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Starting Points for Researching Haitian Law

Haiti is located in the West Indies, on the island of Hispaniola, between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. Its official languages are French and Haitian Créole. It shares a border with the Spanish-speaking Dominican Republic. It lies near Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the state of Florida in the U.S. It has a rich cultural heritage. However, researching Haiti’s law can be frustrating. Haiti is in the Caribbean, but works on Caribbean law mostly focus on English-speaking, Commonwealth Caribbean countries. Works on West Indian law tend to focus on the British West Indies. And works on Latin American law rarely discuss Haiti. Researchers may struggle to pin down legal resources for this small francophone, “créolophone” jurisdiction. The treasures of “la perle des Antilles” can be well-hidden. Researchers often have difficulty finding current Haitian law in the original French. Finding English, Spanish, or other language translations can be even harder. Luckily some resources make the quest for the law of Haiti less difficult for you and your patrons.

Christelle Vaval, Omar Ha-Redeye, Marjorie Florestal, Hope Lewis (IntLawGrrls blog), and others have written on legal issues faced by Haitians and efforts to help, especially in the wake of the 2010 earthquake. The legal issues include child trafficking, crime victimization (gender-based violence, sexual abuse, rapes, crimes in housing camps), unlawful evictions, inadequate housing, dangerous deportations (leading to issuance of precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights), immigration (e.g. need for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) extensions and redesignations in the U.S.), and access to justice and the courts. Pro bono advocates, NGOs, and others researching Haitian law need to find the current law in force. Therefore, they should look for research guides first to learn about the most readily available sources legal materials for Haiti and find out whether those sources provide sufficiently current materials.

Marisol Florén-Romero’s 2008 Globalex guide on “Researching Haitian Law” is a free web resource with a helpful introduction to Haiti’s history, government, and law, and legal literature. It lists sources on agricultural law, banking law, business law, constitutional law, criminal law, cultural property, electoral law, family law, human rights, intellectual property law, labor law, legal education, legal profession, maritime law, natural resources, real property, tax law, and telecommunications law. It also lists primary law sources — constitutions, codes, statutory compilations, treaties, court reports — and secondary sources of law — legal periodicals, news, and books. It has links to websites on Haitian law, including le juriste Haïtien and le Civiliste. It concludes with a brief bibliography. Reynolds & Flores’ Foreign Law Guide is a subscription database that does something similar in its Haiti section, but with broader depth of coverage. See also the Law Library of Congress’ Guide to Law Online: Haiti, Haiti: Legal Bibliography, Chantal Hudicourt Ewald’s “The Legal System of Haiti” (volume 7, Modern Legal Systems Cyclopedia (e-access via the World Constitutions Illustrated Library in HeinOnline)), and L’Etat de droit: Sources d’informations sur vingt-deux pays d’Afrique et Haïti (1997).

Alternatively, you can direct researchers to existing online databases. If they are looking for a specific constitution, code, law, book, or journal, you can point them to several digital collections with significant Haitian law content. The Law Library of Congress’ Global Legal Information Network (GLIN) not only indexes Haitian constitutional amendments, laws, decrees, and regulations, but it also has PDF full text of Le Moniteur, Journal officiel de la République d’Haïti (Haiti’s official gazette of laws, in French), back to 1953. GLIN includes searchable English summaries of the laws. Haiti’s bilateral and multilateral agreements can be found in the United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS) and other online treaty sources from jurisdictions such as the U.S., Canada, and France (Base Pacte), Haiti has joined the Organization of American States (OAS), the United Nations (UN), and other international organizations, which means that the digital law collections of those organizations will cover Haiti. The UNHCR’s RefWorld and FAOLEX are particularly useful databases for Haitian law.

The LLMC Digital law library collection, compiled by the Haiti Legal Patrimony Project that I mentioned in a previous post, also provides useful resources. While LLMC Digital is a fee-based database, the Haiti digitized law content (anticipated to be about 800 titles when completed) is available for free to Haitian libraries and to the whole world. Universal access will enhance global knowledge of Haiti and its legal system. The LLMC Digital content is organized by constitutional, legislative, executive, judicial, and miscellaneous categories, the latter including treatises, periodicals, and documents on Haitian law, and sources on U.S.-Haiti relations.

