Maître (Attorney) Mario Joseph is honored at the University of San Francisco

Mario Joseph at USF graduation Dec 14, 2012, photo Shawn Calhoun.jpg
Photo Shawn Calhoun

Presentation by Nicole Phillips of the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, of the College of Arts and Sciences, University of San Francisco, to Maître (Attorney) Mario Joseph on December 14, 2012.  Phillips is assistant director for Haiti programs and adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, and staff attorney with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH). Her presentation is followed below by the text of Maître Joseph's address to the winter graduation class of the College of Arts and Sciences. His talk was titled, "Change The World From Where You Live."

This October, Amnesty International issued an urgent action alert in defense of today’s honoree, Mr. Mario Joseph, Haiti’s most prominent human rights attorney. Mr. Joseph has been subjected to an escalating series of death threats, harassment and intimidation for his tireless work to seek justice for the victims of the Duvalier dictatorship, shelter for the victims of government enforced evictions who were made homeless after the catastrophic 2010 earthquake and to hold parties accountable for the ongoing cholera epidemic the United Nations troops allegedly brought to Haiti after the earthquake.  Because of his daily and heroic struggles on their behalf, it is no surprise Mr. Joseph’s clients proudly and affectionately refer to him as “met pa nou,” or “our lawyer.” 

The importance of the University’s support of Mr. Joseph must not be underestimated. Since 2006, the School of Law’s Center for Law and Global Justice has worked with Mr. Joseph and the Institute for Justice and Democracy to nurture human rights and the rule of law in Haiti. Moreover, the University’s conferral of an honorary doctorate to the late human rights activist Father Gerard Jean-Juste, Mr. Joseph’s client and friend, was instrumental in ending government harassment of Fr. Jean-Juste before his death.

For the last sixteen years, Mario Joseph has led the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux in Port-au-Prince as its managing attorney, representing political prisoners and victims of political violence. He is committed to making Haiti’s justice system work for all of Haiti’s citizens. He believes a fair and equitable justice system is essential to the effective, non-violent resolution of societal conflicts that are too often marred by corruption and violence in Haiti. 

Every day, Mr. Joseph risks his life knowing that his work is dangerous, but he refuses to abandon his commitment to the defense of human rights, repairing the flawed justice system and ending the pervasive corruption in Haiti.  Most importantly, he refuses to abandon his commitment to his fellow citizens.  He continues to represent political prisoners and dissidents and to speak out against repression even though many of his friends, colleagues and clients have been jailed or killed.

The awarding of this honorary degree recognizes Mr. Joseph as a fearless and resolute defender of human rights and calls urgent and immediate attention to the human rights abuses in Haiti. The University does, therefore, proudly confer upon Mario Joseph, the degree of Doctor of Humane letters, honoris causa, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereunto, given this 14th day of December, in the year of our Lord two thousand and twelve, and of the University, the hundred and fifty-seventh, in San Francisco, California.


 

Change the world from where you live

Speech by Maître (Attorney) Mario Joseph of Haiti to the winter graduation class of the College of Arts and Sciences, University of San Francisco on December 14, 2012. At the ceremony, Maître Joseph received the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, from the University.

First I would like to say bonjou (greetings) and mesi (thank you) to Father Privett for the honor of this prestigious award. I would also like to say bonjou and mesi to Dean of Law Jeffrey Brand, Professor Dolores Donovan, and Assistant Dean Erin Dolly.

Bonjou to all the other distinguished faculty here.

To the graduates of the University of San Francisco College of Arts and Sciences class of 2012, bonjou, and congratulations. And last but not least, a big bonjou and a chapo ba–a tip of the hat--to all the parents, siblings, relatives and friends of the members of the class of 2012 .

In my country, we have a saying: men anpil chay pa lou: many hands make the load light. We know that it takes many hands to carry the load of building a road, a house, a school. But it also takes men anpil- many hands—to create a graduate of the University of San Francisco. So while we are celebrating the hard work, accomplishment, intelligence and promise of today’s graduates, let us take a minute to thank those who helped them get here. Chapo ba, again.

In my country, we have a lot of other sayings, but Father Privett has given me only 12 minutes. So I will get to the point. It is a great honor, for which I am deeply grateful, to have been invited to share this special day with you. Where I grew up, in a village in Verrettes, Haiti, drinking water from an irrigation ditch, doing homework by candlelight, few of us even dreamed of graduating from high school. Most of us never even learned to read. To be someday honored by the graduates of a University as esteemed and historic as the University of San Francisco was beyond incomprehensible.

If I could not have imagined reaching out from Haiti to San Francisco, the University of San Francisco could imagine reaching out to Haiti, and it did it. USF law students and faculty have for seven years brought their education, their skills and their enthusiasm to the fight for human rights in Haiti, working from here in California and in Haiti. In 2006, USF granted my client, Fatherr Gérard Jean-Juste, an honorary degree. Granting that degree was not only a generous act to honor the man considered by many the Martin Luther King of my country. It was also a courageous and concretely productive act that helped keep Father Gerry out of Haiti’s political prisons at a time when his speaking out for Haiti’s poor made him unpopular with governments in my country and in yours, and with some leaders of the Catholic Church.

