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Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti
Updated: 21 min 34 sec ago
Cholera Justice Project
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Jean Ford Figaro, Cholera Justice Project; firstname.lastname@example.org; +1-508-250-7926 (English, French, Kreyol, Spanish)
Haitian-American Elected Officials Urge U.S. to Protect Cholera Victims’ Rights
Haitian diaspora groups join letter to Secretary of State on cholera justice
(BOSTON, March 4, 2014)—Members of the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network (NHAEON) are appealing to Secretary of State John Kerry to do everything in his power to ensure that victims of Haiti’s ongoing cholera epidemic have their day in court and can access justice. Twenty-six Haitian diaspora groups have also signed on to the letter, which was transmitted to the State Department today.
The appeal comes as the State Department deliberates whether to support the United Nations (UN) in a federal lawsuit seeking accountability for the organization’s reckless introduction of cholera to Haiti in 2010. The UN continues to deny responsibility despite overwhelming scientific evidence that it caused the epidemic, and has persistently disregarded repeated calls for justice from prominent UN human rights representatives, members of the U.S. Congress, and the media. Prior to the filing of the lawsuit in October 2013, the UN rejected victims’ efforts to seek justice through the organization’s internal claims process.
“We are concerned that the UN will now try to prevent the victims from having their day in a U.S. court by asking your Department to intervene in favor of its impunity,” the letter reads.
“The diaspora is rising up and calling on our government to stand with the victims of cholera. The government has a choice between supporting justice for its own people and the people of Haiti, and supporting bad policy and impunity,” said Jean Ford Figaro, a medical doctor and activist with the Cholera Justice Project, the diaspora group that organized the sign-on initiative.
The State Department has until March 7 to decide how to proceed in the case.
Meanwhile, cholera continues to present a public health emergency; it has killed over 8,500 people in Haiti, and has spread to the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Mexico. The UN warns that another 2000 people could die in 2014. “We in the diaspora have lost family and friends to cholera, and we live in fear of losing more of our people,” the groups stressed in the letter.
The officials and groups wrote to Secretary Kerry: “We urge you, and your Department, to stand up for justice and international law by refusing to intervene [in the lawsuit], and letting the cholera victims take their case to court…. This insistence on impunity sets a dangerous example in Haiti, and profoundly undermines the organization’s credibility and ability to carry out any of its missions.”
An excellent, very comprehensive op-ed on cholera in Haiti. It discusses everything from UN responsibility to the epidemic, to poor water and sanitation infrastructure in Haiti, to the legal claims against the UN for cholera.
Part of it is below. Click HERE for the full version.The UN is not above the law
Lauren Carasik, Al Jazeera America
March 6, 2014
Few people dispute that the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti, known by its French acronym, MINUSTAH, is culpable for introducing the devastating cholera epidemic to that country. Yet the U.N. continues to evade responsibility. The U.S. government must decide Friday whether to support the victims’ right to their day in court or bolster the U.N.’s impunity. The U.S. is authorized by law to file a statement of interest with the court outlining its position, as it has done in previous cases.
The deadly outbreak first hit Haiti in October 2010, ten months after a calamitous earthquake killed more than 200,000 people and ravaged the country’s already crumbling infrastructure. The diarrheal disease, which had not been seen in Haiti in at least a century, infected hundreds of thousands within months. Haiti now hosts the world’s largest cholera epidemic: Between 2010 and 2012, cholera cases there represented half of the total reported to the World Health Organization. To date, 8,500 people have died and more than 700,000 have been sickened by the waterborne pathogen. By the U.N.’s own estimate, another 2,000 Haitians may die from cholera in 2014.
The U.N.’s liability has been independently verified. At least 10 studies, including a comprehensive report by Yale University’s Law School and School of Public Health, have confirmed the U.N.’s responsibility for the outbreak. “By causing the epidemic and then refusing to provide redress to those affected, the U.N. has breached its commitments to the Government of Haiti, its obligations under international law, and principles of humanitarian relief,” the Yale report said.
A host of voices have demanded that the U.N. take responsibility for the tragedy. U.N. Special Envoy to Haiti and former U.S. President Bill Clinton identified U.N. peacekeepers from South Asia as “the proximate cause of cholera” in Haiti. More than 100 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives have called on the U.N. to take responsibility for bringing the cholera bacteria to Haiti. The U.N.’s independent expert on human rights in Haiti, Gustavo Gallon, has called for compensation for the victims, decrying the world body’s refusal to respect the victims’ right to a remedy. Even the U.N.’s own high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, expressed support for compensating those harmed by the illness.
Yet the U.N. has consistently refused to accept responsibility…
Click HERE for full version.
Below is part of a letter from the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network (NHAEON) to Secretary of State John Kerry. The letter calls for the State Department to refuse to intervene on behalf of the UN in the cholera case, asking Kerry to do everything in his power to get justice for cholera victims.
Click HERE for the full version.
March 5, 2014
Dear Secretary Kerry,
We write as members of the Haitian-American community and the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network (NHAEON) to express our deepest concerns by the United Nations’ failure to take responsibility for the cholera epidemic occurring in Haiti. We are writing to you with deep respect, for your decades of support for Haiti, the rule of law and global health, and asking you to do everything in your power to ensure that Haiti’s cholera epidemic is stopped and the people are provided justice.
As you know, the cholera epidemic has killed over 8,500 Haitians and sickened over 700,000 since October 2010. Every week 1,100 people are infected and nine are killed. We, in the diaspora, have lost family and friends to cholera, and live in fear of losing even more. As Haitian-Americans visit their family, they are among those who contract this disease and die. In addition, cholera has an economic impact on members of the diaspora, where many of us regularly send money to our relatives. This epidemic has placed a harder financial burden on those living abroad due to funeral expenses, healthcare costs and sending funds for school fees for children whose parents have passed away.
Click HERE for the full version.
Below is part of a letter from 26 Haitian Diaspora groups to Secretary of State John Kerry. The letter calls for the State Department to refuse to intervene on behalf of the UN in the cholera case, asking Kerry to do everything in his power to get justice for cholera victims.
Click HERE for the full letter.
March 5, 2014
Dear Secretary Kerry,
We write as members of the Haitian-American community deeply concerned by the United
Nations’ failure to take responsibility for the cholera epidemic that it brought to Haiti. We are writing to you with deep respect, for your decades of support for Haiti, the rule of law and global health, and asking you to do everything in your power to ensure that Haiti’s cholera epidemic is stopped and we are provided justice.
