10%-20&. 10%-20% are the numbers that motivate me as we gear up to work on our first project. According to the Haitian government and NGOs working in Haiti, only 10%-20% of people currently held in Haitian prisons have been convicted of a crime after a lawful trial. 10%! Most of the remaining 80%-90% are held in often excessive pre-trial detention.
The right to a speedy trial is a cornerstone right of the accused in United States law and international human rights law. The 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s very first words guarantee that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial.” This is not to say that we are perfect — recall that the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates just stated that the Obama administration would likely not meet its January 22 deadline for closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.
Our clients, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, and it’s Haitian partner organization, the Bureau Des Avocats Internationaux, among the most experienced human rights lawyers in Haiti, have partnered with Partners in Health to attack the massive problem of pre-trial detention. Their innovative solution is to address the human rights and health issues implicated by pre-trial detention at the same time. They access prisoners through roving clinics that visit the prisons to treat prisoners, and get information about their legal and medical need. They work constructively with the prison administrations and the Haitian government to fight corruption and address the pre-trial detention problem. And they then take legal action to address the most egregious legal violations.
N-Map will be providing new media support to these dedicated and courageous human rights lawyers and doctors. We will be in Haiti next week. Check back in for more detail on the project, and for some of the video that we shoot.