In May 2015, National Lawyers Guild member Mario Joseph invited San Francisco Chapter Executive Board member Walter Riley to monitor a politically charged, high profile trial involving a mayor in southern Haiti who terrorized and killed political protestors and civilians. Riley is a long-time advocate for civil rights around the world, and will be honored for his recent work against police misconduct with the Black Lives Matter movement at the NLG’s national convention this fall.
Riley had prepared to participate in a joint trial monitoring delegation with the NLG and International Association of Democratic Lawyers, which included eight lawyers from the United States, Canada and Haiti. However, Riley was reminded of the difficulties of the Haitian justice system firsthand even before he arrived, when the trial was abruptly suspended – with scant reasoning – one week before the trial date. Undeterred, Riley still ventured to Haiti to offer his support to Haitian human rights defenders and learn about the political situation as Haiti prepares for long over-due elections. As a longtime civil rights advocate who has been jailed for participating in anti-racism sit-ins and demonstrations, Riley is certainly no stranger to government attempts to obstruct justice.
Riley spoke of the parallel histories in Haiti and the U.S., and the racist institutions that have oppressed blacks in both countries. The imperialism that impedes Haiti’s progress today is not so different than that which hinders racial equality in the U.S. Riley described his long career as a civil rights defender to Haitian lawyers and interns as part of the Young Lawyers Program at the Bureau des Avocats Int e rna t ionaux (BAI), where Mario Joseph serves as Managing Attorney.
Riley also spoke at the Université de la Fondation Dr. Aristide (UNIFA) with former First Lady Mildred Aristide. He addressed a crowd of several hundred medical and law students about the responsibility of doctors and lawyers to challenge existing power structures and bring justice to the poor.
Riley concluded his visit by meeting with BAI lawyers and Haitian public officials on elections. Haiti is set to elect over 5,000 public officials this year, including a new President and 129 out of 139 members of Parliament. Given the problems that plagued Haiti’s last elections, the groundwork must be laid now in order to promote fair elections. In that regard, Riley met with electoral officials and candidates to determine whether the elections rollout was following the letter of the law.
With the first round of elections scheduled for August 9 and two more rounds set to follow on October 25 and December 27, there is much work to be done to ensure that the voices of the Haitian electorate are heard. If you are interested in contributing to voting rights work in Haiti in any way, such as participating in an electoral monitoring delegation or offering legal analysis of the current issues, please contact Brian@ijdh.org or Nicole@ijdh.org and visit haitielection2015.blogspot.com for more updates. ■
Featured Image: Walter Riley and Mildred Aristide lead a seminar for law students at the Université de la Fondation Dr. Aristide (UNIFA) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on May 20, 2015. ( IJDH)