As you know, the cholera epidemic has killed over 8,500 Haitians and sickened over 700,000 since October 2010. Every week 1,100 people are infected and nine are killed. We in the diaspora have lost family and friends to cholera, and we live in fear of losing more of our people. Haitian-Americans visiting family in Haiti are among those who have contracted this disease and died. In addition, cholera has an economic impact on members of the diaspora, where many of us regularly send money to our relatives. The epidemic has placed a harder financial burden on those living abroad due to funeral expenses, healthcare costs and sending funds for school fees for children whose parents died.
Click HERE for the full letter.
After the explosion of UN Independent Expert Gallón’s report on cholera, many questions have surfaced about cholera in Haiti. When will the UN take responsibility? When will the Haitian government and Caricom react and side with cholera victims? While many others have taken a stand, the Haitian government’s lack of response is especially noticeable.Editorial: UN fails to help cholera victims
Barbados Daily Nation
March 3, 2014
HOW MUCH longer will it take for the United Nations to come to grips with its moral, if not legal responsibility as well, to compensate the thousands of Haitian victims of a cholera epidemic in 2010 that has been traced to negligence by a detachment of United Nations peace-keeping troops in that Caribbean Community member state?
And why are both the Haitian government of Prime Minister Michel Martelly and the 15-member Caribbean Community in general seemingly unenthusiastic in vigorously championing the cause of the dead Haitian victims – numbering between 7 000 and 8 000 – as well as thousands of other infected survivors of this dreaded contagious disease?
These questions have resurfaced following the intervention this past weekend by a United Nations-appointed human rights expert in Haiti, Gustavo Gallon, in a report submitted to UN headquarters in New York.
The outbreak of the cholera epidemic had followed the unprecedented earthquake disaster of January 2010 that wreaked havoc, resulting in the loss of lives and homes and destruction of infrastructure.
The epidemic itself was traced to negligence on the part a detachment of Nepalese peace-keeping UN troops in Haiti via contamination of leaking sewage into the inland waterways system. Ironically, both Nepal and Haiti are categorised as being among the world’s 49 poorest nations.
While Mr Gallon’s call for the UN to begin the process of awarding compensation to those killed by the cholera epidemic, as well thousands of other infected victims, is commendable, he is not the first UN official to have done so, as recently noted in international media reports. A stirring call for compensation had initially come from then UN Human Rights Commissioner, Navi Pillay, during an awards ceremony in Geneva on October 8, 2010.
Within CARICOM, outside of editorials and news reports in various editions of the Nation newspapers focused on the cholera epidemic and post-earthquake reconstruction, there was specific intervention by the former long-serving Prime Minister of Jamaica, P. J. Patterson, who noted that “it is simply appalling, a most reprehensible behaviour for the UN to claim immunity” against compensation claims.
Mr Patterson, a lawyer by profession, who has frequently acted in the role of a CARICOM consultant on Haiti and worked with former President Bill Clinton’s special fundraising committee for post-earthquake reconstruction, has argued that the UN’s compensation failure was even more distressing “when scientific evidence substantiates that the cholera epidemic was introduced in Haiti at the time of peace-keeping soldiers from Nepal under United Nations command”.
Meanwhile, as the Haitian government of President Martelly seems to be missing in action in relation to evoking a positive response from the UN on compensation for the cholera victims, human rights lawyers in the United States are vigorously pursuing a lawsuit against the world body that requires compensation estimated at US$2.2 billion.
Click HERE for original.
Haitian American elected officials, including Massachusetts Senator Linda Dorcena Forry, wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry asking that the State Department not intervene on behalf of the UN in the cholera case.Haitian-American officials to State Department: Don’t intervene in cholera lawsuit
Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald
March 5, 2014
Haitian-American elected officials are asking the U.S. State Department not to side with the United Nations in a legal battle over a deadly cholera epidemic in Haiti that has killed more than 8,000 and sickened more than 700,000 Haitians.
State Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry of Massachusetts, a member of the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network, wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday, saying the organization was “concerned that the U.N. will now try to prevent the victims from having their day in court by asking your Department to intervene in favor of its impunity.”
“We urge you and your Department to stand for justice and international law by refusing to intervene and letting the cholera victims take their case to court,” she said in the letter.
Forry did not elaborate on why the network or lawyers who sued the U.N. in October on behalf of victims of the waterborne disease believe the U.N. would seek the State Department’s support.
Brian Concannon of the Boston-based Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti said the U.N. typically asks the country where the suit is filed to tell the courts that that they cannot accept a case against the U.N.
“Sometimes the U.S. just passes the U.N.’s position on to the court, but sometimes it makes a more vigorous defense of the organization. These letters are intended to push toward the former option,” said Concannon, whose group represents victims.
The letter comes on the heels of two South Florida Haitian-American advocacy groups — the Haitian Lawyers Association and Haitian Women of Miami — filing of a friend-of-the-court brief in federal court in Manhattan late last month in support of the suit.
Victims’ lawyers say process servers have been unable to serve the suit, and the Miami groups asked the court to declare that the U.N. has been properly served.
The U.N. has refused to comment on the lawsuit but instead pointed to a $2.2 billion, 10-year cholera-eradication plan to stamp out the disease in Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic through improved infrastructure and other projects. The initiative, however, has struggled to get donors’ support.
Since cholera was discovered in Haiti in October 2010, scientific studies have found evidence linking the outbreak to Nepalese soldiers deployed to Haiti shortly after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city.
Click HERE for original.
UN Human Rights Expert Gustavo Gallón surprised many when he stood up for cholera victims in a report on Haiti. The otherwise-ordinary report called for compensation of victims and punishment of those responsible. These statements are the strongest so far in a time of increasing support from current and former UN officials.Immune Response
R.R.L., The Economist
March 4, 2014
LAST month the United Nations’ Independent Expert on Human Rights in Haiti delivered his annual assessment (French version here) of the state of the poorest country in the Americas. Gustavo Gallon, a respected Colombian jurist, wrote of many troubling—and familiar–problems. They included prolonged pre-trial detention for 80% of all prisoners in Haitian jails; institutional “brittleness” on account of long-delayed elections to the Senate and local bodies; rising homicide rates; and a depressing predilection for public lynching, which indicates little confidence in the justice system.
