Lessons Learned: An Analysis of Recent Rule-of-Law Reform Efforts in Haiti

Article excerpt

Thomas Carothers argues that one of the fundamental problems of the rule-of-law assistance movement is a lack of genuine learning from the experiences and mistakes of rule-of-law projects on the part of reformers' and/or their sponsoring institutions (2006b).2 This lack of learning is an obstacle to building the knowledge of reformers and the rule-of-law donor community and thus creates a barrier to improving reforms and their outcomes. Because Haiti has experienced two major waves of ruleof-law reform activity since 1994, it provides an interesting case study for analyzing the issue of learning, as well as other often-cited problems with the promotion of rule-of-law reforms. This article asserts that the second wave of rule-of-law activity in Haiti, which is still underway, reflects learning from the failings of the 1994 through 2000 reform efforts and addresses some of the common criticisms of rule-of-law reform projects.

This article begins with an overview of the situation in Haiti between 1994 and 2000, and reviews four of the major flaws of the rule-of-law reform efforts during this time. The next section discusses the return of significant rule-of-law activity during the second wave, which began after 2004 but has intensified since the election of President René Preval in 2006. This section also highlights some of the changes in current reform efforts that account for the four main failures of the first wave as well as frequent problems linked to rule-of-law reform activities. The third section responds to two possible "fatal flaws" that might be claimed by critics of the second wave reform efforts. Overall, this article argues that the current rule-oflaw reform wave in Haiti illustrates a process of learning, which represents a key step toward improving reforms and their outcomes, and addresses some of the common problems associated with rule-of-law reform activities.


The first wave of rule-of-law activity in Haiti fell within the context of great political and social instability, economic collapse, and the absence of viable domestic security forces. Following the return of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide from exile in 1994, the international community dedicated millions of dollars to rebuilding Haiti's government institutions and invested heavily in rule-of-law reform activities, which focused primarily on the development of a national police force. Upon his return, Aristide had disbanded the Haitian military, which was known for its corruption, politicization, and human rights violations, and with international support, the government launched the creation of the Haitian National Police (HNP). While there were other projects tied to rule-oflaw reform, the centerpiece of reform efforts was the construction of a new security sector institution, which was considered the first step in ameliorating the conditions on the ground (Donáis 2005; ICG 2007). At least initially, the results of the reform efforts of the government and international community seemed positive, and their chief project, the HNP, appeared to be evolving into "a professional, impartial pillar of the rule of law" (Donáis, 1). However, the rule-of-law activities and HNP project, in addition to the wider efforts to stabilize and rebuild institutions in Haiti, proved to be unsustainable (Dobbins et al. 2003). Most donors withdrew support for rule-of-law reform projects in 2000.

While there are many reasons for the failure of rule-of-law reform efforts during the first wave, some of the prominent causes can be traced back to flaws in the approach of rule-of-law reformers and the rule-oflaw donor community. First, the approach lacked a holistic strategy that combined the critical elements of the rule of law: laws, police, judiciary, and their supporting institutions, such as prisons. As Kleinfeld points out, coordination between these elements is essential to achieving progress with rule-of-law reforms "because of the interdependence among rule-of-law institutions" (2006, 55). …


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