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Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch
Analysis and news on relief and reconstruction efforts in Haiti.
Updated: 54 min 31 sec ago
“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 Adams were 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.
Presidential Commission Recommends Removing Prime Minister as Pressure Mounts to Resolve Electoral Crisis
At a ceremony yesterday afternoon, an advisory committee handed their report over to Haitian President Michel Martelly, requesting the removal of Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe among other actions aimed at resolving Haiti’s electoral crisis. Jacqueline Charles reports for the Miami Herald:
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 Herald released a copy of the report they had received, which is available here (PDF). The Haitian government and international community, mainly the United States and United Nations, have long blamed the electoral delay on opposition from the so-called “Group of Six” senators. With parliamentary terms set to expire January 12 and no solution to the electoral crisis, it appears as though the positions of both the government and international community are softening; however it might not be enough.
The advisory commission was created by President Martelly following a week of increasingly large demonstrations throughout Haiti, calling on the president and prime minister to resign and for the holding of elections. Martelly is expected to make a decision on the recommendations by the end of the week. The moves come as the U.S. has taken on an even more visible role in trying to break the electoral impasse.
Just months after the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, had laid the blame squarely on Haiti’s opposition for the delays, current U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Pamela White met with some opposition political parties on December 2 (although reportedly not Famni Lavalas, a party that has consistently won all of the elections that it's been allowed to participate in). In a statement after the meeting, the U.S. embassy said that White was “extremely impressed with their analysis of the current political situation, dedication to Haiti's future and willingness to truly negotiate for the betterment of their country.” An opposition leader, Jean André Victor, told the press after the meeting with White: “We told Mrs White in no uncertain terms that the current crisis is one of Haiti's making, and it is up to Haiti to find a solution.”
But U.S. diplomatic efforts continue. Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste reported last night that Thomas Shannon, an advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry, arrived in Haiti yesterday and will be holding meetings with various political players in the country. A visit from Kerry himself has yet to be confirmed but has been widely expected in the coming days.
From January through August of 2014, 69 Haitians died from cholera and some 8,628 fell ill, a 76 percent drop from the previous year, the United Nations reported. In October, at a high-level donor conference convened to raise money to help fight cholera, World Bank director Jim Kim told the assembled diplomats that the reduction in cases was “an achievement of which Haiti and its development partners can be proud.” The U.N. decreased their projections for the number of new cases in 2014 to 15,000 from 45,000 and proudly stated that the “case fatality rate is below the 1 per cent target rate set by the World Health Organization.”
But the last few months have shown the optimism to be premature, at best. As heavy rains have hit Haiti, so too has a resurgence of cholera. With data through November 21, 2014 [PDF], the number of cases in 2014 has already shot past the 15,000 estimate to over 20,000. More worryingly, since the beginning of September, 135 Haitians have died from cholera, nearly twice as many as had died over the first 8 months of the year. Further, the much-watched case fatality rate stands at 1.3 percent over that time period, above the 1 percent target.
Yesterday, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which has treated nearly 30 percent of those sickened by cholera in Haiti, warned that the response capacities inside Haiti were severely limited and unable to cope with the recent increase. “We have tried to refer patients to other cholera treatment centers, but we soon realized there were not enough beds,” explained Olivia Gayraud, MSF medical coordinator in Haiti. “The Martissant center was quickly overwhelmed by the number of patients, as national health structures are poorly prepared to react to cholera outbreaks, despite them being predictable during the rainy season,” she added.
According to documents from USAID, 750 houses built by USAID near the new Caracol industrial park, were found to be of poor quality and will take millions of dollars to repair. The houses are part of USAID’s “New Settlement Program,” which was the subject of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in October 2013 as well as a USAID Inspector General (IG) audit in April 2014.
The GAO report found that USAID had initially planned on building 15,000 houses but that the number had been reduced to just 2,600. At the same time costs skyrocketed, from $53 million to over $90 million. At the time of the report, just 900 houses had been built across Haiti. (For more on the housing project, and how these estimates changed, see “Outsourcing Haiti” from earlier this year in Boston Review.)
Speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in October 2013, Beth Hogan, an Assistant Administrator at USAID, explained how those cost increases occurred:
Again, it's because of the requirements that we put into our solicitation document that it meet international building codes, that it comply with federal building standards, that these materials would be disaster- and hurricane-proof.
Hogan went on to say that she was “very happy with the quality” with which the contractors were building the houses. David Gootnick, the author of the GAO report and the Director of International Affairs and Trade at the agency, echoed Hogan’s remarks, telling Congress that, “they are excellent homes that are built to a very high standard.”
However, last month, USAID quietly awarded a contract worth up to $4.5 million to an American-based firm, Tetra Tech, to provide a remediation plan for the Caracol houses. The seriousness of the deficiencies was great enough for USAID to bypass normal contracting procedures and award the contract without receiving other bids. The justification document, required when normal procedures are not followed, explains that an independent assessment was performed in August 2014, which “revealed numerous deficiencies” including “missing roof fasteners, sub-specification roof materials and concrete reinforcement, and other structural and drainage issues.”