If the indictment of Haiti was unsurprising, less predictable was Mr Gallon’s position on the country’s cholera epidemic, which first broke out in 2010. More than 8,000 Haitians have since died from cholera, and nearly 700,000 more, or one out of every 16 people, infected. Medical evidence indicates the cholera strain was brought to Haiti by Nepalese UN peacekeepers, although the UN neither admits responsibility for the outbreak nor agrees to make reparations. In October 2013 human-rights lawyers filed a class-action claim on behalf of the victims; the UN, which claims diplomatic immunity against such claims, is reportedly refusing to acknowledge even being served the lawsuit.
Mr Gallon’s report is consequently significant. He called for “diplomatic difficulties” to be resolved to “stop the epidemic” and to compensate victims fully. Silence is the very worst response, he noted, echoing his predecessor’s more muted assessment from a year ago. Mr Gallon’s forthright remarks are being seen as a sign that a heated argument is underway at Turtle Bay, the UN’s New York headquarters. The battleground is the gap between UN’s irredeemably idealistic purpose and its all-enveloping legal immunity. Even the UN’s human-rights chief, Navi Pillay, has acknowledged that someone (she didn’t specify who) needed to pay up for the suffering and havoc wreaked by cholera. Retired officials, including Canada’s ambassador to the UN, Stephen Lewis, have spoken in the same vein.
However the debate is settled, compensation would only be palliative. The bigger concern is eliminating the disease. Last year, according to Haiti’s health ministry, there were nearly 600 deaths. Late last month, the UN’s first cholera envoy, Pedro Medrano, said that falling mortality rates do not signify the end of the “silent emergency” because a cholera epidemic can ebb and wane and come back stronger as the bacterium mutates. Mr Medrano says the best chance for cholera eradication lies with a $2.27 billion UN fund-raising campaign that would help fund a proper water and sanitation infrastructure, among other things. Whatever its responsibility for introducing the disease, the UN is also Haiti’s best hope for getting rid of it.
Click HERE for original.
This article details the misinformation on the coup d’etat against Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and the ensuing human rights violations. It cites many sources and includes a quote from Aristide attorney and IJDH Board Chair Ira Kurzban.Ten Years After the Coup in Haiti, Democracy is Still Under Siege
Dan Beeton, Center for Economic and Policy Research
March 1, 2014
It has been 10 years since the February 29, 2004 coup d’etat that ousted the democratically-elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti. Paramilitary groups – including many former members of Haiti’s disbanded army and/or CIA-funded death squads – had engaged in a campaign of violence directed against supporters of the government, and the Haitian National Police (HNP), for years before. Supported by the Dominican government and advised by groups based in Washington, they unleashed a wave of terror, killing innocent civilians including children and women, assaulting and brutalizing others, and burning down police stations and other government buildings. In the end, however, these groups seem to have realized they could not mount a successful incursion into Port-au-Prince, and it was a U.S. plane that flew Aristide out of the country.
As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot wrote after the coup, Washington also directed international financial institutions to withhold funds from the Aristide government (some of which were designated for potable water – their being withheld helping to create the conditions for the cholera epidemic several years later):
[T]he Administration has been working on toppling Aristide for the past three years, plunging the country into chaos in the process.
The major international financial institutions (IFI’s) — including the IMF, World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, supported the administration’s destabilization efforts by cutting off hundreds of millions of dollars in credit to one of the most desperately poor countries in the world.
The pretext was a dispute over the election of seven senators of Aristide’s party in 2001. Aristide offered every possible solution but it didn’t matter. With Washington and the IFI’s backing them, the opposition refused any agreement short of Aristide’s resignation.
In the end, Aristide did not resign – although the Bush administration claimed he did. Aristide himself claimed instead that he was the victim of a “kidnapping in the service of a coup d’etat.” His account is verified by witnesses, as Randall Robinson has pointed out in his account of events related to the coup. Bundled onto a plane, he and First Lady Mildred Aristide were flown to an unknown destination, what turned out to be the Central African Republic.
The coup took place amidst what can only be seen as a massive disinformation campaign against Haiti’s popular and democratic government. Scholars such as Jeb Sprague and Peter Hallward have combed through previously classified U.S. government documents and conducted countless interviews with people involved. Often the perpetrators of the destabilization of the Aristide government have been open in discussing their activities and who supported them. Accounts of grave human rights abuses by the Aristide government – often promoted by Haitian organizations that had essentially been bought off – have now been shown to be false, but at the time they were carried in the domestic and international media and did much to harm Aristide’s reputation. They also served as a pretext for the political persecution of members of Aristide’s government, including Prime Minister Yvon Neptune, Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert, and leaders and prominent supporters of the Fanmi Lavalas party such as Annette Auguste and the late Father Gerard Jean-Juste.
In the coup’s wake, the people of Haiti experienced one of the country’s worst human rights disasters in recent times. Human rights researchers estimate that some 4,000 people were killed for political reasons, with killings targeting members of Fanmi Lavalas and opponents of the coup and of the interim government imposed on the country; some massacres carried out in broad daylight. Others were falsely imprisoned, or forcibly disappeared. Some 35,000 women and girls reported having been the victim of sexual assault; of these “officers from the Haitian National Police accounted for 13·8% and armed anti-Lavalas groups accounted for 10·6% of identified perpetrators” according to a study in The Lancet. Some of the same paramilitaries who had rampaged through Haiti from 2000 up to the coup carried out the violence while the interim government and international community stood by. (Many of them would be integrated into the HNP, as Sprague explains in detail.) Other atrocities were committed by the HNP, sometimes with the involvement or tacit support of MINUSTAH (U.N. mission) troops. At the urging of Haiti’s powerful elite, HNP officers and MINUSTAH troops carried out deadly raids into slums in order to eliminate “gang” leaders, often killing bystanders in the process.
International human rights organizations paid little attention to what was almost certainly the largest human rights crisis in the hemisphere at the time, and the international media even less. A few brave journalists – usually independent – documented some of these events.
While the intensity of the post-coup human rights crisis may have been greater, this period of political persecution and repression never really ended. Fanmi Lavalas leaders and supporters have continued to find themselves targeted. In 2007, when René Préval was president, human rights activist and Fanmi Lavalas supporter Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine was kidnapped and disappeared. International cries of alarm were met with rumors that it was a “fake” kidnapping, and that Lovinsky was trying to get attention. He has never been found. More recently, leading human rights activist Daniel Dorsainvil and his wife Girldy Lareche were murdered, and a new round of bogus accusations have been leveled against Annette Auguste, Mirlande Libérus Pavert and others relating to the still-unsolved murder of journalist Jean Dominique in 2000, while some of the individuals that evidence links most closely to the crime are ignored. More well-known is that Fanmi Lavalas as a party has been arbitrarily excluded from elections since the coup.
