Using an Impact Opportunity Fund grant, Bertha Justice Alumnx Job Gene helped develop a pioneering program to observe demonstrations and support Haitians fighting to rebuild the country.
Since the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti, civil society has been working to rebuild the country and secure basic access to needs like food, electricity, education and health. With its long history of grassroots activism, the people of Haiti have been fighting for functioning government systems to be accountable and deliver on commitments for their community-based earthquake recovery policies.
At the forefront of lawyers working to support civil society is Job Gene, a 2016 Bertha Justice Alumnx from Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI). Now a junior lawyer, Job has been involved in conceptualizing Haiti’s first program to observe demonstrations, called Obsevatwa Libete Piblik (Legal Observation Project). This observation program connects lawyers to community-based groups and allies who are out in public demonstrating and organizing for justice, fighting for accountability and basic services. Obsevatwa Libete Piblik enables lawyers to provide support services to civil society groups that help protestors understand their rights, and offers legal advice and defense services in cases of arrest or unlawful actions by police.
The program also recognizes that legal services are often concentrated in urban areas, in this case within Port Au Prince. In order to expand the reach of legal services more broadly throughout the country, Job used an Impact Opportunity Fund grant to establish a satellite office in Mirebalais. From this outpost, Job leads emerging lawyers and manages BAI’s relationships with allied local groups such as The Movement for Liberty and Equality by Haitians for Fraternity (MOLEGHAF) and Étude et Action pour les Droits de l’Homme (EADH) – an activist organization co-founded by Bertha Justice Fellow Montus Joachim (2020 cohort). Job and the Legal Observers at BAI work with MOLEGHAF, EADH and others to expand their access to legal recourse in support of their human rights. This increases the possibility for collaboration and coordinated efforts between urban and rural protests and allows planned sit-ins tied to national accountability movements for change.
Glenda shared with Fellows how even the strongest investigative journalistic piece of work would be lost on an audience if the voice of ordinary people is not clearly heard and made central to the work. Bertha Fellow Omar Radi, an investigative financial journalist based in Morocco, concluded that Glenda’s focus on people rather than on fact and evidence influenced his work in a profound way.
"Mirebalais was and is considered to be the real spearhead of these protests. In relation to these protests there were several hundred cases of unlawful arrests, assault victims, cases of press freedom violations. Through our small group of lawyers, including current and previous Bertha Fellows involved in the project [Obsevatwa Libete Piblik] up to 2020, all the victims have been assisted and received legal support that resulted in the acquittal of all political prisoners."
The BAI Legal Observers involved in Obsevatwa Libete Piblik are also deeply connected to Bertha Justice Fellows based at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), BAI’s U.S.-based sister organization. When IJDH Fellows take their campaigning in front of UN headquarters in New York and their advocacy to UN member states, they work from the ground up to ensure Haitian voices are part of the call for accountability, and that the solutions developed are ones that work for ordinary people.
This type of collaborative local and international action and outreach, grounded in the voices of ordinary Haitians, is at the core of what the Bertha Justice Initiative works to instill in Alumnx beyond the two-year Fellowship.