“Haitian people are all too familiar with the court expressing sympathy to their plight but closing doors to them,” concluded Muneer Ahmad, Clinical Professor of Law at Yale Law School, at today’s federal District Court hearing concerning the U.N.’s immunity for introducing cholera to Haiti. “That need not be the case here,” said Ahmad.
For one day, at least, the Southern District federal court in New York did open their doors, as Judge Oetken heard oral arguments in the case George et al. V. United Nations et al. The question before the court today was whether or not the U.N. and its officers should have immunity from claims arising from the introduction of cholera into Haiti by U.N. troops in October 2010.
“It is not seriously disputed that the U.N. is responsible for causing this devastating epidemic,” stated Beatrice Lindstrom, a staff attorney at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and counsel for the thousands of Haitian cholera victims represented in the suit. The U.N. did not appear in court but rather it was U.S. government attorney Ellen Blain who spoke in defense of U.N. immunity, citing the U.S.’s obligation as host nation to the U.N.
Lindstrom argued that the U.N.’s immunity, as called for in Section 2 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations [doc] (CPIUN) did not need to be expressly waived by the U.N., because it had failed to provide an alternative dispute mechanism, as called for in Section 29 of the CPIUN. Lindstrom stated that these two sections were “two-sides of the came coin” and that the convention must be interpreted “in whole.” By failing to live up to its obligations under Section 29, the U.N. would not be able to then claim immunity under Section 2. U.S. attorneys argued that there was no link between the two sections and pointed to previous cases where U.S. courts have upheld immunity.
However, in those previous cases, the plaintiffs argued, the U.N. had provided an alternative dispute mechanism, and the question was over its adequacy. This was the first case before U.S. courts where the U.N. had failed entirely to live up to its obligations under Section 29, according to the plaintiffs as well as international law scholars, who filed amicus curiae with the court.
Like a Matryoshka doll, inside each cholera elimination initiative for Haiti one will find another and inside that, yet another. At the two-year anniversary of the earthquake, in January 2012, organizations launched a “call to action” for the elimination of cholera. Almost a year later, in December 2012, the U.N. launched a “new” initiative designed to “support an existing campaign.” Then in February 2013, the Haitian government and international partners announced a 10-year elimination plan. When funding was slow to come, the U.N. and other partners began raising funds for a two-year emergency response. In March of 2014, another “high-level” committee was formed and then in July, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon traveled to Haiti to launch a “Total Sanitation” campaign within the “context” of the cholera elimination plan. Since that first announcement in 2012, 1,600 Haitians have died from cholera. Today, in a “high-level” donor conference sponsored by the World Bank, the Haitian government presented yet another plan.
“We have a plan, it’s a $310 million plan for three years,” Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told the crowded 13th floor conference room in the World Bank headquarters here in Washington, DC. Lamothe urged those in attendance to “take action” and “fast-track this process” in order to “protect the lives of millions of people” and “ensure the most vulnerable of the society are protected against water-borne diseases.” But the 2.5-hour conference ended up short on pledges and long on pleas, with only the event’s sponsor, the World Bank, contributing substantial funds.
Cholera, which scientific studies have found was introduced to Haiti by United Nations troops in 2010, has so far killed at least 8,614 and sickened over 700,000. While no speakers at the conference mentioned how the disease was imported to Haiti, Lamothe did play a short video, in which the narrator explains that, “based on press reports, it [cholera] originated on a Nepalese camp of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH.” Later in the video, a Haitian explains how he blamed the U.N. for cholera’s introduction. Meanwhile, lawyers and human rights groups continue to press for U.N. responsibility through the courts. A federal court in New York will hear oral arguments on the U.N.’s immunity on October 23.
“The UN has a binding international law obligation to install the water and sanitation infrastructure necessary to control the cholera epidemic, as well as compensate those injured,” said Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, who is representing cholera victims in their case against the U.N. “MINUSTAH has spent far more than $2 billion since cholera broke out on other things. It is a question of priorities.”
While the U.N. has refused to accept responsibility for the disease’s introduction or take direct remedial actions, in December 2012 Ban pledged to “use every opportunity” to raise the necessary funds for cholera elimination and has since cited the U.N.’s “moral obligation” to respond to cholera. Despite the support, actors have thus far failed to raise an adequate amount of funds for the eradication plan. At the conference, Ban stated that “as of today, the $2.2 billion 10-year national plan is just 10 percent funded. While a lot has been done, there is clearly much more to do.”
At the United Nations Security Council meeting last week, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power did not mince words regarding who was to blame for Haiti’s electoral impasse. Power, speaking to the assembled members, stated bluntly [PDF]:
But a group of six senators seems intent on holding elections hostage to partisan concerns, even going so far as to prevent a debate on the electoral law.
Legislators in a democracy have a responsibility to defend their constituents’ rights. But when elected officials take advantage of democracy’s checks and balances to cynically block debates and elections altogether, they stand in the way of addressing citizens’ real needs.