Aristide’s return to Haiti from forced exile in 2011 – against the U.S. government’s wishes and efforts to convince the South African government to stop him – has undermined the various false accusations leveled at him and Fanmi Lavalas. For years, we heard that Aristide would likely face charges of corruption and human rights crimes if he ever returned to Haiti. Nearly three years later, he has yet to be charged with anything. As Aristide’s attorney Ira Kurzban wrote before Aristide’s return to Haiti – and as still holds true, he is “charged with no crime” and “The New York Times noted during his first exile (1991-1994), [Aristide] ‘won Haiti’s first and only democratic election overwhelmingly,’ followed by a “seven-month tenure [that] was marked by fewer human-rights violations and fewer boat people than any comparable period in modern Haitian history.’”
The coup and the events after also are part of a pattern of foreign intervention in Haiti going back centuries, and such interference continues today as well, as the U.S. government seeks to “manage Haiti” through the ongoing MINUSTAH presence and other means. Along with the U.S. government, France and Canada also overtly supported the undermining and removal of the Aristide government (France motivated in part by Aristide’s call for it to pay back the ransom it demanded Haiti hand over as a price for its independence). This intervention has continued, notably – as recently recounted by former Organization of American States (OAS) Special Representative to Haiti Ricardo Seitenfus — in the 2010 threatened removal of then-President Préval (via airplane, a la Aristide) and the blatant intervention by the OAS – led by the U.S., Canada and France – in Haiti’s elections, resulting in the arbitrary replacement of governing party candidate Jude Célestin with Michel Martelly in the run-off. Martelly would go on to win the presidency despite receiving votes from less than 17 percent of the electorate in the second round.
In order for Haiti to be able to move beyond the 2004 coup and the subsequent political and human rights crisis, this foreign intervention must end. Fanmi Lavalas and other political parties must be allowed to participate in elections, and the Haitian people’s will freely expressed in choosing its government and its own path forward. This is called national sovereignty and democracy, and it is unfortunately what powerful outside interests have been trying to impede in Haiti for over 210 years.
Click HERE for original.
Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for eligible nationals of Haiti has been extended for an additional 18 months through January 22, 2016. The re-registration period runs from March 3rd through May 2nd, 2014. Read more about the extension below.Temporary Protected Status Extended for Haitians
US Citizenship and Immigration Services
March 3, 2014
WASHINGTON—Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson will extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for eligible nationals of Haiti for an additional 18 months, effective July 23, 2014 through Jan. 22, 2016.
Current Haitian beneficiaries seeking to extend their TPS status must re-register during a 60-day period that runs from March 3, 2014, through May 2, 2014. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) encourages beneficiaries to re-register as soon as possible once the 60-day period begins. USCIS will not accept applications before March 3, 2014.
The 18-month extension also allows TPS re-registrants to apply for a new Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Eligible Haitian TPS beneficiaries who re-register during the 60-day period and request a new EAD will receive one with an expiration date of Jan. 22, 2016. USCIS recognizes that some re-registrants may not receive their new EADs until after their current EADs expire. Therefore, USCIS is automatically extending current TPS Haiti EADs bearing a July 22, 2014 expiration date for an additional six months. These existing EADs are now valid through Jan. 22, 2015.
To re-register, current TPS beneficiaries must submit Form I-821, Application for Temporary Protected Status. Re-registrants do not need to pay the Form I-821 application fee, but they must submit the biometric services fee, or a fee-waiver request, if they are age 14 or older. All TPS re-registrants must also submit Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. TPS re-registrants requesting an EAD must submit the Form I-765 application fee, or a fee-waiver request. If the re-registrant does not want an EAD, no application fee is required.
Applicants may request that USCIS waive the Form I-765 application fee or biometrics fee based on an inability to pay by filing Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver, or by submitting a written request. Fee waiver requests must be accompanied by supporting documentation. Failure to submit the required filing fees or a properly documented fee-waiver request will result in the rejection of the TPS application.
All USCIS forms are free. Applicants can download TPS forms from www.uscis.gov/forms or request them by calling USCIS toll-free at 1-800-870-3676.
Additional information on TPS for Haiti—including guidance on eligibility, the application process, and where to file—is available online at www.uscis.gov/tps. Further details on this extension of Haiti for TPS, including application requirements and procedures, are available in the Federal Register notice published today.
Click HERE for original.
Commemorate the 2004 Coup at IJDH’s film screening/discussion.
In commemoration of the 2004 Coup in Haiti and its aftermath, IJDH is screening Aristide and the Endless Revolution. This 2005 film documents Aristide’s terms as Haiti’s president, his exiles, and the controversy around the 2004 Coup. It includes extensive interviews with Aristide himself,as well as famous figures such as Noam Chomsky, Maxine Waters, and Danny Glover. After the film, Jean Senat Fleury will speak about his perspective on the Coup, particularly from a legal standpoint. Jean Senat Fleury was a long-serving Haitian judge who presided over the Raboteau Massacre Trial in 2000 before being forced off the bench by the Latortue regime.
Click here for more on the film.
666 Dorchester Ave
Boston, MA 02127
March 3, 2014 7-9pm
February 28, 2014
The following is a joint submission on behalf of IJDH and the International Human Rights Clinic at John Marshall Law School for the UN Special Rapporteur’s report on violations of the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation. The submission discusses violations of the right to water in Haiti, focusing specifically on Haiti’s ongoing cholera epidemic and efforts to seek accountability and redress.
The cholera crisis in Haiti represents a grave violation of the right to water, and provides a highly relevant case study in the strategies used and difficulties faced by victims seeking accountability and remedies for right to water violations perpetrated by non-State actors, including the underlying structural causes and power relations that limit access to judicial accountability mechanisms and complicate non-judicial accountability relationships.
Canada continues to deny involvement in the 2004 Coup against then-president Jean Bertrand Artistide in Haiti. According to many, including, Brian Concannon and Mario Joseph, Canada, France, and the US orchestrated the Coup and the situation in Haiti has been horrible ever since. Among the problems are cholera brought by UN peacekeepers, impunity for Jean-Claude Duvalier, and murder of those opposing the current Martelly government.Secrecy shrouds Canada’s role in Aristide’s ouster from Haiti
Sue Montgomery, The Montreal Gazette
February 28, 2014
MONTREAL — Ten years after Haiti’s first democratically elected president was removed from his country in the middle of the night and dumped in Africa, Canada’s role — and that of Montreal’s current mayor — has been shrouded in secrecy.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the former priest from Haiti’s slums who is reviled by the elite minority and revered by the poor masses, claims to this day he was blindfolded and forced to sign a letter of resignation before being airlifted out and dropped in the Central African Republic.
