Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

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Help Us Power Haitian Solutions

December 19, 2014 - 13:16

December 18, 2014

Dear Friend,

I have seen so much change in Haiti in my lifetime. If you could see what I see daily, you would be filled with hope for my country too. I see Haitian solutions bringing justice. And justice bringing hope for stability and prosperity.

Every day, our office in Port-au-Prince is filled with grassroots activists organizing, holding press conferences and strategizing with our team of lawyers. From there, the activists go out to change the unjust structures that keep the Haitian people down. Women’s groups pack courtrooms, changing the dynamics that intimidate rape victims and even make their lawyers feel uncomfortable. Demonstrators attract national and international attention to social issues, and that attention brings pressure for change. Labor leaders return to their unions with the legal tools they need to enforce their rights and earn their way out of poverty.

But these signs of hope can be reversed if we don’t provide the support these change-makers need to turn hope into lasting change.

Our team provides these change-makers with the legal support they need to implement solutions. We bring cases to court—for recent victims of rape and torture victims of the Duvalier regime—that will transform Haitian justice and society. We get illegally-arrested activists and political dissidents out of jail and back onto the streets. We hike to rural communities ravaged by cholera to teach the people about their right to clean water and discuss strategies to fight for those rights against Haiti’s government and the UN.

While Haitians must lead the fight for justice in our country, we need the support of informed citizens in countries where many unjust decisions about Haitian rights are made. So we are grateful to the many collaborators, volunteers, activists, and above all, financial supporters that power our work.

And so I must ask…can we count on you for a year-end gift to power justice in Haiti?

I see all of us together—our staff in Haiti and the U.S., and our clients, collaborators and supporters including you—as a community. We’re united by the insight that enforcing basic human rights is vital to establishing security and prosperity in Haiti. We each come to this insight from our own path: My own understanding came from growing up in a house with no water or electricity and not always enough to eat, headed by a single woman, under the Duvalier dictatorship. Others come to the community from reading, studying, visiting Haiti, or directly experiencing or witnessing injustice elsewhere.

The best thing about this community is that it creates hope and change. Together we achieved historic victories for justice in Haiti in 2014. With you on our side, 2015 promises even more success!

Gratefully,

Mario Joseph
Avocat

P.S. Thank you for your support. Please give your most generous year-end tax-deductible donation so that we can continue to stand up and fight for justice.

 

Has Inequality Created Two Different Haitis Post-Quake?

December 18, 2014 - 09:21

Nearly five years after the catastrophic 2010 earthquake, there are many new buildings and construction projects in Haiti. On the other hand, tens of thousands are still living in internally displaced persons camps erected after the earthquake. The construction projects proclaim that “Haiti is moving forward” (Haiti ap vanse) but which part of Haiti will that be?

Part of the article is below. Click HERE for the full text.

Five years after the earthquake, reconstruction still a distant dream for many Haitians

Nathalie Baptiste, Latin Correspondent
December 18, 2014

When the 2010 earthquake struck the Port-au-Prince area, the international community rallied and raised billions of dollars for the reconstruction and development of Haiti. In the first few months after the earthquake, celebrities flew to Haiti on their private jets, major financial institutions pledged copious amounts of money and world leaders routinely pledged their commitment to helping Haiti build back better.

As the 5th anniversary of the earthquake approaches, though, that frenzy around the effort to rebuild Haiti has died down. The media moved on, donor pledges fell short and the rehabilitation of Port-au-Prince and its suburbs has left a lot to be desired.

In Port-au-Prince, men work on a new fish market and hospital. On Champs De Mars, where the National Palace stood before the earthquake toppled it, construction is in full swing. The tent camp in the area that had risen up after the earthquake was cleared away — forcing many inhabitants to live with relatives or hastily built shoddy shacks. Though the number of displaced has diminished from 1.5 million, tens of thousands of Haitians are still living in camps.

 

Click HERE for the full text.

New BAI Blog on Civic Engagement Program

December 17, 2014 - 08:52

December 17, 2014

Bureau des Avocats Internationaux has just launched a blog about their new Civic Engagement Program! The program, which officially launched the first week of December, seeks to educate 3 low-income communities about their human rights and help them claim them. This blog will keep us posted on its progress and achievements. The blog will be in English, French, and Haitian Creole.

Check it out!

17 decembre 2014

Le Bureau des Avocats Internationaux a récemment lancé un blog sur son nouveau Programme d’Engagement Civique! Le programme à officiellement pris naissance au cours de la première semaine du mois de décembre. Il veut travailler dans la formation de 3 communautés défavorisées en ce qui attrait à leurs droits humains et aussi de les aider à revendiquer ces droits. Ce blog nous tiendra au courant de ses progrès et de ses réalisations. Le blog sera en anglais, en français, et en créole haïtien.

Jetez un coup d’oeil!

17 desanm 2014

Bureau des Avocats Internationaux fèk lanse yon blog sou nouvo Pwogram Angajman Sivik yo! Pwogram la te ofisyèlman kòmanse premye semèn mwad desanm. Pwogram la chèche edike 3 kominote defavorize sou dwa moun e ede yo revandike dwa sa yo. Blog sa a ap kenbe-n o kouran de pwogrè ak siksè pwogram la. Blog la ap ann anglè, an fransè, e an kreyol.

Fè yon kou dèy.

Cholera Litigation Frequently Asked Questions

December 16, 2014 - 14:04
JUSTICE FOR HAITI CHOLERA VICTIMS: THE LAWSUIT AGAINST THE UNITED NATIONS

Click HERE for the pdf version, with citations.

When did the Haitian cholera epidemic begin?
What is cholera?
Did UN actions really cause the cholera outbreak in Haiti?
Isn’t Haiti’s weak water and sanitation to blame for the epidemic?
How has the UN responded to the epidemic?
How are claims against the UN supposed to be resolved?
Did the cholera victims attempt to resolve their claims with the UN before filing a lawsuit?
Why was the lawsuit filed in the United States instead of Haiti?
How has the UN responded to the lawsuit?
What is the Haitian Government’s position on the lawsuit?
Why is the U.S. Government opposing the lawsuit?
Does the UN have immunity from this lawsuit?
What are the plaintiffs seeking?
What would be the broader policy impacts of a victory for the plaintiffs?
If the judge rules that the UN does not have immunity in this case, wouldn’t that open the floodgates to a torrent of future litigation against the UN?
What can I do to support efforts to hold the UN accountable?

