UPDATE: Researching Haitian Law

By Marisol Florén Romero

Marisol Florén Romero is the Assistant Director for Library Services and Foreign & International Law Librarian at Florida International University (FIU) College of Law

Published March 2018

(Previously updated in February 2012)

See the Archive Version

1. General Information

Haiti is located on the western side of the island of Hispaniola, in the Caribbean Sea. With an area of 10,714 square miles and an estimated population of 10.9 million, Haiti is classed among the least developed countries in the Western Hemisphere. [1]

1.1. Historical Background

The island of Hispaniola was discovered by Christopher Columbus on December 5, 1492 and became a part of the Spanish dominion in the New World. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, French buccaneers used Turtle Island, which is off the northern coast of Hispaniola, as the base for their commercial activities in the Caribbean. They also invaded and eventually occupied an extensive territory on the northwest side of the island, founding permanent settlements. In 1697, by the Treaty of Ryswick, Spain recognized the right of the French to the western portion of the island and Hispaniola was divided into two. The French territory, with its capital at Cap-Français (now Cap-Haïtien), was named Saint-Domingue and became a prosperous economic colony engaged in exporting sugar, coffee, cotton, indigo and cocoa.[2] The prosperity and productivity of that colony was supported by a population of 25,000 free people of color (affranchis) and more than 700,000 African slaves.[3] In 1791, led by Toussaint L’Ouverture and later by Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the population rebelled against the French, ending slavery and leading to independence on January 1, 1804.[4] The newly independent country took the name Haiti, the aboriginal name of Hispaniola.

During the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, Haiti underwent many insurrections. The different classes struggled to gain power, which slowed down economic and social advancements, which prompted a military occupation of the country in 1915 by the United States that lasted until 1934. During the second half of the twentieth century, the Duvalier family ruled the country. François Duvalier (Papa Doc) was in power from 1957 until his death in 1971. His son, Jean-Claude (Baby Doc), succeeded him, but Jean-Claude was driven from the country in 1986, bringing to an end thirty years of dictatorship.

Democracy was restored in March 1987 with the ratification of a new Constitution that provided for the protection of fundamental human rights; separation of powers of the State; decentralization of government; an elected bicameral Parliament (Assemblée Nationale); an elected President, who serves as head of State; and the designation of a Prime Minister as head of Government.[5] The signing of the 1987 Constitution did not guarantee the end of political chaos. Social unrest, violations of human rights, and economic instability continued. On July 3, 1993, Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Raoul Cédras signed the Governor’s Island Agreement, sponsored by the United Nations (UN) and the Organization of American States (OAS), which provided for a transition from a military to a civilian government, with the return of Aristide as President of the Republic.[6]

This agreement was followed by several Resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly authorizing the deployment of successive international missions and peacekeeping operations, which were entrusted to observe and verify the respect to human rights and maintain a secure and stable environment in the country.[7] On February 29, 2004, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1529 (2004) [8] authorizing the deployment of the Multinational Interim Force (MIF) and on April 30, 2004, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1542 (2004) [9] creating the United Nations Stability Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) [10]. MINUSTAH’s mandate has evolved over time to adjust to the changing circumstances of the country. Among other duties, the mandate included maintenance of the rule of law, public safety and public order in Haiti, supporting the Haitian political process and promoting political dialogue and national reconciliation. The earthquake of January 12, 2010 followed by an outbreak of cholera that claimed 2,000 lives worsened Haiti’s social and economic conditions, prompting the United Nations Security Council to extend MINUSTAH’s mandate until October 15, 2012. [11]

For almost two decades, Haiti has seen a significant involvement of the international community in trying to promote good government, ensure political and social stability, strengthen the rule of law, and assist with sustainable development. Even though the MINUSTAH mandate ended in October 15, 2017, with the final withdrawal of the military presence, a new UN mission was established, the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH), to continue assisting government in strengthening the rule of law.[12]