The United States, Canada and France all claim he left voluntarily. They say they told Aristide that no one would come to help him — despite the trio’s signed commitment just four years earlier to do so — and that he, his family and supporters would be killed.
“In some ways, the competing stories are a distinction without a difference,” says Brian Concannon, a lawyer with the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. “It is hard to say that in that situation he had a meaningful choice.”
It was another blow to the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere — made destitute by two centuries of racism, greed, revenge and a series of inept and corrupt governments backed by the United States. The Caribbean nation, which shares an island with the better-off Dominican Republic, has had 22 constitutions since winning its freedom in 1804 and lived through 32 coups — 33, if one counts the 2004 ouster of Aristide.
Now, Haitians want an apology from Canada, and particularly Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre.
In February 2004, Coderre was the federal Liberal minister for the francophonie when he arrived by helicopter at the swanky Montana Hotel in Port-au-Prince and declared a rag-tag group of armed rebels that were fast descending on the capital “criminals.”
“I won’t call them rebels, because that means that maybe they have a cause,” Coderre told reporters at the time. “I can understand if the opposition is against the power in place, but our role as an international community is not to ask for Aristide’s head.”
He repeatedly and adamantly insisted to reporters that Aristide was the country’s legitimate president.
Yet eight days later, in the middle of the night on Feb. 29, U.S. soldiers took Aristide from his home, allegedly blindfolded, and flew him out of the country. It’s unclear whether Canada uttered a word of protest.
Since then, the situation has been “hell,” says Haitian human rights lawyer Mario Joseph. Human rights advocates have been killed, women have been raped by United Nations peacekeepers installed after Aristide’s ouster, and a judge who was under pressure to drop a corruption case against the current president died under suspicious circumstances. But perhaps worst of all, in the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake, the UN introduced cholera to the country, claiming the lives of more than 8,500 to date and infecting hundreds of thousands more.
“Canada has helped make Haitians’ lives very difficult,” Joseph said in an interview this week while on a speaking tour in Canada. “Coderre should apologize because he used Canadian money to cause disorder, chaos and misery.”
But the official line, and the one the Liberal government of Paul Martin held to at the time, was that Aristide resigned — a charge the former president denies to this day. Coderre, as he prepares to go to Haiti next month, his first trip abroad as Montreal’s mayor, says he has nothing to apologize for.
He is a friend of Haiti, he said this week in response to Joseph calling him a liar. He refused to answer questions about his role in 2004.
Back then, when Aristide and his supporters claimed his ouster was a deliberate and planned coup d’état by the United States, France and Canada, Canadian opposition MPs and CARICOM, the body that speaks for Caribbean nations, called for an international inquiry into the incident. No such investigation was ever conducted.
“It is unacceptable to have sent in our army and unacceptable that we permitted the removal of Haiti’s president … thus ending his presidency,” NDP MP Joe Comartim said in the parliamentary debate on Haiti less than two weeks after Aristide was removed. “Are we going to say we have a right to determine what elected officials should be removed and which ones should be allowed to stay? I do not support that.”
Stockwell Day, then Conservative Party of Canada critic for foreign affairs, was categorical.
“This was clearly a regime change,” he said in the debate. “Whether we like to admit it or not, we took part.”
Indeed, a year earlier, information was leaked to l’Actualité that regime change in Haiti had been discussed at a January 2003 summit of the francophonie held in Ottawa by the then secretary of state for Latin America and Africa. Representatives of France, U.S. and the European Union were there, but Haiti wasn’t invited.
Canada, France and the United States had three years before that meeting signed the Inter-American Democratic Charter, pledging to support elected leaders in the Americas, yet not one of those countries sent in military or police in 2004 to help Aristide.
In the debate in the House, Coderre said that sending troops to Haiti to stop the rebels would have placed Canada and other countries “on the side of the president.”
But wasn’t that what the Inter-American charter had them promise? It wouldn’t have taken much to head off the rebels — a band of maybe 200 outlaws.
If the leader of the three-week insurrection is to be believed, Canada was on their side.
The planning had begun two years previous in the Dominican Republic, Paul Arcelin, a former professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal and self-described “mastermind” of the plot told The Gazette in 2004 in Haiti.
Arcelin, whose brother is a doctor in Montreal, said he’d met with former Liberal health minister Pierre Pettigrew in Canada as the insurrection was getting underway. Pettigrew’s riding included a large number of Haitians.
“He promised to make a report to the Canadian government about what I had said,” Arcelin told The Gazette in 2004.
That’s when rhetoric about the rebels began to soften, with American and French envoys in Haiti referring to them as simply “armed elements” rather than the earlier, no-nonsense terms terrorists and criminals.
With Aristide safely out of the country, a United Nations stabilization force was quickly installed and has been there ever since. According to Joseph, it has caused nothing but problems, including the deaths of thousands from cholera — a disease that had not been seen in the country before 2010 for 100 years.
In October, Joseph’s law firm, Bureau des avocats internationale, along with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, asked a New York federal court to certify a class-action suit against the United Nations on behalf of the cholera victims. The suit demands that the UN not only compensate the victims, but also install a national water and sanitation system that will control the epidemic and issue a public apology for its wrongful acts.
“Imagine if (cholera) was introduced in Canada, what a story that would be?” Joseph said.
Stephen Lewis, former UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, said the UN, while immune from any legal prosecution, has an “absolute moral obligation” to respond.
“I think they’re worried about the lawsuit,” he said in an interview this week. “They’re not worried about defeating it, they’re worried about the continuing drum roll of publicity about how the UN has handled it and that they see they’ve got to step in and deal with it before it overwhelms them.”
Effective government is another problem and President Michel Martelly is simply another puppet put in place by the Americans, Joseph said.
Last year, Judge Jean Serge Joseph had been assigned to oversee a high profile corruption investigation against Martelly’s wife, Sophia, and their son, Olivier. Joseph had reported receiving threats to dismiss the corruption case during a meeting with Martelly, the prime minister, and the minister of justice and public security.