BACKGROUND

1. When did the Haitian cholera epidemic begin?
Cholera appeared in Haiti in October 2010 for the first time in recorded history. While cholera is endemic in some developing countries, Haiti had never before had a case of this waterborne disease. As of October 28, 2014, the Haitian government reports that 8,647 people have died and over 711,500 have been infected with the disease. Geneticists and epidemiologists have verified that the outbreak originated at a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping base in Mirebalais, Haiti.

2. What is cholera?
Cholera is a waterborne bacterial illness that causes acute, profuse diarrhea and vomiting. If left untreated, it can kill in a matter of hours. It is spread primarily through consuming food or water that has been contaminated with the feces of an infected person. Cholera disproportionately impacts the poor and vulnerable, who lack access to adequate sanitation and clean water. Similarly, while it is generally easily treatable with oral rehydration solutions, the communities most vulnerable to cholera are also least likely to have access to effective healthcare.

3. Did UN actions really cause the cholera outbreak in Haiti?
Extensive evidence from numerous genetic and epidemiological studies demonstrates that cholera was introduced to Haiti by a peacekeeping contingent from Nepal—where cholera is endemic, and which was experiencing a surge in cases—that was deployed to the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) days before the first case appeared in Haiti. The Nepalese troops were stationed on a base that discharged untreated fecal waste into Haiti’s principal river system, upon which tens of thousands of Haitians rely as their primary source of water for drinking, washing, and farming. The UN’s own panel of experts appointed to investigate the source of the cholera outbreak concluded that “the preponderance of the evidence and the weight of the circumstantial evidence does lead to the conclusion that personnel associated with the Mirebalais MINUSTAH facility were the most likely source of introduction of cholera into Haiti.”1 Genetic testing has shown the strains of cholera in Haiti and Nepal to be virtually identical.2 In July 2014, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged that the UN has a “moral responsibility” to end the epidemic.3

4. Isn’t Haiti’s weak water and sanitation to blame for the epidemic?
The UN has sought to evade responsibility on the argument that a “confluence of factors,” including Haiti’s weak sanitation and health infrastructure, are the real reasons for the epidemic. This is a legally invalid defense, akin to starting a fire in a dry field and blaming the wind when the fire spreads. Before the outbreak, Haiti was widely known as one of the most water insecure countries in the world, and after the devastating earthquake of January 2010, experts warned that outbreaks of waterborne diseases, especially cholera, would have disastrous effects. They also noted that the only ingredient missing from the recipe for a cholera epidemic was the cholera bacterium itself. Haiti’s fragile conditions created a heightened responsibility for the UN to exercise care in its operations in Haiti. Yet the UN failed to take basic measures to prevent the introduction of cholera, including testing or treating its soldiers known to have come from a cholera-endemic region, and properly managing and disposing of its waste.

5. How has the UN responded to the epidemic?
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged that the UN has a “moral responsibility” to respond to the epidemic, but this statement has not been accompanied with adequate action. The UN has rejected victims’ claims for compensation, has not made the investments in water and sanitation infrastructure necessary to stop the epidemic, and has refused to acknowledge its role in introducing cholera to Haiti.

In October 2013, the UN and the Government of Haiti announced the creation of a High Level Committee for the Elimination of Cholera, but to date there is no publicly available information on the work of that committee. Two years ago, the UN also announced its support for the Haitian government’s official cholera elimination plan, yet the UN has pledged only 1% of the estimated $2.2 billion needed and has failed to mobilize enough funds from other donors to start work on the plan. As of October 2014, total funding for the plan amounted to only 12%.4

LEGAL EFFORTS TO HOLD THE UN ACCOUNTABLE


6. How are claims against the UN supposed to be resolved?
The UN has well-established legal obligations—documented in international treaties, UN General Assembly resolutions, official UN statements, and elsewhere—to provide access to justice to people harmed by negligence in the course of its operations.

  • The Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations (CPIUN) mandates that the UN “shall provide for appropriate modes of settlement” of private law claims against it in § 29. 5 The UN has cited claims by individuals and entities not party to the CPIUN for personal injury or death arising out of peacekeeping operations as classic examples of private law claims that the UN must settle.6 The claims of the cholera victims fall squarely within the realm of private law claims.
  • The UN-Haiti Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) provides that third-party claims for personal injury, illness or death that arise out of MINUSTAH’s operations in Haiti, which cannot be resolved informally, are to be heard and settled through a standing claims commission.7 Despite this requirement, no commission has been established during the seven years MINUSTAH has operated in Haiti. In fact, although the establishment of a standing claims commission is a standard feature in each of the 32 SOFAs that have governed UN peacekeeping missions since 1990, no such commission has ever been established.8


7. Did the cholera victims attempt to resolve their claims with the UN before filing a lawsuit?
Yes. In November 2011, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and its Haitian sister-organization, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), worked with 5,000 cholera victims to file claims directly with the UN in accordance with the CPIUN and SOFA. They petitioned for the establishment of a standing claims commission and remedies in the form of: 1) investments in water and sanitation infrastructure to combat the epidemic; 2) just compensation; and 3) a public acceptance of responsibility.

In February 2013, the UN responded that the claims were “not receivable pursuant to Section 29 [of the CPIUN]” because “consideration of these claims would necessarily include a review of political and policy matters.”9 The victims again wrote to the UN, explaining that the dismissal appeared to have no valid basis in law and that it conflicted with its obligations to provide an alternative settlement mechanism. They requested clarification of the grounds for dismissal, and mediation or a meeting to discuss out-of-court resolution of the claims. The UN refused those requests. It was only in the wake of this dismissal that Georges v. United Nations was filed in October 2013 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, against the UN, MINUSTAH, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and former head of MINUSTAH Edmond Mulet.