1.2. Structure of the Government

The Haitian government is divided into three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The legislative branch, or Parliament, consists of a Senate and a Chamber of Deputies. Senators and Deputies are elected by direct vote for six- and four- year terms respectively, and they can be re-elected indefinitely.[13] Parliament enacts laws on all matters of general interest. [14] Bills and other legislative acts enter into force with their promulgation and publication in the official gazette, Le Moniteur. [15] Bills are numbered and printed in the Bulletin des Lois et Actes de la République d’Haïti. [16]

Executive power is vested in the President of the Republic, who is the head of State, and the Prime Minister, who is the head of the Government.[17] The President is elected to a five-year term and cannot be re-elected to a consecutive term.[18] He promulgates the laws, signs all international treaties and agreements, and submits them for ratification to Parliament.[19]

The President selects the Prime Minister from among the members of the majority party in Parliament. With the approval of the President, the Prime Minister chooses the members of the Council of Ministers, subject to parliamentary assent. The Prime Minister is responsible for law enforcement and has the authority to issue rules and regulations through Orders (Arrêtés). [20]

Judicial power is vested in the Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation), the Courts of Appeal, Courts of First Instance, Justice of the Peace Courts, and special courts. Their operation, organization, and jurisdiction are established by statute. [21]

The justices of the Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeal are appointed for ten years. Judges of the Courts of First Instance are appointed for seven years. [22] The Supreme Court’s justices are appointed by the President from a list of three candidates for each court seat submitted by the Senate. Sitting judges of the aforementioned three courts can be removed only under exceptional circumstances, thus safeguarding the judiciary’s independence from political interference. [23]

2. The Legal System

Haiti adopted the French civil law system, including the French judicial structure and codification system. Six codes were enacted between 1825 and 1826: The Civil Code, the Code of Civil Procedure, the Commercial Code, the Criminal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Rural Code. With minor changes, these codes resembled their French antecedents. The Labor Code (1961) and a new Rural Code (1962) were enacted during the government of Francois Duvalier. Statutes are the main source of law, and French doctrine and jurisprudence are the basis for the interpretation of the law. [24]

Haïti’s judicature comprises four tiers.[25] The Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) is the highest court of the nation and provides a last recourse in matters decided at the appellate level. At the second tier are the Courts of Appeal. There are five regional appellate courts, located at Port-au-Prince, Cap-Haitien, Gonaïves, Les Cayes, and Hinche. A judge president and two other judges sit in each court. [26]

At the third tier are the Courts of First Instance. These are sixteen courts of original jurisdiction in civil, commercial, or criminal matters, with a single judge presiding. A Public Prosecutor’s Office is designated for each Court of First Instance. Also at the third tier are examining magistrates who are responsible for conducting criminal investigations, issuing formal charges and sending cases to the Criminal Court, the Division of Minor Offenses, or to the Civil Court – or for issuing a non-suit. The decisions of the Courts of First Instance may be appealed to the Courts of Appeal and to the Supreme Court.

Justices of the peace are at the fourth tier, forming the base of the judicial structure. These puisne judicial officers have jurisdiction over small claims in civil, commercial, and criminal matters. Per Article 184.2 of the Haitian Constitution, the Superior Council of the Judiciary [Conseil Supérieur du Pouvoir Judicaire] is entrusted with the administration of the courts and exercises disciplinary authority over magistrates.

In addition to the ordinary courts, there are three specialized courts: the Labor Courts, the Juvenile Court, and the Land Courts, which deals with registration of property rights in the Artibonite Valley. Additionally, the High Court of Accounts (Cour Supérieure des Comptes et du Contentieux Administratif) is an administratively and financially independent court, which hears appeals and claims for damages by individuals against the State. This court also has an administrative function auditing the accounts of the State.[27]

The Constitutional reform of 2011 established the Constitutional Council (Conseil Constitutionnel) to ensure the constitutionality of laws, regulations and administrative acts of the Executive. The Council is composed of nine members appointed for nine years.[28]

Haiti accepts compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on questions of international law, and of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) for the settlement of trade disputes within CARICOM.[29]