Joseph refused, and two days later he died under suspicious circumstances.
This week, five people were arrested for the Feb. 8 fatal shooting of human rights defender Daniel Dorsainvil and his wife, Girldy Lareche. Dorsainvil was the general coordinator of the Platform for Haitian Organizations for the Defense of Human Rights, an association of eight Haitian rights groups that have been critical of Martelly’s government. A few weeks before the shooting, the organization had issued a report criticizing the government’s refusal to hold local and parliamentary elections. It also decried the impunity former and current government officials enjoy, including former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, who returned to the country in 2011 after 25 years in exile. He took over his father’s iron-fisted rule of the country and was in power from 1971 to 1986.
Haiti’s Court of Appeal recently overturned a lower ruling and said there is “substantial evidence” pointing to the indirect involvement and alleged criminal responsibility for the alleged human rights abuses during his presidency.
Joseph, who represents several of Duvalier’s alleged victims, shrugs when asked whether that’s a good sign.
“Martelly supports Duvalier and doesn’t want to see him tried.”
Click HERE for original (article and video).
Un Independent Expert Gustavo Gallón, in a recent report on the human rights situation in Haiti, called for compensation of the cholera victims and punishment for those responsible. The UN still continues to deny responsibility for the epidemic.Senior UN expert calls for Haiti cholera compensation
March 2, 2014
A UN-appointed expert has publicly disagreed with the world body and called for “full compensation” for the victims of a cholera epidemic in Haiti.
Gustavo Gallon also said in his report that “those responsible” for the outbreak should be punished.
Mr Gallon is a UN-appointed expert on human rights in Haiti.
Evidence suggests UN peacekeepers introduced cholera to Haiti in 2010, but the world body has rejected compensation claims.
The outbreak – which has killed more than 8,300 people and infected hundreds of thousands – has been blamed on leaking sewage pipes at a UN base.
The UN has never acknowledged responsibility for the epidemic, arguing that it is impossible to pinpoint the exact source of the disease.
The organisation says it has legal immunity from a lawsuit filed for Haitian victims at a New York court last year.‘Human action’ blamed
Mr Gallon made the comments in a report on the human rights situation in Haiti.
“The diplomatic difficulties around this question have to be resolved to stop the epidemic as soon possible and pay full compensation for suffering experienced,” he wrote.
“It is advisable to shed light on what really happened and to punish those responsible, whoever they may be.”The cholera appears to have spread after sewage from a UN base in central Haiti leaked into a nearby river
Mr Gallon said the UN “should be the first to honour” the principle of compensation for victims of human rights violations.
He added that “silence is the worst of responses” to a “catastrophe caused by human action”.
BBC international development correspondent Mark Doyle says the report has once again exposed what is an unprecedented legal and moral crisis for the UN.
It is not yet clear how Mr Gallon’s remarks may affect the ongoing lawsuit in the US, our correspondent adds.
Lawyers for the victims are demanding compensation of $100,000 (£62,000) for every person who died and $50,000 for each of those who became ill.
But the UN argues it is immune from such claims under its Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN.
No cases of the bacterial infection, which causes diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and muscle cramps, had been recorded in Haiti for a century until the outbreak in late 2010.
Cholera is spread through infected faeces. Once it enters the water supply it is difficult to stop – especially in a country like Haiti which has almost no effective sewage disposal systems.
Click HERE for original.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Beatrice Lindstrom, IJDH; email@example.com; +1-404-217-1302 (English, French and Kreyol)
UN Expert Calls for Accountability as Organization Ducks Cholera Suit
Says UN Should Be First to Honor Accountability Principles
(BOSTON, February 28, 2014)—Gustavo Gallón, the United Nations (UN) Independent Expert on Human Rights in Haiti, said in his recent report on the state of human rights in the Caribbean nation that victims of the cholera epidemic in Haiti should be compensated for the harm they have suffered. The statement comes at a time when the organization faces similar claims from cholera victims in a U.S. federal class-action lawsuit filed in New York.
“Diplomatic difficulties must be overcome to ensure a prompt end to the epidemic and provide full compensation for the damage suffered by the Haitian people,” the Independent Expert wrote. A growing chorus of voices from current and former UN officials has called for justice for the victims, but Gallón is the first to make the demand in a publicly available official UN document.
On October 9, 2013, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and civil rights law firm Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger, Tetzelli & Pratt filed suit against the UN, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), and two UN officials on behalf of victims of the deadly epidemic, seeking accountability for the reckless introduction of cholera to Haiti. Gallón’s report comes as the deadline to answer the lawsuit has lapsed for MINUSTAH and the individual defendants. The UN itself has failed to respond to a motion that service of process is complete.
“The defendants’ failure to accept service or to respond to the lawsuit continues the UN’s pattern of avoiding justice despite its clear-cut responsibility for the epidemic,” said plaintiffs’ co-counsel and IJDH Staff Attorney Beatrice Lindstrom. Amidst reports that the UN has asked the U.S. government to defend its position, the United States is currently weighing whether to take a position in the lawsuit by their March 7 deadline.
Gallón’s strong language calling for compensation stands in stark contrast to the UN’s continued refusal to even consider the victims’ claims. Gallón recommends that those responsible for the epidemic be punished in accordance with the UN’s Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy, which call for broad remedies for victims of gross violations of human rights. “[T]he UN should be the first to honor these principles,” the report states.
“By calling for compensation in accordance with the guidelines that govern the gravest human rights violations in the world, Gallón is rightfully recognizing the gravity of the situation,” said co-counsel for the plaintiffs, Jeff Brand. “The UN itself warns that another 2000 people may die in 2014, yet it’s not responding adequately to the crisis or victims’ calls for justice.”
The epidemic has killed more than 8,500 and injured nearly 700,000 people to date. Said IJDH Staff Attorney Nicole Phillips, who is based in Haiti and works with the BAI, “As the report itself notes, silence is the worst possible response, and more and more people, both within and outside the UN, are speaking up and urging the UN to take responsibility for its actions.”
Click HERE for pdf version.
Mario Joseph a accusé le maire de Montreal Denis Coderre d’avoir menti sur la participation du Canada dans le coup de 2004, en disant que le Canada a joué un rôle important. Naturellement, Coderre nie ces allégations.Un avocat haïtien réclame des excuses de la part de Coderre
La Presse Canadienne
27 février 2014
Un éminent avocat haïtien spécialisé en matière de droits de la personne exhorte le maire de Montréal Denis Coderre à présenter ses excuses pour avoir prétendument menti à propos de la destitution de l’ancien président Jean-Bertrand Aristide, il y a dix ans cette semaine.