The UN’s response has been heavily criticized, including by international law experts and the UN’s own former lawyers, as non-compliant with the UN’s legal obligations. An extensive study undertaken by Yale Law School found that “the UN’s ongoing unwillingness to hold itself accountable to victims violates its legal obligations under international law.”10

8. Why was the lawsuit filed in the United States instead of Haiti?
We believe that the United States is the most appropriate forum for the case because the UN is headquartered in New York, where important decisions that contributed to the introduction of cholera were made. Two individual defendants are in the United States, U.S. citizens and residents (especially members of the Haitian-American diaspora) have fallen ill and lost family members to cholera. Additionally, because there is no class action mechanism in the Haitian court system, Haitian courts may lack the capacity to provide a fair hearing given the scale of the claims. There are also serious concerns regarding the independence of the Haitian judiciary, especially in the political context of this case.

9. How has the UN responded to the lawsuit?
The UN has not formally responded to the lawsuit. Instead, it asked the U.S. Government to seek dismissal on its behalf, citing the United States’ obligation as the UN’s host nation. In March 2014, the U.S. Attorney submitted a Statement of Interest in the case, asserting that the Defendants have absolute immunity from suit in U.S. courts regardless of the UN’s failure to comply with obligations to provide alternate dispute resolution. Judge J. Paul Oetken, the federal judge assigned to the case, ordered a hearing on the issue of UN immunity that took place Thursday, October 23, 2014, and a decision on immunity is still pending.

10. What is the Haitian Government’s position on the lawsuit?
The Haitian Government has not taken a formal position on the lawsuit itself. The opposition-controlled Senate has passed numerous resolutions calling on MINUSTAH to provide reparations to victims of cholera, but the President — who wields the most foreign relations power to put pressure on the UN — remains woefully silent on UN responsibility. In October 2013, the Haitian Prime Minister told the UN General Assembly “that the United Nations has a moral responsibility in this epidemic,”11 marking the first time the Haitian government has publicly acknowledged the UN’s responsibility in such stark terms. Still, the Haitian government is far from taking adequate action to protect the rights of its people and push the UN to provide a just response.

11. Why is the U.S. Government opposing the lawsuit?
The U.S. Government asserts that it is obligated to protect UN immunity as the UN’s host nation and a state party to the CPIUN. By taking this position and ignoring the UN’s violation of its obligations to settle claims out of court, the U.S. is seeking selective enforcement of the CPIUN that is not justified by the law. Several groups have objected to this position. For example, the New York City Bar Association has urged the U.S. Government to call upon the UN to perform its obligations under the CPIUN.12 Similarly, the National Haitian-American Elected Officials Network (NHAEON) has called on Secretary of State John Kerry to “stand for justice and international law by refusing to intervene and letting the cholera victims take their case to court.”13

12. Does the UN have immunity from this lawsuit?
The CPIUN grants the UN protection from national courts in § 2, but that immunity has always been a two-way street. In exchange for immunity, § 29 of the CPIUN requires the UN to provide an out-of-court mechanism for the settlement of private law claims (those based in contract or tort, such as those brought by the cholera victims). These are two sides of the same coin, such that when the UN does not provide such a mechanism, it can no longer benefit from immunity under the treaty.

More specifically, plaintiffs present two main arguments for why the UN is not entitled to immunity in the cholera case:

  • First, the availability of immunity is conditional on the UN upholding its obligation to provide an out-of-court settlement mechanism. The text of the CPIUN links the two clauses, and the travaux preparatoires, or drafting history of the CPIUN, confirms that the drafters of the treaty envisioned the provision of out-of-court settlement to be a necessary precondition to enjoyment of immunity. Thus, when the UN does not provide that mechanism as required by the treaty, its immunity under the same treaty may no longer be enforced.
  • Second, the obligation to provide access to an out-of-court procedure is integral to the object and purpose of the CPIUN as a whole, meaning that when the UN fails to uphold that obligation, it has violated the entire treaty and is no longer entitled to immunity.
IMPACT OF THE LITIGATION


13. What are the plaintiffs seeking?
The Georges plaintiffs are seeking just compensation for their injuries and remediation costs to help install clean water and sanitation infrastructure that will eliminate cholera from Haiti. Should plaintiffs win this case, the amount awarded to them would be determined according to the law.

Although we anticipate that each victim would be awarded a modest amount, even relatively small compensation could have a profound effect on the families affected by cholera, many of whom have lost breadwinners. Compensation would alleviate the financial burdens of paying for medical care and funeral costs, and would permit families to redirect limited resources to paying for essential needs like tuition expenses, allowing children to return to school and obtain an education.

14. What would be the broader policy impacts of a victory for the plaintiffs?
A judgment in favor of plaintiffs would vitally transform the water and sanitation infrastructure in Haiti, which would free families of the burden of chronic illness, and reduce the burden—primarily borne by women and girls—of spending hours each day fetching water from distant, questionable sources. In turn, this would allow Haitians to enjoy their fundamental right to water and sanitation and save thousands of lives every year.

A successful outcome would also result in improved accountability for the UN, which we believe will ultimately strengthen the UN’s ability to do good around the world. The UN’s response to cholera victims has subjected it to severe criticisms from around the world that it operates with double standards, and has eroded its moral credibility to urge world leaders to comply with the rule of law. As noted by Former Deputy Director of UNICEF, Stephen Lewis,“it would do the UN a lot of good to be seen as principled in the face of having caused such devastation [in Haiti].”14

A just response to victims of cholera would help reinforce the human right to a remedy. A number of UN human rights experts have voiced their objections to the UN’s formal response and stressed the importance of this human right in the context of calling for the UN to adequately respond to the cholera epidemic. Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay publicly stated that she “stand[s] by the call that victims of cholera … be provided with compensation.”15 Similarly, the UN Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Haiti, Gustavo Gallón, stated in an official report that “full reparation for damages” should be assured to the Haitian people,16 and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation emphasized “the obligation … to ensure the alleged [cholera] victims’ right to a remedy, including compensation, if warranted.”17