Although life in Haiti has not always provided me with safety, stability, or electricity, it has provided some interesting perspectives on your mantra, Change the World from Here, that I would like to share with you. To start, it is worth asking “why change the world?” I will give you three reasons.

The first reason for why change the world is “because you can.” From some perspectives, you might be inexperienced young people, greatly in debt with school loans, thrown out into an uncertain and challenging economy. But from the perspective of a kid from a small town in Haiti, you are the privileged possessors of an education beyond the wildest dreams of most of the world. It is an education that will help you get a good job, eventually. But more importantly, it is an education that provides you the tools to learn about the world’s problems and to become part of the solution to them. Those tools are all the more valuable because you live here in the most powerful country on earth. And it is a country whose government listens to its citizens, when they organize enough, speak enough, and act enough.

The second reason for why change the world is “because you should.” Your USF education has gone beyond the important task of equipping you to participate economically in the existing society, it has equipped you to participate morally in a society that is improved by your participation. You have been involved in service learning that provided you opportunities not just to help people who needed it, but to learn more about where you yourself fit it. USF’s diverse curriculum exposed you to the wonders and challenges of communities far away and close to home. All this learning enhanced your ability to connect others’ needs with your skills, and more importantly, with your personal fulfillment. Today, we are not just celebrating your becoming bachelors of arts and sciences, we are celebrating your becoming women and men for others, in the Jesuit tradition.

The third reason for why change the world is “because we need you to.” The most powerful country in the world has an enormous influence on daily life in Haiti, and in so many places like it around the world. Much of this influence is positive, but too often your country’s policies in Haiti are not consistent with our best interests or your highest ideals. Your country has undermined and overthrown many of our Presidents and replaced them with tyrants who imprison people like Father Gerry for the crime of speaking up for the poor. Your food aid policies, as President Clinton has conceded, often help your farmers with their surplus but put Haiti’s farmers out of business, increasing our hunger.

These policies happen because the majority lets them happen by declining to stay informed and engaged and leaving foreign policy to people with a strong ideological or economic self-interest. Only an engaged, informed US citizenry like you, with a strong moral interest, can save us from these policies.

Improving US foreign policy may seem like a heavy load to carry, but that is exactly why we need men anpil - many hands- including your hands, to carry it. Just this week, we saw proof that enough hands can carry the heaviest load. Two years ago, UN peacekeepers introduced cholera into Haiti, while we were still recovering from the devastating earthquake. We had never known cholera, so the disease quickly spread throughout the country. It has killed 8,000 people and sickened over 600,000. The UN has its strengths and weaknesses, like any organization, and one of its weaknesses is an inability to respond fairly to the harm its peacekeepers caused. The UN denies responsibility and hides behind its immunity, denying its victims their day in court. It even denies that it caused our cholera epidemic, despite a mountain of proof as well as admissions by UN investigators and President Clinton, UN Special Envoy to Haiti, that it was responsible.

One year ago, our office filed claims with the UN on behalf of 5,000 cholera victims. Our legal claim was strong, but we knew we needed many more hands- men anpil—to obtain justice for our clients. So we worked with solidarity, religious and human rights groups from all over the world, especially in the U.S., which pays the largest share of UN peacekeeping costs. Our friends helped us convince 105 members of the U.S. Congress, which appropriates the UN peacekeeping costs, to sign a letter urging the UN to respond justly. Four hundred thousand people viewed Baseball in the Time of Cholera, a movie about our fight, online. Over 7,000 people have signed an online petition by Avaaz launched last Friday. And on Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon made the historic announcement that the UN would commit to a $2.2 billion response to preventing and eventually eradicating cholera by expanding health care, sanitation and clean water systems. There are still many question marks about this initiative, but if it succeeds, it will save an estimated 4,000 lives a year from cholera and other water-borne disease.

The cholera case shows why it is so important to change the world from here. We love having USF students, alumni and faculty visit us in Haiti, but I have spent enough time in San Francisco to understand why you might never want to leave. And you don’t have to. There are plenty of borders erected between Haiti and San Francisco: immigration borders, language borders, economic borders, racial borders. But those borders do not really work unless we let them. They cannot stop computers carrying translatable text, videos, and pictures that convey our reality to yours, and yours to ours. They cannot stop you from inviting Haitians to speak at your schools, from your votes having an impact on policies in our country, or from events in Haiti having an influence in elections here.

The cholera case also shows that we need not just many hands, but many different types of hands. We needed lawyers, of course, but we also needed artists to create compelling videos, scientists and doctors to analyze the evidence, economists to weigh the costs, writers to write about it, and teachers to teach it. Most important, we needed critical consumers of media, discerning financial supporters, and educated and engaged citizens.

I would now ask all the members of the class of 2012 to raise your right hand. Good. Now please raise your left hand. Good. Now repeat after me: men anpil, chay pa lou(chorus). Again: men anpil, chay pa lou(chorus). How about everyone else, please join them and raise your hands: men anpil chay pa lou.(Chorus). Very good.

Now please answer the question: “How do we change the world from here?” Chorus: “Men anpil, chay pa lou!” How? Chorus:Men anpil, chay pa lou!Merci beacoup, thank you so much.