3. Primary Sources

3.1. The Constitution

After twenty-nine years of dictatorship, Haiti reestablished a democratic government by proclaiming, on March 29, 1987, a new Constitution that is still presently in force with amendments introduced by Constitutional Law of May 9, 2011, promulgated on June 19, 2012. The Constitution defines the government of Haiti as indivisible, sovereign, independent, free, democratic and solidaire with a dual executive (President and Prime Minister) and a bicameral legislature. It recognizes Créole and French as official languages [30], stresses the protection of fundamental rights, and provides for the decentralization of the government by entrusting administrative and financial autonomy to the départements and communes.[31] The Constitution also creates an Electoral Council, responsible for the organization of elections.[32]

Constitutional amendment of 2012 and consolidated text of the Haitian constitution, in French and English is found at,

The original text of the 1987 Haitian constitution, in French, Creole or English, is found in several places, among which are:

3.2. Main Codes

The Civil Code, the Code of Civil Procedure, the Commercial Code, the Criminal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Rural Code were all enacted between 1825 and 1826. The Labor Code (1961) and the Rural Code (1962) were enacted during the government of Francois Duvalier.

3.3. Law Reporters

3.4. Court Reporters

4. Sources of Legal Research

4.1. Background Information

The United States Department of State Background Notes: Haiti is an excellent source providing current and updated information on the country. The Background Notes describe the major historical events; reports on the economic assistance provided by the United States to the country, the state of bilateral economic relations and trade preferences. Through this page, one can link to other U.S. government agencies reporting on other issues and conditions of the country, including the legal system, human rights, or on national security issues; and contact information for doing business in Haiti.

For data on social and economic conditions of the country, see the country reports prepared by the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Haiti page.

4.2. The Legal System

To understand the court system and administration of justice in Haiti review the reports of the different international organizations involved in strengthening the rule of law in Haiti or addressing human rights issues; a description of some of these sources follow.

See also

4.3. Laws and Compilation of Laws

In addition to the official sources listed above, Foreign Law Guide (FLG) online database and E. P. & E. Trouillot’s Code de Lois Usuelles, are the most comprehensive sources for researching laws of Haiti in force.

For historical compilations of laws see:

4.3.1. Business and Banking Law

For business and banking laws in Haiti see the following sources:

For print sources see:

4.3.2. Civil Law

4.3.3. Civil Procedure

4.3.4. Constitutional law

The following sources contain historical texts of Haitian constitutions and relevant treatises on Haitian constitutional law.

For electronically available sources see:

For print sources see:

4.3.5. Criminal Law

The OAS Network also includes the following criminal laws:

For print sources see: Criminal Code[1996] Code Pénal, voté a la Chambre des Communes, le 29 Juillet, au Sénat de la République, le 10 Aout; Promulgué, le 11 Aout, 1835. Annoté par Menan Pierre-Louis (L’Imprimerie Domond 1996); see earlier editions of the penal code at Haitian Law Digital Collection.

4.3.6. Criminal Procedure

For print sources, see:

4.3.7. Electoral Law

4.3.8. Family Law, Gender & Children’s Rights

4.3.9. Human Rights

4.3.10. Intellectual Property Law

For intellectual property, patents and trademark laws see:

4.3.11. Labor Law

For online sources see:

For print sources see:

4.3.12. Natural Resources and Agriculture Law

4.3.13. Real Property and Cultural Property Law

For print sources see:

4.3.14. Tax Law

4.3.15. Telecommunications Law

The National Telecommunication Counsel (CONATEL) is the official institution regulating telecommunications in Haiti. On the website of CONATEL, under Documentations one finds the laws and norms regulating telecommunications in Haiti, see the following sources:

4.3.16. Treaties and International Agreements

Haiti signed and ratified on July 2, 2002 the Treaty of Chaguaramas, which allowed for the establishment of CARICOM, the Caribbean Community and Single Market Economy (CSME). Haiti is also a signatory, since December 15, 1989, to the ACP/EC Convention, better known as the Lomé Convention. For other treaties and international agreements signed by Haiti see: Bilateral Treaties with the Dominican Republic

For bilateral treaties with the Dominican Republic, see the following source:

5. Legal Periodicals

6. Legal Education

Legal education in Haiti is a four-year program in which students must complete a final project [memoire the sortie] to obtain a bachelor’s degree in law (Licence en Droit). After completion of the course requirements, students need to do a practice [stage] under the supervision of a licensed lawyer [Batonnier de l’Ordre des Avocats].