Me Mario Joseph, qui a représenté M. Aristide, a fait cette demande jeudi lors d’une visite à Montréal.
M. Coderre était ministre fédéral responsable des pays francophones, dont Haïti, au moment de l’expulsion de M. Aristide du pouvoir. L’avocat prétend que M. Coderre a menti durant les jours précédant la destitution de l’ex-président, lorsqu’il a affirmé qu’Ottawa ne souhaitait pas le départ du chef élu démocratiquement.
L’avocat soutient que M. Coderre a menti à nouveau après le retrait de M. Aristide, en affirmant que le président n’avait pas été forcé de quitter contre son gré et qu’il avait démissionné de son propre chef.
Denis Coderre a répondu à ces allégations qu’il n’avait aucune raison de s’excuser et qu’il avait toujours été un ami d’Haïti. Il a ajouté qu’il croyait que Me Joseph tentait d’amener la politique interne d’Haïti au Canada.
M. Coderre prévoit un séjour de quelques jours en Haïti à la mi-mars, avec une délégation canadienne dédiée à la reconstruction de Port-au-Prince.
Mario Joseph a aussi soutenu que le Canada avait joué un rôle important dans le coup d’État des États-Unis qui a destitué Jean-Bertrand Aristide pour la seconde fois, en 2004. Il avait aussi été chassé du pouvoir en 1991.
M. Aristide demeure une figure politique très populaire en Haïti. Jeudi, quelque 2000 personnes ont marché dans les rues de Port-au-Prince pour souligner le 10e anniversaire de sa destitution.
Perçu comme un héros par les plus pauvres du pays, il a mené un mouvement pour chasser du pouvoir le dictateur Jean-Claude «Baby Doc» Duvalier.
Cliquez ICI pour l’original.
In a recent meeting in Canada, BAI’s Mario Joseph accused Montreal mayor Denis Coderre of lying when he said Canada wanted Aristide to stay in power before the 2004 coup d’etat. Mario also explained that the situation in Haiti has worsened since the Coup, especially after UN peacekeepers brought cholera in 2010. He says that imperial powers like Canada and the US need to just leave Haiti in peace.Haitian lawyer accuses Montreal mayor Coderre of lying about Aristide ’04 ouster
Andy Blatchford, Ottawa Citizen
February 27, 2014
MONTREAL – A prominent Haitian human-rights lawyer is calling on former federal cabinet minister Denis Coderre to apologize for allegedly lying about Canada’s involvement in the ouster of the Caribbean nation’s president 10 years ago.
Attorney Mario Joseph made the request Thursday during a visit to Montreal that coincided with the anniversary of Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s removal from office on Feb. 29, 2004.
At the time of Aristide’s expulsion, Coderre was the Liberal minister responsible for French-speaking countries such as Haiti.
Coderre, who was elected mayor of Montreal last November, says he has nothing to apologize for.
Joseph, who has represented the ex-president, alleged that Coderre lied in the days before Aristide’s removal from office when he said Ottawa did not want the Haitian leader to leave.
He accused Coderre of lying again, shortly after Aristide’s departure, when he stated the president had not been forced out and had quit on his own.
The lawyer also accused Canada of playing a major role in the U.S.-backed “coup d’etat” to overthrow Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president in its 200-year history.
Since Aristide’s expulsion, Joseph argued human rights and democracy have suffered in the crisis-stricken country.
“We’re here today to talk about Canada’s harmful role in Haiti, and particularly about the coup d’etat of Feb. 29, 2004,” he told a small gathering of journalists in downtown Montreal.
“We can’t discuss Canada’s harmful role without explaining to you the just-as-harmful role of Mr. Denis Coderre and his lies to the Canadian people.”
Coderre was asked later Thursday about Joseph’s allegations and the former Liberal cabinet minister told The Canadian Press he rejected them.
“I’m against revisionism, so look at the facts and you’ll know, as a minister of Francophonie or as an adviser of the prime minister, I am a friend of Haiti,” said Coderre, who left federal politics last year to win the mayor’s job in Canada’s second-largest city.
“I was always there to accompany them, always there to be part of the solution and you have some people who try to bring some internal (Haitian) politics in Canada.”
Coderre, whose old federal riding in Montreal is home to a large Haitian population, said his first foreign trip as mayor will take him to the island nation in mid-March. During the multi-day trip, he will be part of a Canadian delegation focused on helping rebuild the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.
When asked about Joseph’s allegation that he lied about Aristide’s ouster, Coderre replied: “It’s a non-issue. You’re looking for a story that doesn’t exist.”
In February 2004, amid a violent uprising, Coderre joined an international delegation in Haiti aimed at pushing the embattled Aristide to move forward with reforms to ease tensions. The rebellion against Aristide’s rule had left 60 dead in the country.
Coderre said at the time that Ottawa would not call for the president to step down.
“We clearly don’t want Aristide’s head,” Coderre said on Feb. 19, 2004. “We think Aristide must remain in place.”
Ten days later Aristide was removed from office and exiled to Africa.
The White House and Pentagon dismissed allegations he was kidnapped by U.S. forces eager for him to resign and leave the country.
Joseph alleged Thursday that Coderre said Aristide made the decision to quit as president, a statement he insisted the former president has denied. He said Aristide himself told him he was forced out.
Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, remains one of the most popular political figures in Haiti.
Viewed as a champion of the country’s poor, Aristide led a movement to oust dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.
Aristide, however, alienated Haiti’s wealthy elite and was forced out of the presidency in a 1991 coup, within months of becoming Haiti’s first democratically elected leader. U.S. troops restored him to power three years later.
Joseph, who has represented Aristide since he returned to Haiti in 2011 from exile, criticized the United Nations peacekeeping force in Haiti, which was established after the president’s expulsion.
He said freedom of expression in Haiti as well as the basic human rights to education, health care, housing and employment have been disrespected since Aristide left. Things got worse, he added, after the powerful 2010 earthquake that killed an estimated 300,000 people and forced more than a million Haitians into tents.
Joseph also discussed the cholera epidemic that surfaced in Haiti in 2010, an outbreak that has killed 8,000 people. Studies have shown it was likely introduced in Haiti by UN soldiers, whose infected waste seeped into a river.
He wants the UN peacekeeping force, known as MINUSTAH, to leave.
