In Haiti, critical legal empowerment (CLE) offers a lens to reimagine the promise of the law in a system that has historically excluded the majority population from its protection. Beginning with the belief that tout moun se moun—all people are people—CLE requires the dismantling of doctrines and rules that create different categories of people and also demands that all-powerful actors be held accountable for rights violations under the law. In Haiti, this means that the Haitian state and, crucially, its international “partners” be made responsible to those who have been excluded not only from, but by, the law.
This Article traces the thread of legal oppression and resistance in Haiti, examining efforts by Haitian communities to make demands of the law and the legal system based on the insistence that all Haitians have equal rights, that tout moun se moun. These demands do not stop with equality, however. They also include affirmative claims of dignity and life-affirming autonomy from the state, spaces where subsistence farmers can protect unique Haitian lifeways. This insistence—on the protection of life, freedom from abuse, and extension of basic rights to subsistence—including land, food sovereignty, and clean water—is ongoing but also radically incomplete. Only once the law can encompass these rights as against powerful actors who deprive both individuals and collectives of their rights and dignity will the promise of the Haitian revolution finally be fulfilled.