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Police Murdered and Burning Courthouses: Haiti’s Judiciary Under Assault

HAITI / 2 AUG 2022 BY DOUWE DEN HELD EN

The burning of a courthouse and murder of a police detective by one of Haiti's largest criminal gangs is furthering the collapse of the country's judicial institutions.

On July 29, the head of the National Union of Haitian Police Officers (Syndicat National des Policiers Haïtiens - SYNAPOHA), Lionel Lazare, condemned authorities for their lack of action in protecting the family of police Inspector Réginald Laleau, who was killed on July 24.

According to local media, Laleau was shot dead by the 400 Mawozo criminal gang, right after attending a church service. The murder came following a string of clashes between the 400 Mawozo and police earlier in the day, the Jamaica Observer reported.

Laleau’s wife, Damouche Joseph, announced that she and her family had been forced into hiding due to fears that the gang would come for them too. According to Lazare, authorities have made no comment on Laleau’s murder, and the family has been given very little support.

SEE ALSO: Haiti Gang Has Occupied Supreme Court for Almost a Week

Lazare’s remarks followed including the burning of a courthouse in Croix-des-Bouquets, near Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince, allegedly by members of 400 Mawozo. This was itself in response to police operations following the murder of Laleau, Haiti Libre reported.

The fire attack was the second such attack in recent months and caused heavy damage to the courthouse as well as the loss of legal documents. In June, a separate gang took over Haiti's Supreme Court building in downtown Port-au-Prince, burning court files and evidence. The courthouse remains partially under the gang’s control.

InSight Crime Analysis

Gang attacks on state institutions and the inability of authorities to respond adequately are illustrative of the deep crisis Haiti is in.

The violence, driven by criminal organizations including 400 Mawozo, have cost the country’s police force dear, with 32 police officers reportedly murdered between the start of this year and July 28.

Meanwhile, attacks on courts have further demoralized an institution that is barely operational.

In February, four human rights organizations from Haiti and the United States submitted a report on the plight of Haiti's judiciary to the United Nations Human Rights Council (OHCHR). The report found the already challenged judiciary system had regressed since a previous evaluation in 2016.

"The judiciary remains in a state of chronic dysfunction, including due to increased political interference, threats against judicial actors, lack of resources, and persistent failures to orient itself towards and make itself accessible to Haiti’s poorest and most vulnerable," read the report. 

SEE ALSO: G9 vs. G-PEP - The Two Gang Alliances Tearing Haiti Apart

Pervasive impunity, rampant corruption, and severe staff shortages meant that little progress was being made on cases already in court, according to the report.

The country's troubled courthouses now face the additional threat of arson attacks and looting. So far, there have been no signs of a tangible state response, with authorities failing to regain full control of the ransacked courthouse in downtown Port-au-Prince.

Haitian police are also struggling to stop a wave of violence in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Cité Soleil, where ongoing battles between gangs killed hundreds in July. The mayor of Cité Soleil, Joël Janéus, told Le Nouvelliste that the state had abandoned the suburb.

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