When she first visited Haiti after the earthquake in 2010, Professor Nicole Phillips remembers returning on a flight to Miami, shocked by the juxtaposition of what she had witnessed in a tent city in Port au Prince, and the manicured golf courses she could glimpse from her descending plane.
“At some point the contrast hits you, and you have to deal with it,” she said. “The suffering that was everywhere in the tent city is so unjust, but especially when you can just take a quick trip to Miami, with its resorts and amazing city planning, it’s a stark contrast.”
Eight students have been selected to visit Haiti during spring break this year as part of the Hastings to Haiti Partnership delegation. They are enrolled in Phillips’ Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Haiti seminar as preparation, and they will be making presentations to Haitian law students on human rights, the rule of law and advocacy skills. Phillips also teaches half the year at the Haitian law school founded by President Jean Bertrand Aristide (UNIFA), and is a staff attorney at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (www.ijdh.org). From her years of traveling between the two nations, she knows that the students will have a powerful experience that will require a lot of debriefing when they return.
Monday, January 12, 2015 marks the painful fifth anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that hit right near the capital of Port Au Prince, killing hundreds of thousands and displacing or affecting near three million Haitians. Five years on, the impoverished country is still on shaky ground. Tens of thousands remain in emergency tent cities, the political scene is in chaos, and the economy is stagnant, perhaps complicated by massive contributions from aid organizations.
At the time of the earthquake, the Hastings to Haiti partnership had been around for a decade. Founded by Professor Richard Boswell and Professor Karen Musalo in 1999, the partnership links the UC Hastings community to the law school, the Ecole Superiure de Droit de Jérémie (ESCRODJ), in the small rural town of Jérémie, about 180 miles west of Port au Prince. Almost every year, a UC Hastings delegation visits to meet with representatives of the governmental and non-governmental sectors, and participate in programs with Haitian students and professors at ESCRODJ. The partnership is an exchange, so professors and students from ESCRODJ also visit the UC Hastings community. On February 26-27, UC Hastings will host the Dean of ESCRODJ, Father Jomanas and one of his students at an upcoming Haitian law symposium.
This year, the UC Hastings students will help to launch the first law clinic in Haiti, which will address criminal matters and serve the local community in Jérémie. It has been many years in the making, with contributions from several UC Hastings professors, including Professor Kate Bloch, Professor Brian Gray, Professor Boswell and Professor Musalo. Phillips sees the clinic as a huge step for Haitian legal education.
“U.S. law schools are outstanding at offering hands-on experience and application of legal skills through clinical programs,” said Phillips. “That is something that UC Hastings has been pioneering and bringing to Haiti, where it is so difficult for law students to even get to law school.” She cited the fact that only 50% of Haitian children receive education, and only a small number have the access to electricity and computers and social connections to get to law school. Once enrolled, only 10% of Haitian law students actually become certified attorneys.
Phillips said that since the Haitian legal system is modeled on the traditional French civil law system, the curriculum is mostly based on theory rather than practice and skills training. Students have to pay to participate in legal internships to get practical experience, but most don’t have the financial resources. “So this new criminal law clinic, funded in part by Hastings, is critical not just for this provincial town in Haiti but also serves as a model for other law schools in the country,” Phillips added.
WIth 76% of population living on $2 or less a day, there is hardly money for the necessities of food, shelter and clean water. The rule of law is not consistent for the poor, and legal fees are out of the question, which means that most Haitians are “marginalized by the justice system all the time,” Phillips said. Those with means can sue and win. Phillips thinks that the clinic will therefore have lines out the door.
Apart from consulting with ESCRODJ and visiting the Aristide law school in Port au Prince, students on the trip will also take in some cultural highlights on their visit, and enjoy that perk of any trip to the Caribbean – an afternoon on the beach.
1L Gabrielle Parris was delighted to be selected because of her interest in international human rights law, but also because of her family connection to the Caribbean. “My grandfather was from Barbados, and I’ve always felt a special connection to the area,” Parris said. She also was involved in relief efforts in Chile following their 2010 earthquake, so she understands the economic and social ramifications of natural disaster.
“The destruction was disproportionate in Haiti, though. Now, five years later, this feels like a full circle for me to be going back and participating in a service learning project that is based in international law. It’s crazy how things fall into place, I feel like this was meant to be,” she said.
The Hastings to Haiti delegation is currently fundraising $12,000 to support their travel and lodging. To find out more, please visit: http://haiti.uchastings.edu/
To donate to the ESCRODJ clinic, please see: http://haiti.uchastings.edu/Social-Justice-Clinic/index.php