It wasn’t just the U.S. referencing the so called “Group of 6.” The head of MINUSTAH, the U.N. mission in Haiti, also blamed a “group of Senators opposed to the El Rancho Accord.” Today, in a separate action, 15 U.S. members of Congress wrote to the Senate president Simon Desras. As the Miami Herald reports, the lawmakers wrote that:
“We are deeply concerned that the Haitian Senate has been unable to pass the requisite legislation to authorize elections this year….We believe that Haitians deserve better than to have this fundamental democratic right continually delayed.”
But, the Herald continues, “[i]n addition to the senators, several large political parties in Haiti are also opposed to the agreement and were not part of the negotiations [the El Rancho Accord]. In addition to raising constitutional issues, Martelly opponents have also raised questions about the formation of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) tasked with organizing the vote. Many feel that it is currently being controlled by the executive.”
Opposition leader Mirlande Manigat, a conservative who lost to Martelly in a run-off election in 2011 and is a constitutional scholar, responded to the comments from the U.S. and the U.N., saying it was unreasonable to overlook the role that Martelly has played in the delay:
“For three years, he refused to call elections. A large part of this is his fault…It is unfair to accuse the six senators for the crisis.”
As we have noted previously, there are legal and constitutional reasons behind the oppositions’ electoral stance. According to Mario Joseph, managing lawyer for the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, “Prompt elections are much needed, but elections will only remedy Haiti’s political crisis if they are run fairly by a constitutionally-mandated electoral council. President Michel Martelly has delayed elections for three years because he does not want to lose the political control he has enjoyed without full parliamentary oversight.”
Fanmi Lavalas leaders report that the police that have guarded former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s residence since he returned to Haiti in 2011 were removed around 1:00 a.m. this morning. It is unclear who ordered the removal of the state security agents, but Agence Haitienne de Presse is reporting that Haitian National Police deny giving the order, and that a “pro-government source” says the orders came from the National Palace. This news conflicts with reports yesterday that Aristide is being placed under house arrest. While Judge Lamarre Belizaire reportedly issued an order for “agents of the prison administration, known as APENA” to be placed around Aristide’s house in Tabarre (according to the Caribbean Media Corporation) and “agents of the Central Department of the Judicial Police” to guard the perimeter of his residence, witnesses on the ground say it appears that law enforcement agencies have ignored Belizaire’s order. Under Haitian law, house arrest has no legal basis.
Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, whose sister organization the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux’s Managing Attorney Mario Joseph represents Aristide, sees the withdrawal of security as retaliation against Aristide for exercising his civil rights. Specifically, Aristide’s lawyers’ are seeking the recusal and dismissal of Judge Belizaire, who is already barred from practicing law for 10 years after he leaves his position as judge.
Concannon says that the message is that “If you assert your civil rights, we’re going to expose you and your family to being killed.” He sees it as a clear signal from the Haitian government that “the police will not come to Aristide’s aid if something happens.” The secretive way in which the security was pulled, in the dead of night, is worrying, he notes.
Aristide continues to have many enemies in Haiti. He was twice ousted in violent coups, in 1991 and 2004. Some of the people involved in the coups and in the killing of Fanmi Lavalas members and other Aristide supporters continue to walk free in Haiti. Haiti’s former dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier – who was ousted in a popular uprising by the grassroots movement that later provided the base for Aristide’s party – also lives freely in Haiti despite the various human rights atrocities committed during his rule and the diverting of hundreds of millions of dollars from the government for his family’s personal use.
Education remains one of Haiti’s lasting challenges. Illiteracy remains high (more than half of the total population), but since the great majority of schools are private, families usually pay for school expenses such as uniforms, meals, books and fees. This means that many children cannot afford school, while many other families struggle to come up with the money. The AP’s Danica Coto reported this week:
Haiti's education system has suffered for decades due to poverty, political instability and the devastating 2010 earthquake. An estimated 30 percent of young people are illiterate, and only about half of all children can afford to attend primary school, according to UNICEF, the U.N.'s children's agency. Fewer than a quarter go to secondary school.
The education ministry recently announced that it has invested some $13 million in books and school supplies for this year — though many students still must pay for all or part of their textbooks — and also launched a school meal system that will help 800,000 children.
Another challenge that Haitian school children face is that much of the teaching has been done in French, the country’s traditional language, but one which is spoken by only a (mostly higher-income) minority. In recent years, reformers have sought to expand Creole education, as the AP has also reported:
In a sign of growing interest in Creole's educational potential, the U.S. Agency for International Development last fall awarded a $12.9 million contract to the North Carolina nonprofit group, RTI International, to create a basic reading curriculum that includes the language.
Last month, USAID’s Office of Inspector General released an audit of the 2-year, 4-month Research Triangle Institute (RTI) contract, which was also intended “to help the Haitian Ministry of Education develop and test an instructional model to improve the reading skills of children in first through third grades in Haiti’s development corridors,” including by “provid[ing] curricula that meet international standards for best practice and respond to Haiti’s culture and students’ educational needs.”
The audit’s conclusions can, unfortunately, be interpreted as a failing grade for RTI’s performance. It found that: