Ilio Durandis: The Affair Belizaire and What it Means for Haiti’s Rule of Law

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - November 2, 2011

Above: Arnel Belizaire

By Ilio Durandis
Op-Ed Contributor

Haiti’s 1987 constitution is supposed to be the supreme law of the land. However, in Haiti, the rule of laws means different thing to different people at different times. I often say that Haiti does not lack laws; on paper, there are more laws than there are competent people to enforce them, and this is the biggest problem of moving Haiti forward — that is, moving it in the direction of progress and justice.

It all starts with the law and ends with the law. Foreign investors will not come, not until the society understands the role of justice in a progressive democracy. The Haitian Diaspora will not come back to be subjected to confusing laws that at one-person’s will can land them in prison. In all honesty, Haiti has serious issues, and none is bigger than the implementation of the constitution.

Last August, as the Conseil Electoral Provisoire (CEP) made the final decisions on who could run for Haiti’s highest office and the parliament, observers of Haitian politics witnessed a spectacle on how little regard Haitian authorities had for the law. For the most part, candidacies were accepted based on politics, and at the discretion of a few, but not according to the law. This abuse of the legal system has created an environment where people who have no business serving in public offices are now the ones legislating or executing the laws of the land. This is a recipe for mayhem.

Late last week, a sitting congressman, Arnel Belizaire, was arrested by Haitian police upon his return from France. A warrant for his arrest was issued by the government’s prosecutor based on accusations that he had escape from jail back in 2005, an accusation that Mr Belizaire and his lawyers denied. The police force, by law, is supposed to make good on all warrants, and in this case they simply did their job. However, the legality of Belizaire’s detention is a case that needs to be elucidated.

Let’s go back to the CEP’s decision-making process. Last year, as part of the electoral process, Mr Belizaire was allowed to run for a parliamentary seat in which, according to article 91 of the 1987 constitution, he should have not been allowed to take part, if indeed he is a convict and an escapee from prison. Somehow, his records seem to have been cleared, and set in motion what we witnessed this past week. So far, it’s still murky on how he got a clean record to run in the elections.

How did we get from ignoring the constitution to allow what seems to be a convict to become a congressman and eventually to the fiasco at the airport last Thursday? Again, it happened because Haitian authorities have very little respect for the law of the land.
A few days before Gary Conille’s ratification as Haiti’s new Prime Minister, Mr Belizaire and President Michel Martelly reportedly had a dispute at the national palace. According to news reports, things that should have never been said by public officials in a formal setting were said, and Belizaire, in a letter to the president of the Lower House, detailed what was said. Ironically, a few weeks later, an arrest warrant was issued and executed against the mentioned Congressman.

This issue squares off a bout between the executive branch and the parliament, two of the three separate and independent branches of the Haitian government. The, more specifically articles 113 to 115, define the process on how to take legal actions against a sitting member of parliament. The obvious question now is, why couldn’t the government follow that legal procedure?

Too often in Haitian society, those with power are not content to exercise their power within its limitations — they’re more than comfortable to violate their mandate and go beyond what the law prescribes. The Belizaire case is a clear example of how people in power can manipulate another branch of government to do its dirty business. As long as laws can be violated at a person’s discretion, real progress can never take roots.

When a sitting congressman cannot get due process, in a country that already has a history of blunt human rights violations and colossal injustice, the rest of the population must be very wary. Haiti did not need this distraction — not now anyway — as it tries to lure foreign investors and give new hope to its people. Unfortunately the implication of the Belizaire case is not about to go away anytime soon.

If we want to join the ranks of developed countries, we must first try to abide by our laws, which are not written to be broken or manipulated, but instead to be enforced and implemented by competent people. The laws are more about protecting an individual’s civil rights than they are about punishment. Haiti cannot continue to make a mockery out of its constitution, if indeed its leaders want to flip the page of an unjust system that, for more than 200 years, has prevented its citizens from reaching their full potential.

Article 52-1, dictates the civic duties of the Haitian citizen and among them are: the respect for the constitution, the laws, the rights and freedom of others. The resident and any other public officials are Haitian citizens and must abide by the constitution.
Haiti is still a burgeoning democracy. Mistakes are allowed, but one should go the extreme to avoid them, and not create them leisurely.

In one simple act of defiance or bulking up one’s muscle, Haitian authorities sent a signal that is set to challenge the rule of law. It is not clear how this will end, but what is certain is that the world is taking note; given Haiti’s recent history, this is a gift to an imperial international community, which will not be afraid to use it against our leaders when the time and conditions are right.

It’s time for the rule of law to reign supreme in Haiti, but that must be done by following the legal procedures, and not an individual objectivity.

Ilio Durandis is the founder of Haiti 2015, a social movement for a just and prosperous Haiti. He is a columnist with The Haitian Times.

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal op-eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.

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