“After lying to the whole world, Canada, the United States and France put in place an occupation force to protect their interests,” Joseph said, adding that Canadian firms have economic stakes in Haiti in areas such as mining.
“Haiti can emerge from its situation. The imperialists must leave us in peace, (they) must leave us to manage it ourselves.”
— With files from Associated Press
Follow @AndyBlatchford on Twitter
Click HERE for original.
Une conférence-débat avec Mario Joseph à Montréal
Salle Fernand-Daoust (#1205)
Mario Joseph, spécialiste des droits humains, est en visite à Montréal dans le cadre d’une série pan-canadienne d’évènements commémorant le 10ème anniversaire du coup d’État du 29 février 2004 en Haïti.
Salle Fernand-Daoust (#1205)
Centre St. Pierre
1212 rue Panet
18h le 27 février 2014
Dix ans plus tard, la société haïtienne porte toujours les cicatrices laissées par un coup d’État que le Canada a soutenu activement à l’époque: élections discriminatoires, occupation étrangère, projets de développement néo-libéraux. La visite de Mario Joseph nous donnera un aperçu du mouvement populaire en Haïti, écorché mais insoumis, et nous permettra de réfléchir au rôle trop peu connu que le Canada exerce en Haïti depuis maintenant une décennie.
Cliquez ICI pour la page Facebook.
Join Harvard Haitian Alliance for a discussion on education in Haiti.
Join HHA for our first discussion event of the semester! We’ll be focusing on the question of decentralization in the university system in Haiti, brain drain, and institutional integrity. The panelists are Ilio Durandis, founder of Haiti 2015 and Haitian Bioscience Initiative; and Gerthy Lahens, a transnational community organizer.
Ticknor Lounge, Boylston Hall
Cambridge, MA 02138
Thursday, February 27, 2014 5pm to 7pm
Click HERE for the event page on Facebook.
Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts screening Fatal Assistance by Raoul Peck, acclaimed Haitian filmmaker.
Fatal Assistance (Assistance mortelle) by Raoul Peck (Haiti/France/US, 2012, 100 min.). Raoul Peck takes us on a two-year journey inside the challenging, contradictory, and colossal rebuilding efforts in post-earthquake Haiti. Through its provocative and radical point of view, Fatal Assistance offers a devastating indictment of the international community’s post-disaster idealism. The film dives headlong into the complexity of the reconstruction process and the practice and impact of worldwide humanitarian and development aid, revealing the disturbing extent of a general failure. In English and French with English subtitles. Discussion with director follows the Feb 21 screening.
Remis Auditorium, 161
Alfond Auditorium, G36 (February 21 & 26 only)
Museum of Fine Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Feb 19, 7-8:40pm
Feb 20, 4:30-6:10pm
Feb 21, 7-8:40pm
Feb 22, 12:30-2:10pm
Feb 23, 12:30-2:10pm
Feb 26, 5-6:40pm
Feb 27, 5-6:40pm
The film will also be screened in other cities across the US:
AFI Silver Theater
February 22 – March 3
Raoul Peck Retrospective featuring a screening of FATAL ASSISTANCE on 2/22
with Raoul Peck in person
New York, NY
Elinor Bunin Monroe Theater at the Film Society of Lincoln Center
February 28 – March 6
One week run of the film with Raoul Peck in person, Feb 28-Mar 2
More info: www.filmlinc.com <http://www.filmlinc.com/> (tickets are not yet
O-Cinema Miami Shores
Raoul peck in Person, March 21-22
More info: http://www.o-cinema.org/venue/o-cinema-miami-shores/ (tickets not
Click HERE for the Boston event page.
Although this article refers to African countries, the message is very relevant to Haiti as well: From land disputes to wrongful imprisonment, improving the rule of law in a country can be done not only from the top-down but also from the grassroots-up. Making sure that citizens know their rights goes a long way in enforcing those rights.Africa’s Search for Law
Mo Ibrahim, Project Syndicate
February 12, 2014
LONDON – My career as a businessman in Africa has turned me into an activist for better, cleaner government and for the rule of law. But promoting good governance is not just a matter of encouraging good leadership at the top (although I believe that definitely helps); it also requires all of us to be able to fulfill our responsibilities as citizens, and realize our rights.
In several African countries, there are impressive legal instruments in terms of independent court systems; but the challenge consists in impartial implementation. Democratic accountability requires that citizens can use the law, as well as be subject to it. For example, these countries have laws that prohibit seizures of land without due process and compensation for the owner; that bar public servants from accepting bribes; and that require government funds to be spent on the public good, not for private gain.
In the countries that currently do well on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance – Botswana, Ghana, South Africa, and others – citizens can use the law to protect themselves and their property from illicit encroachment, and to resolve their disputes in an impartial setting. For those at the bottom – Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic – the rule of law is a fiction that must be made real.
This work is already being carried out in places: in Sierra Leone, a country recovering from a brutal civil war, community-based paralegals are helping villagers to settle disputes peacefully; in Malawi, they are helping to reduce unnecessary imprisonment. In Mozambique, local legal experts have helped villagers draw up proper titles to their communal lands, helping to secure their economic future. In Kenya, community groups have used freedom-of-information laws to ensure that money earmarked for local school construction is properly disbursed.
This is the rule of law in action at the local level, and it is building, often from scratch, a culture in which disputes are settled peacefully and benefits distributed transparently. The alternative – recourse to violence in the face of unequal access to resources – has led to a cycle of political instability in many countries, with the consequent lack of economic development that has come to characterize much of Africa’s recent history.
As the debate on the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals unfolds at the United Nations this year, it is my fervent hope that African governments will endorse the inclusion within these goals of measurable targets for access to justice. To be sure, the dominant themes that are emerging in the UN discussions – jobs, economic growth, infrastructure development, and poverty reduction – are all still desperately needed across the continent. But the rule of law is a fundamental principle that does more than promote economic growth, and it would be a serious mistake not to include it in the SDG agenda.
Indeed, acknowledging that all must be equal in the eyes and practice of the law is a prerequisite for strengthening the social contract between the state and its citizens. Without greater fidelity to the rule of law, too many African citizens will continue to see their futures blighted and their countries’ resources wasted.
If we are to build grassroots respect for the institutions and processes that constitute democracy, the state must treat its citizens as real citizens, rather than as subjects. We cannot expect loyalty to an unjust regime. The state and its elites must be subject, in theory and in practice, to the same laws that its poorest citizens are.
Click HERE for original.