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Chief Justice of Haiti Supreme Court died of COVID-19.

Rene Sylvestre was born into a working-class family on 14th September 1962 in Saint-Mark, Haiti. He served as the President of the Haiti Supreme Court since 2019. He succumbed to the deadly coronavirus on 23rd June 2021, as confirmed in a tweet by Haitian President Jovenel Moise. The jurist and lawyer died at the University Hospital of Mirebalais at 58 after testing positive for COVID-19.

Sylvestre attended secondary school in Saint-Marc and pursued a bachelor’s degree in law at the university. He committed his life fighting for justice in Haiti. He became the commissioner of the first court of Saint-Marc from 1993 to 1994 November. Sylvestre’s long career in the judiciary of Haiti began in 1996 when he was chosen as a judge.

Moise said that he was deeply saddened by the news of the lawyer’s death. He described Rene as “a statesman, and a faithful servant of the Republic.” The President of the Haitian Bar Federation, Jacques Letang, said Sylvestres’s demise sends a massive blow to the institution for the number of Supreme Court members has now reduced to six. The institution is already going through a crisis, the same case as the Superior Council of Judicial Power where Rene served as the head.

Sylvestre is the most recent Haitian high-profile person to die of COVID-19 in a country where the government has not yet administered a single dose of any coronavirus vaccine. Haiti has lately faced a rapid increase in the number of infections and deaths, and it is unclear when vaccines will arrive.

The leader of the National Association of Haitian Magistrates, Judge Jean Wilner Morin, said the Supreme Court had previously lost a judge in the first wave of coronavirus last year, and with Rene’s death, “it is a crisis.” “Another judge was sucked and was never replaced,” Jean said. With the absence of a president and a Haitian government, the superior council of Judicial Power, which was expected to swear in new members, is also undergoing its own chaos. Recently, they refused to swear in the new members of the Provisional Electoral Council after the President appointed them.

On 7th February, Yvickel Dabresil, a Supreme Court judge, was arrested and detained as among the 23 alleged “coup plotters.” Joseph Mecene Jean-Louis was chosen as “transitional president” by the civil community group and the opposition trying to develop a parallel government. The two judges, together with Wendell Coq, also appointed by the opposition as a potential provisional head, were sucked by Moise. Moise later appointed their replacements without following the constitutional guidelines, which states that the judiciary administration arm should be nominated and approved by the senate.

The sucking and appointment led to a demonstration that lasted for a month. The strike involved four associations of judges who demanded the independence of the judiciary and called for the President to take back his order. The United States and members of the United Nations Security Council also denounced the Supreme Court judges’ firing.

Statement given by the Caribbean Court of Justice President on the death of Sylvestre

“In place of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), I must express how deeply sorry we are to learn of the passing of His Honor Judge Rene Sylvestre, the President of Haiti’s Supreme Court. At only 58, Judge Sylevstre still had a long career ahead of him after being appointed as the Supreme Court president in February 2019. I can only imagine how saddened the judiciary in Haiti is. My own shock and grief are all the more pronounced because, as late as a few weeks ago, Judge Sylvestre and I exchanged messages about ways of strengthening the relationship between our respective courts. I extend sincere condolences to his family, to the Haitian judiciary, and all the people of Haiti at this time.”

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