Three Universities in Haiti confer law degrees: the State University of Haiti [L'Université d’Etat Haïti]; the Quisqueya University (Université Quisqueya), a private university in Port-au-Prince established in 1992; and the L'École Supérieure Catholique de Droit de Jérémie (ESCDROJ).Under the State University system there are eight sites in different Departments, each site with a law school. The sites are: (1) Faculté de Droit et des Sciences Economiques (FDSE) in Port-au-Prince, established in 1859, is the oldest law school in Haiti; (2) École de Droit et d'Économie de Port-de-Paix (EDEPP); (3) École de Droit de Hinche (EDH); (4) École de Droit de Jacmel (EDJ); (5) École de Droit et des Sciences Économiques des Cayes (EDSEC); (6) École de Droit et des Sciences Economiques de Fort-Liberté (EDSEFL); (7) École de Droit et des Sciences Économiques des Gonaïves (EDSEG); and (8) Faculté de Droit, des Sciences Économiques et de Gestion du Cap-Haïtien.

7. The Profession

The Bar (Ordre du Barreau) is the professional association that rules the practice of law in Haiti, and it is regulated by Decree of March 29, 1979. The practice of law is strictly reserved to Haitian citizens. Lawyers must accredit a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the State University of Haiti or an equivalent title from a national or foreign university plus two years of practice [le stage] obtaining a certificate of professional aptitude from The Bar [Batonnier de l’Ordre des Avocats].

8. Portals, Legal Sites and Databases

Listed below are the most relevant databases, portals and legal sites providing access to the legal literature of Haiti and information significant to researching Haitian law.

9. Haitian & Government Sites

The following Haitian websites contain legal information[35]:

[1] See UNCTAD, World Economic Situation and Prospects Reports (United Nations, 2017) at 157, available at http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/wesp2017_en.pdf.

[2] Robert Debs Heinl & Nancy Gordon Heinl, Written in Blood: The Story of the Haitian People, 1492-1995 (University Press of America 2005) at 29.

[3] Id.

[4] John D. Garrigus, Before Haiti: Race and Citizenship in French Saint-Domingue (Palgrave 2006), for the development of the Creole society, the rising economic power of the free people of color and the origins of the Haitian revolution that led to independence.

[5] Douglass Clouatre, Haiti, in Legal Systems of the World, 647 – 652 (Herbert M. Kritzer, ed., 2002); see also, Gerald Perry, Haiti, in International Encyclopedia of Comparative Law, National Reports H4 (J.C.B. Mohr 1978); see also, Haiti Const. Art. 137.

[6] See David Malone, Decision-Making in the UN Security Council: The Case of Haiti, 1990-1997, (Clarendon Press 1998).

[7] These Resolutions were, UN/OAS International Civil Mission in Haiti (MICIVH), February 1993 to July 31, 1997; UN Mission in Haiti (UNMIH), September 1993 to June 1996; UN Support Mission in Haiti (UNSMIH), June 1996 to July 1997; UN Transition Mission in Haiti (UNTMIH), August to November 1997; and UN Civilian Police Mission in Haiti (MIPONUH), December 1997 to March 2000

[8] UN Security Council Resolution 1529 (2004), UN Doc. S/RES/1529 (2004) (29 February 2004)

[9] UN Security Council Resolution 1542 (2004), UN Doc. S/RES/1542 (2002) (30 April 2004)

[10] IACHR. Haiti: Failed Justice or the Rule of Law? Challenges Ahead for Haiti and the International Community, OEA/Ser/L/V/II.123 doc.6 rev 1 (26 October, 2005), at 8-9, available at http://www.cidh.org/countryrep/HAITI%20ENGLISH7X10%20FINAL.pdf.

