Crime & Justice

Forensic medicine in Haiti paralyzed

By Milo Milfort

Port-au-Prince, Mar 5 (EFE).- The Legal Medical Institute (IML), the only institution in Haiti authorized to perform autopsies for the judicial system, has been paralyzed for almost two years due to the lack of funding and specialized staff.

In the impoverished Caribbean nation, in criminal and murder cases, which the judiciary must appropriately investigate and make objective decisions concerning, trust in forensic investigations is needed.

“Criminal justice cannot function without forensic medicine. Whoever the criminal is, he will go free if the court doesn’t have clear information proving that the (victim) not only is dead but also who killed him,” the institute’s director, Jean Armel Demorcy, told EFE.

However, the institution, in effect, ceased to exist almost two years ago in the face of the complete indifference of state authorities.

“In 20 years of periodic autopsies, the judiciary never has called to ask me what I found,” said Demorcy, who added that since the entity was created there’s only been one trial in which the institute has been consulted, and that was not even by the courts but rather by women’s organizations.

There are only two forensic physicians for Haiti’s 11 million people. One of them lives in Haiti but the other is a doctor splitting her time between Haiti and the United States after escaping from a kidnapping attempt in her homeland.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 autopsies have been performed in Haiti over the past 20 years, with the last one performed by the institute before it was abandoned by the government being that of Haitian President Jovenel Moise, who was assassinated in his private residence in July 2021.

Society is a little ahead of the state in this matter. It’s rare for the Attorney General’s Office, via a judge, to demand an autopsy within the framework of an investigation that’s under way, the expert said.

And this has a big impact among the public because there are many cases of suspicious deaths. The people affected by them call on the authorities, but they don’t get the answer they need, because there’s no autopsy, said Demorcy.

“So, impunity reigns because you can’t give explanations to the people. This reflects a complete dysfunction of the judicial system, which can’t perform its role,” he said.

However, according to Haitian law, in any case of suspicious or violent death, an autopsy is necessary to determine the causes and circumstances of death.

In the Haitian worldview, no death it natural and that makes a tool like the IML so important.

“You mustn’t bury someone who has died under suspicious or violent circumstances without an autopsy,” said Demorcy, calling the overwhelming majority of cases of suspicious or violent death where the victims were buried without autopsies a flagrant violation of the law.

“This means that the state doesn’t exist. This is one of the opportunities that the state has to manifest itself. This is to guarantee social order. But on the contrary, impunity reigns. The settling of accounts reigns,” he said.

Demorcy warned, by way of example, that “when they kill your family and the state cannot guarantee that the circumstances will be cleared up to convict the attacker, when you know the attacker, revenge seems inevitable.”

Without a laboratory, without personnel, without equipment and without a budget, forensic medicine in Haiti has collapsed. The consequences of this collapse are that murder investigations get prolonged indefinitely and prolonged preventive detention has dominated in the Haitian judicial system for at least two decades.

From 2002 until today, only two employees of the forensic system have been hired: a secretary and an administrator. The rest of the technical personnel who are expected to work at the forensic institute have not been the state’s concern.

“The straw that broke the camel’s back came at the end of 2021 when the institute found itself in a completely dysfunctional situation,” Demorcy said. The last funding that the Justice Ministry provided was in 2021 and after that, nothing.

In 2012, the criminal investigation entity by judicial decree was placed under both the Justice Ministry – which must guarantee its operations, including providing materials and equipment – and the Public Health Ministry, which must appoint its personnel.

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