15. If the judge rules that the UN does not have immunity in this case, wouldn’t that open the floodgates to a torrent of future litigation against the UN?
A victory for the cholera plaintiffs would not impose any additional obligations on the UN, since the organization already recognizes that it has an obligation to provide compensation for victims of personal injury and usually complies with that obligation. It would not “open up the floodgates” to litigation for two reasons: First, the ruling would only be relevant for private law claims against the UN, such as those based in contract or tort. These types of claims are entirely separate and distinct from claims related to the UN carrying out its mandate, for which the UN would retain its immunity. Subjecting the UN to accountability for private law violations would align UN immunity with that enjoyed by many national governments, which may be sued when they commit torts, but enjoy immunity for their sovereign actions. Second, a lack of immunity in this case would be premised on the UN’s complete refusal to comply with its legal obligations to provide access to a remedy. To keep its immunity intact and avoid being subject to the jurisdiction of national courts in the future, the UN would need only to uphold its legal obligations to provide a mechanism for out-of-court settlement of claims.

The Georges plaintiffs seek a narrow, fact-specific ruling that immunity may not be enforced under the circumstances where the UN has refused to comply with its corresponding obligation to provide a way for third parties to resolve claims against it outside of court. As such, the case is challenging UN impunity, not UN immunity. The plaintiffs are in not challenging the validity of the CPIUN or the legitimacy of UN immunity generally, but are only seeking implementation of the UN’s existing obligations.

16. What can I do to support efforts to hold the UN accountable?
Learn more:

Support justice:

  • Donate to support our efforts to obtain accountability and investments in clean water and sanitation in Haiti;
  • Host a viewing of Baseball in the Time of Cholera, a Tribeca Film Festival award-winning documentary that shows how our case is impacting the life of a Haitian Little League pitcher;
  • Host a viewing of Fault Lines: Haiti in a Time of Cholera, a Peabody and Emmy award-winning short documentary film by Al Jazeera America on UN responsibility for cholera in Haiti;
  • Volunteer your time to support the fight for human rights in Haiti.

 

Click HERE for the pdf version, with citations.

UN Troops Must Be Accountable for Rights Violations

December 15, 2014 - 14:16

A video released this weekend shows UN soldiers firing on Haitian protestors, prompting further calls for UN accountability. UN soldiers should protect protestors’ rights to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly, not violate those rights. MINUSTAH has promised an investigation but similar investigations in the past have not been satisfactory. In an increasingly tense political climate, Haitians need the UN to respect its human rights obligations.

Part of the article is below. Click HERE for the full text.

UN Troops Use Live Ammunition on Haitian Protesters, Pledge Investigation

Center for Economic and Policy Research
December 15, 2014

“The freedom to demonstrate and freedom of expression are rights guaranteed by international conventions, enshrined in the Haitian constitution and supported by the law,” Sandra Honoré, the head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), said last month following a week of protests across the country, which resulted in a number of reported deaths. Honoré added that the Haitian government must ensure that “offenders are prosecuted.” But Honoré may have an opportunity to lead by example after videos from Haitian media surfaced over the weekend showing a U.N. soldier firing a handgun in the direction of protesters. The video shows him discharge his weapon multiple times, then aggressively try to prevent a cameraman from filming him.

In a statement today, Amnesty International condemns this episode as well as injuries suffered the day before by protesters allegedly at the hands of the Haitian National Police. Protests calling for the resignation of both the president and prime minister have been occurring nationwide over the last month in response to the government’s failure to hold elections — now more than three years overdue. In an attempt to quell the unrest, Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe resigned Saturday night, after President Martelly signaled Friday that he would accept the recommendations of a presidential advisory committee, which had called for Lamothe’s ouster. U.S. State Department officials Thomas Shannon and Tom Adamswere in Haiti last week, apparently helping pave the way for the resignation.

“The political climate in Haiti is getting tenser and tenser. It is imperative that the Haitian National Police and the MINUSTAH are able to cope with the situation in a way that ensure protection of human rights. People must be allowed to exercise their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, without fear of being shot at,” said Chiara Liguori, Caribbean researcher at Amnesty International.

 

Click HERE for the full text.

Click HERE for the video.

MINUSTAH and Haitian Police Must Respect Protesters’ Rights

December 15, 2014 - 10:16

In an increasingly tense political climate, MINUSTAH troops and Haitian National Police must be sure to respect Haitians’ rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. In several demonstrations over the past few years, protestors have been killed or injured by police forces. MINUSTAH has announced an investigation into excessive use of force during a December 13 demonstration where peacekeepers shot at the crowd and one man was found dead.

Part of the article is below. Click HERE for the full text.

Francais IÇI.

Haiti: allegations of excessive use of force during demonstrations must be thoroughly investigated

Amnesty International
December 15, 2014

The Haitian National Police and the UN peacekeeping force must avoid unnecessary and excessive use of force when patrolling and dispersing demonstrations and thoroughly investigate all allegations of human rights violations during protests, Amnesty International said today after incidents were reported in the demonstrations which took place in Haiti on 12 and 13 December.

According to media reports, two people were injured by firearms during a demonstration in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince on 12 December while another person was allegedly shot and killed the following day in another protest. Although the circumstances of the incidents are yet to be clarified, reports indicate that in both cases the police might have used live ammunitions against the demonstrators.

Haitian media also released a video showing a UN peacekeeper shooting several times at demonstrators after some of them had thrown rocks at the UN troops. The UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) promptly issued a statement acknowledging the allegations of excessive use of force and informing that an investigation had been immediately opened “to establish the facts”.

“The political climate in Haiti is getting tenser and tenser. It is imperative that the Haitian National Police and the MINUSTAH are able to cope with the situation in a way that ensure protection of human rights. People must be allowed to exercise their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, without fear of being shot at”, said Chiara Liguori, Caribbean researcher at Amnesty International.

 

Click HERE for the full text.

Le texte francais IÇI.