[11] Resolution 2012 (2011), The Security Council extends the mandate of MINUSTAH until 15 October 2012 and adjusts Mission's overall force levels, S/RES/2012(2011)] of 14 October 2011.

[12] UN Resolution 2350 (2017), 13 April 2017, S/RES/2350 (2017).

[13] Constitution of the République d’Haïti, Art. 92-3, and 95.

[14] Id. Art. 111.

[15] Id. Art. 125.

[16] Id. Art. 125-1.

[17] Id. Art. 133.

[18] Id. Art. 134-1 and 13-3.

[19] Id. Art. 139 and 144.

[20] Id. Art. 159.

[21] Id. Art. 173. See also Decree of August 22, 1995, relative to the organization and functions of the courts. Le Moniteur, no. 150, amending Act of September 18, 1985.

[22] Const. Art. 174.

[23] Id. Art. 177. See also, Law Creating the Superior Council of the Judiciary [Loi Creant Le Conseil Superieur du Povoir Judiciaire], Le Moniteur, No. 112, December 20, 2007, available at Haiti Justice under Legislation.

[24] Thomas Reynolds & Arturo Flores, Haiti, in Foreign Law: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World, 3 (Fred B. Rothman, 1997) updated 8/2003. See also, Gerald Perry, Haiti in International Encyclopedia of Comparative Law, National Reports, v. 1 at H4.; see also, Jean Marie Mondésir, Le Droit Haïtien available at http://www.chez.com/juristehaitien/; see also Jean Marie Mondésir, La Codification en Haïti available at http://membres.lycos.fr/civiliste/.

[25] Const. Art. 173.

[26] See Law on the Status of the Magistrates (Loi Portant Statut de la Magistrature), Le Moniteur, No. 112, December 20, 2007, regulating judges and magistrates.

[27] Const. Art. 200. See also, Décret Etablissant l’Organisation et le Fonctionnement de la Cour Supérieure des Comptes et du Contentieux Administratif désignés sous le sigle CSCCA, Le Moniteur, No. 24, March 10, 2006, available at Haiti Justice under Legislation

[28] Const. Arts. 190bis, 190bis-1, 190ter-2.

[29] Agreement Establishing the Caribbean Court of Justice available at http://www.caribbeancourtofjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/ccj_agreement.pdf; see also Legal System of the Republic of Haiti available at http://www.oas.org/juridico/mla/en/hti/index.html. For further discussion of the jurisdiction of the Caribbean Court of Justice and Haiti see, Duke E. Pollard, The Caribbean Court of Justice: Closing the Circle of Independence (2004).

[30] Const. Art. 5.

[31] Id. Art. 61.

[32] Id. Art. 191.

[33] As a consequence of the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Law Library Microform Consortium (LLMC) and a group of member libraries launched the LLMC Haiti Legal Patrimony Project. The LLMC Haiti Legal Patrimony Project brings together, in electronic format, and provides access to Haitian legal resources in many law libraries around the world. LLMC includes legislative, administrative, and judicial materials, treatises and US documents related to Haiti. All materials for the LLMC Haiti Legal Patrimony Project are available through LLMC Digital and open access through the Digital Library of the Caribbean (dLOC).

[34] Loi Portant Statut de la Magistrature, Loi Relative à L’Ecole de la Magistrature (EMA), Loi Créant Le Conseil Supérieur du Pouvoir Judicaire, Le Moniteur, No. 112, December 20, 2007.

[35] At the time of this research, only the listed government portals had active website. One of the most important portals providing access to Haitian laws is the Haitian Parliament. The website was not active at the time of this research.

[36] The Center for Research and Legal Information (CRIJ) publishes the portal Haiti Justice. CRIJ maintains one of most important legal websites in Haiti. This site contains codes and legislation on criminal and labor matters, business and civil law matters, and commentaries on various legal issues.