About 600 items in the LLMC Haiti Legal Patrimony Collection are available at no-fee via the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC) platform. The dLOC, of which LLMC is a member, has a separate Protecting Haitian Patrimony Initiative (PIHI). For more information, check the LLMC Newsletter (issues 46 & 47), Michigan Library Lends Documents to the Haiti Project, and the Haiti Legal Patrimony Project (Center for Research Libraries (CRL)). The non-profit Centre de Recherche et d’Information Juridique has selected primary and secondary Haitian law sources in its Bibliothèque virtuelle du droit haïtien. Another resource with selective content is the Centro de Estudios de Justicia de las Américas which includes the 1987 Constitution of Haiti, its criminal procedure code, and a few criminal justice related titles. The Embassy of Haiti in Washington, D.C. includes key reference documents at its website. Gallica and AMICUS (described below) also contain Haitian legal materials in electronic format.

The databases above are great for immediate gratification (or frustration). Alternatively, if your library doesn’t own the print title needed or if you don’t find them in the above databases, you can identify other library holdings of Haitian legal materials in print and electronic format by checking catalogs such as Open WorldCat, AMICUS (choose “entire AMICUS database” to search through all Canadian library collections, including the e-content), CCfr (Catalogue collectif de France), Gallica (the Bibliothèque nationale de France’s digital collection), and COPAC (British and Irish university libraries). You can search the following Canadian catalogs in French for Haitian law (keywords: Haïti droit):

As well, the Law Library of Congress’ Global Legal Information Catalog helps you find Haitian legal materials hidden in multi-national collections of law.

Checking catalogs (and research guides) will also give you an idea of the libraries that have strong collections on Haitian law and might have specialists with expertise who can help you or your patrons with questions. Libraries with notable print Haitian law collections include the University of Puerto Rico and the University of Florida. You might also consult other Florida libraries, libraries in francophone jurisdictions, and the libraries that contributed to the LLMC Haiti Project.

Authors, libraries, research institutes, organizations, agencies, and other key “people” resources concerned with Haitian legal issues such as the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and the Haitian Lawyers Association may also help. You can also contact library organizations such as the Caribbean Association of Law Libraries (CARALL) and the Association of Caribbean, University, Research and Institutional Libraries (ACURIL). Do not forget area studies and documents librarians. Finally, consider posting to CARALL-TALK, INT-LAW, or other listservs which might have document and legal information specialists who can help you help researchers locate Haitian law.

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Comments

  1. This information regarding the Republic of Haiti judicial system is very helpful. Thank you for posting it.

  2. What is nou mande e nou pase lod dapre atik 77 ko Enstriksyou Kriminel, tout isye ou ajan Fos Publik menen devan nou nan respe lalwa?

  3. Mr. Spratt, I don’t know if we have anyone who reads Haitian Créole here (and who would understand the question).

    Anyone?

  4. Lyonette Louis-Jacques

    It probably helps to read the quote in context, so a cite to the original would help with translation. And definitely, if this will be for legally enforceable reasons, consult a specialist in Haitian law.

    For casual purposes, I suggest plugging the quote into Google Translate (it does Haitian Creole -> English):

    “nou mande e nou pase lod dapre atik 77 ko Enstriksyou Kriminel, tout isye ou ajan Fos Publik menen devan nou nan respe lalwa”

    Results:

    “we ask and we order according to article 77 co Enstriksyou criminal isye the silver Fos public prosecution in respect of our law?”

    There’s some garbage in the Google translation, but you get the gist of it. Keep in mind there’s French in there.

    “Enstriksyou” is likely “instruction” (so “ko Ensriksyou Kriminel” is likely “code of criminal procedure”).

    “ajan” is likely “agent”, but Google Translate has “silver” which means Google thinks “ajan” is “l’argent”/money?

    “Fos” = Force?

    “menen devan” means “bring before”

    Hope this helps!