Raise Your Voice for Justice This Holiday Season

December 15, 2014 - 07:30

December 15, 2014

Dear Friend,

We do not speak. afraid
of what might happen to us
the air above our tongues
prays for us to speak. afraid
of what might happen
if we don’t
The Air Above Our Tongues, By Ruth Forman (from Prayers Like Shoes)

Many awards were presented to human rights activists around the world on December 10th, International Human Rights Day. This year, the day reminded me of the two-day retreat I hosted last July for the staff of Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, in the cool mountains high above Port-au-Prince. There in my midst were about two dozen emerging leaders – young, dedicated, brilliant and eager Haitian lawyers, apprentice lawyers and law students – fighting daily for the dignity of their fellow Haitians. I pinned an imaginary medal on each of them, shook their hands and gave each a hug. I smiled as I remembered sitting beside my good friend Mario Joseph, remembering his lifetime of achievements working for human rights. I even recognized my own place within the outstanding organization known as the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti.

We spent the days discussing the current political climate in Haiti, the work of BAI, the political strides since the Duvalier years, and the struggles of today. I listened attentively, sometimes wincing, at the stories of staff braving retribution and danger of bodily harm in their daily legal work. I heard stories of sexual, economic and political violence against classes of people not only marginalized, but actually pursued for persecution. I also heard amazing stories of the resourcefulness of staff working tirelessly with scarce resources against a power structure with built-in obstacles strewn across the paths to justice. I listened and was humbled.

As a Haitian-American born to immigrant parents in New York, I was taught that Haiti was a place where everyone had excellent penmanship like my father. This was the reason my sister and I had to practice our cursive every Sunday after church. It was a place where little girls wore neatly pressed school uniforms and shiny shoes, with ribbons in their hair that matched those uniforms. This is why we pressed our school uniforms, shined our shoes and wore matching ribbons. My father told me, more often than I care to remember, that the greatest gift he ever gave me was my United States citizenship. My parents taught me to be a proud Haitian, while recognizing the privileges of also being American.

While my parents were eerily silent on Haitian politics during the Duvalier regimes, two events marked the epiphany of my Haitian political education. At around age 11, I came home from a Girl Scout field trip to the United Nations, and was so proud that they had a neatly pressed Haitian scouting uniform, with a flag prominently sewn over the dress pocket, that I could wear home. But when I arrived, my mother took one look at me in that uniform and told me to take it off. My father shook his head, muttering “Fillettes Lalo”[1], and sent me to my room to change.  The flag sewn on the pocket was BLACK and blue.  I received no explanation and I did not dare ask.

Then in the Spring of 1986, my mother arrived home from her annual trip to Haiti wearing a supersized t-shirt with an oversized BLUE and red Haitian flag. My political Haitian history lessons began with the return of the real Haitian flag. My parents, who had been afraid to speak of Haitian politics, could now actually celebrate because Duvalier, and his flag, were gone from Haiti. As the years passed, there came to be over a dozen blue and red flags hung around our Manhattan apartment. When I lived in Haiti later as an adult, my favorite holiday was May 18 – Flag Day – because I really knew what it meant.

I understand the fear that silenced my parents for so many years. I have also witnessed that when people stand together to speak out against injustice, justice becomes possible. I am so proud to support BAI staff, who work for justice despite threats and harassment. Together, IJDH staff, board members, advisory members and supporters raise our voices for justice. Please add your voice with your support.

Happy holidays.

Sincerely,

Judy S. Prosper
IJDH Board Member

 

 

[1] This is a slang term referring to female Duvalierists.

Haitian Prime Minister Resigns, Following Commission’s Recommendations

December 14, 2014 - 22:27

Following a presidentially-appointed commission’s recommendations that he resign, and amid growing demands for his and the president’s resignation, Haitian prime minister Lamothe has resigned. Some worry that finding a new prime minister will aggravate the current elections crisis but some see the commission’s recommendations as a major step in the right direction.

Part of the article is below. Click HERE for the full text.

Haiti PM resigns amid political discontent

Evens Sanon & Danica Coto, Miami Herald
December 15, 2014

Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe announced early Sunday that he was resigning along with several ministers in the wake of violent anti-government protests and a commission’s call for him to step down.

In a speech that was delayed past midnight, Lamothe said he was leaving “with a sense of accomplishment,” adding: “This country has undergone a deep and dynamic transformation and a real change in benefit of its people.”

President Michel Martelly said earlier he accepted the findings of the commission that had recommended Lamothe’s replacement.

Martelly appointed Lamothe as prime minister in 2012, and some political analysts believe Lamothe might seek the presidency in upcoming elections.

 

Click HERE for the full text.

Click HERE for the resignation speech.

Cholera Interfaith Prayer Service

December 11, 2014 - 09:30

Join faith communities in NYC for a service for Haiti’s cholera victims.

WHERE:

Tillman Chapel
United Nations Church Center
777 UN Plaza, 1st Ave at 44th St
New York, NY 10017

WHEN:

Thursday, December 11, 2014
1:30 – 2:30pm

Georgette Delinois Speech at Cholera Interfaith Service

December 11, 2014 - 09:24

Below are remarks from Georgette Delinois, a board member of the Haiti Solidarity Network of the North East, at the interfaith prayer service for Haitian cholera victims.

Georgette Delinois
December 11, 2014

Ayibobo frem ak sem yo mwen salye nou e o non de komite ki organize tet kole sa e tout se n ak fre n ki victim maladi kolera a, map di nou mesi anpil pou kantite lanmou e kompasyon ke nou montre avek prezans nou la a Jodi a.

