has been important for mobilising national and donor support for legal aid. This has been crucial for creation of SYNAL.”)
Until the beginning of 2011, the entire ILAC programme in Haiti was funded by Sida. Today, the funding for SYNAL is provided by UNASUR (Unión de Naciones Suramericanas – the politicial and economic cooperation project, which brings together 12 South American countries). The money from UNASUR will enable SYNAL not only to continue the operation of the existing offices, but also to expand the number to 20, to cover all of Haiti´s jurisdictions, with 3 offices in the capital Port-au-Prince. The cooperation between UNASUR and ILAC constitutes an important break-through as it is the first time that ILAC will receive funding from a donor in Latin America.