In 2008, Roxane Edmond-Dimanche, a graduate of L’Ecole Supérieure Catholique de Droit de Jérémie (ESCDROJ) a law school in the Grand'Anse department of southwest Haiti, began organizing a coalition of American and Haitian lawyers with the dream of establishing a criminal-justice clinic inspired by U.S. clinical programs at her alma mater.
With the support of Father Jomanas Eustache, Dean of ESCDROJ, who spent nearly a decade working with foreign law schools, including UC Hastings and its Hastings to Haiti Partnership (HHP), that dream started to become a reality. Now, after years of hard work, planning, fundraising, and development, Haiti's first law school clinic is here and helping Haitian law students gain crucial experience in client advocacy outside of the classroom.
“The wisdom, energy, and resilience of our partners in Haiti inspire us,” explains Professor Kate Bloch. “Over the last decade, we have been honored to work with and support them as they established what we understand is the first law school in-house legal aid clinic in Haiti.”
Officially launching in October, 2017, Dean Eustache tapped Professor Yvon Janvier to supervise the clinic. Professor Janvier, an ESCDROJ alumnus, has a strong relationship to the clinic’s international partners and the city of Jérémie, where he served as Mayor from 2000-2004. “I first met Professor Boswell, Professor Musalo, Moira [Duvernay ‘04], and other people from UC Hastings as the Mayor to coordinate legal seminars in the city,” recalls Professor Janvier.
Professor Janvier also brings an impressive educational background to the role of supervisor, which includes teaching law and human rights at ESDROJ. In 2016, he was awarded an advanced study of human rights and law at American University through the prestigious Fulbright Visiting Scholar Program. “It was after my Fulbright Scholarship that Father Jomanas arranged for me to meet with Professor Kate Bloch [at ESCDROJ in October, 2017,] and I agreed to supervise the clinic in partnering with UC Hastings,” says Professor Janvier.
The clinic is based out of Jérémie and will provide legal services to 12 districts in the southwest of Haiti. Law students will assist victims in cases of sexual violence and indigent clients suffering from human rights issues while in pretrial detention. Over 80% of Haiti’s incarcerated population are individuals awaiting trial, most spending years in dangerously overcrowded prisons without being tried, convicted, or even seeing a judge.
“It’s a human rights issue and we want this to decrease as a matter of social justice,” says Professor Janvier. “Most prisoners don't have enough money to afford a lawyer, and we don't have public defenders like in the American judicial system. Without people on the outside fighting for them, these individuals too easily become forgotten.”
Professor Bloch notes that Professor Janvier's involvement in the clinic will support the underrepresented of Haiti. “His leadership will allow the clinic to open a new chapter as he begins his work supervising students, finissants, and stagiairies. The clinic will then be able to represent clients, such as the pre-trial detainees in the local prison, so many of whom are in need of representation,” she says.
The Haitian Bar Association certified the clinic in October, but it is still a work-in-progress as staffing and curriculum are being settled. “Everything should be finalized and ready to go by the time the team from UC Hastings arrives in Haiti, with about eleven Haitian law students learning practical skills under my supervision,” says Professor Janvier. “Although Haiti has many challenges, I hope the clinic will help to improve life and promote a system grounded in fair trial, equity, and social justice where everyone can enjoy fundamental freedoms.”
The UC Hastings community welcomes and supports a continued collaboration with Haiti’s first law school clinic. “When we began going to Haiti to work in collaboration with Dean Eustache at his request, we didn’t anticipate the enthusiasm by UC Hastings students and faculty, such as Professor Bloch,” notes Professor Richard Boswell.
“We are truly gratified to have contributed to the inspiring work of the students and lawyers at ESCDROJ, who work for justice under such difficult conditions,” concludes Professor Karen Musalo.
HHP is a collaboration between the University of California, Hastings College of the Law and the L’École Supérieure Catholique de Droit de Jérémie (ESCDROJ), the Catholic Law School of Jérémie. Professors Karen Musalo and Richard Boswell established Hastings to Haiti and first traveled to Jérémie to support the newly founded law school in 1999. The delegation was expanded to include student members in 2000, first as an independent study, and in 2010 the classroom component of the organization became a two-credit seminar. And, since 2008, HHP has worked to make the partnership truly reciprocal, bringing Haitian students and lawyers to the U.S. to gain a comparative perspective to bring to their work at home.
“HHP is a rewarding, one of a kind program designed to teach law students how to work and build long lasting relationships with foreign communities to achieve accountability for human rights violations. Haitian law students learn from UC Hastings students and we learn from them,” says 3L Michelle Morales.