Yon ti mo pou zanmi Ameriken yo:
Good afternoon peace loving brothers and sisters; on behalf of the Committee that worked so hard to put today’s event together, and on behalf of my Haitian brothers and sisters, victims of the cholera epidemic in Haiti, I would like to welcome you for the level of compassion you’ve shown by your presence here this afternoon. I also hope that we will remain focused as to what brought us here this afternoon. We are here today because we believe an injustice was done to the people of Haiti after the cholera was introduced there by the MINUSTHA; We are here today because we believe that every single God’s creation matters; we are here today because we want to ask the UN to adequately address the issues that are associated with the cholera in Haiti; we are here to make sure that the world, our world is kept abreast of the “I don’t care” attitude of the UN vis-a-vis the Haitian people and Haiti; we are here today to publicly show our solidarity for our brothers and sisters, victims of the cholera, in Haiti and ask the UN in a peaceful, prayerful and yet firm way, to assume responsibility and make reparation for their negligence. It is indeed morally irresponsible for the UN to continue to ignore the cholera and the ills it has brought to Haiti, a country with a people that already has so many strikes against them. You would all agree w/ me that the UN’s I don’t care attitude is an inhuman, disrespectful, unjust, and morally wrong response and should not be accepted/tolerated by anyone. I would be remiss if I don’t give a special welcome to UN staff who disagree with and in fact support a more adequate and just response by the UN to the epidemic. Lastly we want to thank those individuals/organizations who are working to change the official policy and want you to know that we and the Haitian people are counting on your continued support for a just change.

Zanmi m yo, my dear friends I once more welcome and thank you for coming. I am also asking all of us to continue to pressure the UN to act morally and responsibly.
May God bless you all e kenbe fem.

By Georgette Delinois, LCSW (12/11/14)

UN Should Respect Cholera Victims on Human Rights Day

December 10, 2014 - 14:29

By denying responsibility and dodging accountability for the cholera epidemic its peacekeepers brought to Haiti, the United Nations is denying the victims justice. The John Marshall Law School joins countless other in demanding that the UN provide redress to the victims. What better time to do so than on International Human Rights Day?

Part of the post is below. Click HERE for the full text.

UN Should Honor Human Rights Day With Amends to Haitian Cholera Victims

John Marshall Law School International Human Rights Clinic
December 10, 2014

Today, Human Rights Day should be when the United Nations starts righting the wrongs done to hundreds of thousands of Haitian cholera victims who have been deprived of justice by the international organization. That’s according to the International Human Rights Clinic at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

The IHRC leads a group of nearly 60 supporters from around the world in calling on the U.N. to stop refusing remedies to the victims of Haiti’s destructive cholera epidemic. Denying proper redress, IHRC leaders assert, is a violation of the human rights of Haitian victims.

In a letter to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the IHRC urges the U.N. to seek immediate redress for the victims of the massive cholera epidemic that hit Haiti four years ago. As of October 2014, the official death toll from cholera has risen to 8,647 and the number of those infected has risen to 711,442, according to the group.

“The epidemic is a serious threat to life and a fundamental barrier to the realization of human rights in Haiti, including the rights to life, health, clean water, sanitation, and a healthy environment,” the IHRC and its supporting organizations  write to High Commissioner Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein.

 

Click HERE for the full text.

Mixed Reviews on Haiti Presidential Commission’s Recommendations

December 9, 2014 - 19:00

This article outlines the recommendations of a commission called by President Michel Martelly to address the current elections crisis in Haiti. Supporters of the current government feel that the commission’s recommendations are too drastic, while the opposition to the current government feels that more should be done. Elections in Haiti have been delayed for over 3.5 years. Both Haitians and the international community are increasingly concerned by the lack of compromise towards holding fair and democratic elections as soon as possible.

Part of the article is below. Click HERE for the full text.

Call for Haiti PM Laurent Lamothe to resign gets mixed reaction

Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald
December 9, 2014

Haitian lawmakers Tuesday rebuffed recommendations in a far-reaching report that called for the resignation of Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and other key government officials to stave off a worsening political crisis.

The 10-page report, penned by an 11-member presidential commission, sets a timetable for Lamothe’s resignation. It also recommends replacing the head of the country’s Supreme Court and members of the body charged with organizing long-delayed elections. Dozens who have been arbitrarily arrested and deemed by human rights groups to be political prisoners should be released, the report said.

The recommendations are “calming measures” intended to show the will of Haiti’s leaders to reduce the tensions dividing the country, the commission said.

Parliamentarians on both sides strongly disagreed with the report.

“It’s asking for too much,” said Deputy Abel Descolines, a pro-government lawmaker and first secretary of the lower Chamber of Deputies. “We believe the better alternative is to have a real institutional dialogue.”

 

Click HERE for the full text.

USAID Reconstruction Costs in Haiti Underestimated and Undersupervised

December 9, 2014 - 13:18

Nearly 5 years after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the reconstruction effort continues to struggle. This article focuses on a project by USAID, which costs a lot more than originally planned, for a lot fewer houses than originally projected. Many blame these issues on lack of oversight and hiring foreign contractors instead of local Haitians.

Part of the article is below. Click HERE for the full text.

U.S Home Reconstruction in Haiti: Another Disaster

Brianna Ehley, The Fiscal Times
December 9, 2014

Nearly five years after a disastrous 7.0 magnitude earthquake devastated Haiti, killing more than 220,000 people and leaving millions without homes, the tiny island nation is still struggling to pick up the pieces—despite a multi-billion dollar international repair effort.

The United States alone committed more than $3 billion to rebuild Haiti—with federal agencies creating a spate of programs and initiatives aimed at helping storm victims get access to shelter and food. But many of those programs have fallen short– soaring way over budget and way past their deadlines.

The U.S. Aid and International Development agency (USAID)’s “New Settlement Program” for example, intended to build houses for Haitians that lost their homes to the earthquake, has been plagued with cost overruns and hasn’t helped nearly as many people as planned.

 

Click HERE for the full text.

Commission Calls for Martelly Government’s Resignation

December 9, 2014 - 09:59

A commission called by Haitian President Michel Martelly recommends radical changes to end the electoral crisis there, including the resignation of the Prime Minister and calling a new electoral council. Right now, it is unclear whether Martelly will heed the call and what role the international community will play but these recommendations are a major step in the right direction.

Part of the article is below. Click HERE for the full text.

Haiti commission calls for new prime minister, government to stave off crisis

Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald
December 9, 2014

An 11-member Haiti presidential commission charged with helping stave off a deepening political crisis is calling for sweeping changes, including the resignation of Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and his government, the head of the country’s supreme court and members of the body charged with organizing delayed elections, according to a copy of the report obtained by the Miami Herald.

