Note – Toward Effective Access to Justice in Haiti: Eliminating the Medical Certificate Requirement in Rape Prosecution

Shannon D. Lankenau

Volume 64, Issue 6, 1759-1787

In Haiti, the overwhelming majority of rapes go unpunished. To date, the Haitian government has failed to promulgate a working legal framework in which it can effectively prosecute crimes of sexual violence. Women, in particular, are disproportionately burdened by these inadequacies. This Note explores one of the most problematic aspects of the current legal system: the de facto requirement that a woman obtain a medical certificate to corroborate her claim of rape. Although not mandated by Haitian law, medical certificates are regarded as the foundation of any prosecution because deficient investigations often fail to produce any additional evidence for use at trial and a woman’s own testimony is routinely discredited. By requiring a medical certificate in all rape prosecutions, the Haitian government is reinforcing a deep-seated cultural belief that a woman’s testimony is inherently untrustworthy. Worse yet, victims of sexual violence are deprived of their right to an effective remedy under domestic and international law.This Note suggests that the law should be amended to affirmatively state that a woman’s credible testimony regarding her attack can be legally sufficient to secure a conviction in a rape case, thereby eliminating the de facto medical requirement. Still, enacting legal reform will not be enough. Until Haitian society addresses the root causes of gender discrimination in Haiti, distrust of a woman’s testimony will remain a significant barrier to rape prosecutions.

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