The commission also is asking for the release of several people who have been arbitrarily arrested and deemed by human rights groups as political prisoners as part of what it is calling, “calming measures” intended to show the will of Haiti’s leaders to reduce the tensions dividing the country.

The opposition also has a role to play, the commission said. The report calls for a truce by the opposition, whose political parties have amplified their street demonstrations in recent weeks with appeals for Lamothe and President Michel Martelly to resign. The truce is necessary to achieve a political agreement for Haiti’s long-delayed local and legislative elections to occur, members agreed.

 

Click HERE for the full text.

Why Haiti Needs Us to Support Justice

December 8, 2014 - 07:30

December 8, 2014

Dear Friend,

In trying to explain the historic importance of the work of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and its partner the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), it is tempting to say that words fail me. But that is not exactly true. I was so moved by their fight for justice in Haiti that I wrote over 100,000 words about it, in the form of the book How Human Rights Can Build Haiti.

Many of us in the U.S. shy away from calls to justice. Instead, our natural reaction to suffering is more often to engage in acts of charity, as evidenced by the tens of thousands of folks from the U.S. who actively support mission-related work in Haiti. Schools are built, wells are dug, and medicine delivered. I applaud and admire these efforts.
But the very faith traditions that inspire the multitudes to such action also make an insistent call for human rights. For centuries, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim teachings have echoed the same refrain: charity is no substitute for justice.

In solidarity with the Haitian people, IJDH and BAI follow in that justice-seeking tradition. Social movement history shows that real change happens when inspired grassroots activists are joined by individuals and organizations who provide contacts, support, and yes, funds. That was the blueprint for the anti-apartheid movement, the U.S. civil rights movement, and the struggle against colonialism.

It is the same blueprint being followed by the movement for justice and democracy in Haiti. Evidence of that success is found in the remarkable multinational cholera response and the dramatically increased protection of women’s rights. Thanks in large part to the work of IJDH and BAI, the nation that was founded by a legendary 19th century freedom struggle is now poised to serve as a 21st century model of oppressed people reclaiming their destiny.

I am proud to be a supporter of IJDH and BAI, and excited that so many others are joining the cause. When we donate to help continue their work in Haiti, we not only give the gift of justice, we play a part in making human rights history.

Sincerely,

Fran Quigley

 

Cholera Justice Letter to UN High Commissioner

December 5, 2014 - 09:20

The International Human Rights Clinic (IHRC) of the John Marshall Law School has written a report detailing the UN’s violation of Haitian’s rights by not taking responsibility for the cholera epidemic UN peacekeepers caused there. Along with that report, the IHRC is sending a letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urging him to seek redress for cholera’s victims. The IHRC is accepting organizational signatures until December 9, 2014.

Part of the article is below. Click HERE for the full text.

UN Must Make Amends to Victims of Haiti Cholera Epidemic

John Marshall Law School in International Human Rights Clinic
December 5, 2014

The United Nations must stop refusing to provide remedies to the victims of Haiti’s destructive cholera epidemic. That plea comes from The John Marshall Law School International Human Rights Clinic, whose leaders say that denying proper redress – detailed in an IHRC report - is a violation of the human rights of Haitian victims.

In a letter to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the IHRC urges the U.N. to seek immediate redress for the victims of the massive cholera epidemic that hit Haiti four years ago. As of October 2014, the official death toll from cholera has risen to 8,647 and the number of those infected has risen to 711,442, according to the IHRC.

“The epidemic is a serious threat to life and a fundamental barrier to the realization of human rights in Haiti, including the rights to life, health, clean water, sanitation, and a healthy environment,” the group writes.

The IHRC is accepting organizational signatures of support to the letter to the U.N. High Commissioner until Dec. 9.

According to a previous IHRC report, extensive evidence shows U.N. peacekeepers allegedly introduced the deadly strain to the country from reckless waste management that leaked into Haiti’s principal river. The U.N. has been unwilling to accept responsibility for its alleged role in the outbreak, and a growing number of human rights advocates are calling on the agency to compensate victims or invest resources to fight the problem.

 

Click HERE for the full text.

What is the Movement for Cholera Justice?

December 4, 2014 - 11:34

This blog post by IJDH Staff Attorney Beatrice Lindstrom describes the fight for justice for Haiti’s cholera victims from filing claims with the United Nations in 2011, to the hearing about UN immunity this year. Through the Cholera Justice Network, which includes everyone from our supporters to political leaders, we have slowly but surely pushed the UN towards a just response to the epidemic.

Part of the post is below. Click HERE for the full text.

FROM HAITIAN VILLAGES TO US COURTS: THE MOVEMENT TO SECURE JUSTICE FOR HAITIAN SURVIVORS OF UN CHOLERA

Beatrice Lindstrom, Bertha Justice Initiative Blog
December 4, 2014

To reach the remote village where Jean—a cholera survivor who is one of our clients—is an elected community leader, one must drive past the small town of Meille, a vivid reminder of the events that connected Jean with the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in the first place. The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) maintains a base perched on a stream that flows through Meille into Haiti’s largest river, and the town was thrown into the international spotlight in 2010 when cholera-contaminated human waste was discharged from the base into the river, triggering a deadly cholera outbreak.

BAI’s Managing Attorney Mario Joseph, Bertha Fellow Clifford Chery and I met with Jean late this summer, to strategize about justice for the cholera victims. The BAI and the U.S.-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH)—where I work– had filed an internal claim with the UN. When that was rejected, we filed a lawsuit in U.S. courts. Our meeting was an opportunity to develop the connections between the legal efforts in the U.S. and the local organizing strategies, and we discussed how Jean could mobilize his community in rural Haiti to turn out for demonstrations to keep pressure on the UN.

Just before our visit with Jean, the UN Secretary-General had made his first trip to Haiti since the introduction of cholera, and publicly admitted the UN’s moral responsibility to respond to the epidemic. The fact that he visited at all—almost four years after the outbreak– is a testament to the continuing pressure being put on the UN in Haiti and abroad.

 

Click HERE for the full text.

Human Rights Day 2014

December 2, 2014 - 09:58

On December 10, 2014, people around the world will celebrate the principle that human rights are universal.

To honor this principle, IJDH is working to ensure that human rights for all include Haiti cholera victims by speaking out for Haiti and calling the UN to do better.

Please join us by participating in the following activities:

Help us demand that the UN not overlook Haiti’s cholera victims when it promotes universal human rights!

Featured photo credit: Ben Depp

 

Human Rights Holiday Gift

December 1, 2014 - 08:03

The holidays will be here before you know it. Give your friends and family a gift that will make an impact: Buy them a copy of How Human Rights Can Build Haiti, online or from your local bookstore. Together, learn about the links between poverty and human rights, and how Haiti is ready for change. These lessons are applicable not just in Haiti, but all around the world! We’re excited to share them with you.

16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence

November 29, 2014 - 12:39
From Peace in the Home to Peace In the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women.

November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. This is an international campaign to raise awareness of and to call for an end to all forms of violence against women. This year, the campaign centres on highlighting the links between militarism and gender based violence. IJDH and BAI have joined with grassroots groups in Haiti and international partners to launch the Haiti Rape Accountability and Prevention Project (RAPP) to respond to the epidemic of rapes against poor women and girls in Haiti in the wake of the January 12, 2010 earthquake. RAPP provides individual victims of sexual assault the legal services they need to obtain justice and compensation, while working with allies in Haiti and abroad to transform the social context that underlies the vulnerability of all poor Haitian women to assault. The Project also aims to deter future rapes by punishing the perpetrators and forcing a more effective response by law enforcement and the justice system.

 

November 26 The 2010 Haitian Earthquake shattered Haiti’s infrastructure and created specific vulnerabilities for women and children sheltering in Haiti’s tent cities. Although the Haitian government does not maintain an up-to-date record on the number of sexual assaults in the country, there is general consensus that the number of sexual assaults against women and juvenile’s in Haiti rose after the earthquake. In 2012, RAPP Network member KOFAVIV reported that it received an average of 5 cases of rape a day.

 

November 27 Children are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence in Haiti’s tent cities because many were left unaccompanied in the wake of the earthquake, while others are left unsupervised for extended periods of the day. 65% of the assaults reported to KOFAVIV were perpetrated against minors.  

 

November 28 “When victims of sexual violence can access the justice system and enforce their rights, their confidence in themselves, their government, and the rule of law increases.  Successful prosecutions also send a message to their families and communities that the government will not tolerate sexual violence, nor should they.” -Mario Joseph (Photo credit: IJDH)

 

November 29 The 2010 earthquake left many women in a position of primary caregiver and earner in their families, but also significantly compromised opportunities to earn a living. This introduces new and specific vulnerabilities, particularly with regards to prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation. BAI’s RAPP networks provides skills trainings and necessary networks to help women find their feet again.  

 

November 30 These women are participating in the 2013 Carnival de Fleurs in Haiti. Most of their signs have slogans decrying violence against women and also demanding greater representation of women in the public sphere. They also emphasize the need for collaboration between men and women.

 

December 1 Besides the skills trainings mentioned above, the Rezo Fanm, or “women’s network” at BAI is a place for women to come together for various trainings, such as know-your rights trainings and self defense classes. The Rezo Fanm also regularly holds press conferences at BAI, on women’s rights.

 

December 2 Improper sanitation creates specific vulnerabilities for Haitian women and children. The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women says: Women and girls are disproportionately affected by harassment, assault and sexual violence when relying on public toilets or when forced to practice open defecation, largely due to the lack of access to a latrine at home or safe latrine facilities in the public sphere.

 

December 3 Women and children with disabilities have also suffered particular harm in the shadow of the 2010 earthquake. Their injuries are aggravated by a lack of social and psychological support from the government. The importance of the RAPP project in this context cannot be overstated.

 

December 4 Elderly women also suffer specific risks during this process of recovery. Many of BAI’s elderly clients have not only been victims of sexual assault, but are also unable to participate in generic economic or social recovery programmes that focus on providing skills to the youth. The need to boost economic and psychological support to this group is desparate, and BAI urges domestic and international partners to develop innovative solutions to address this problem.

 

December 5 A response to Haiti’s sexual violence crisis must incorporate social, economic and legal aspects. BAI and IJDH’s lawyers remain in constant contact with their clients to ensure they are not only fully cognizant of their rights in the Haitian context, but also in the international context. They employ a holistic approach so the clients are fully supported. This, in turn, sows the seeds for the protection of the human rights of women in subsequent generations.

 

December 6 Unfortunately, social workers and other intervenors have not been spared the risks associated with sexual violence in Haiti. In recent months, members of BAI’s RAPP network have themselves been subject to violence, sometimes in the course of their work. This has not diminished the passion of Haitian women to protect their sisters and daughters from the violence. During this season of awareness, BAI commends these courage and dedication of the women who make the RAPP project possible.

 

December 7 As stated again and again in this post, gender-based violence is a problem that can be solved by women knowing their rights and being able to enforce them. Mario Joseph, BAI’s Managing Attorney, delivered a great speech on this fact. Read it here.

 

December 8 The importance of women-led networks during this period of recovery in Haiti cannot be overstated. BAI’s RAPP project brings together passionate community organisers, lawyers and social networks to demand respect for the human rights of women in Haiti. Meanwhile, the IJDH team helps amplify their message in the US and abroad.

December 9 Efforts to address the scourge of violence in Haiti must incorporate men and boys. A cultural shift that stigmatizes the act of rape rather than the status of being a victim of rape cannot take root without the participation of Haiti’s men and boys. 
(Photo credit: IJDH)

 

December 10 ”Being able to make our own decisions about our health, body and sexual life is a basic human right. Yet all over the world, many of us are persecuted for making these choices – or prevented from doing so at all.” -Amnesty International
This Human Rights Day, don’t forget that fighting gender-based violence takes a community. Get involved!

 

All Photo credits to Nanjala Nyabola, unless otherwise noted above.