Human Rights and Haiti


Overwhelmed by sadness, empathy and disbelief, the world’s eyes and hearts are focused on the rescue and relief efforts resulting from the earthquake in Haiti. However, many who have worked inHaiti fear that a preventable and long term disaster lies on the horizon if international interventions do not break with past patterns. As international aid begins to pour into Haiti, we have a brief moment to break with past mistakes and bring real change to Haiti.

During the eight years that the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center) has partnered with the grassroots medical group Zanmi Lasante/Partners In Health in Haiti, we have witnessed U.S and international aid efforts that could be characterized, at best, as unsustainable and, at worst, deliberately harmful.

In 2000, the U.S. and the Inter-American Development Bank approved millions of dollars of what would have been lifesaving loans for improvements to water, health, education, and road infrastructure, only to later withhold these funds because they opposed then President Aristide. While the loans were eventually released, the communities where the very first water projects were to be financed still lack access, ten years later, to reliably clean drinking water, contributing to countless deaths due to waterborne illness.

In 2004, the international community pledged $1 billion to support Haiti. RFK Center, along with Zanmi Lasante and the NYU Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, tried to track the fulfillment of those pledges, but never received clear and consistent answers from donor states on the status of the aid. With no transparency or coordinating body to turn to, the Haitian people had no hope of knowing if that money ever got to Haiti, much less where it was directed and how it could be used to improve their communities. Haitian government sources later confirmed that most of the pledges had never been fulfilled.

In 2008, after hurricanes ravaged the country, the international community convened another donor conference resulting in over $324 million in pledges. Prior to the earthquake, most of those pledges had still not been fulfilled.

Historically, interventions in Haiti have been viewed through the lens of charity. The international community, NGOs, international organizations and donor states have gathered time and again to announce to the world pledges of support, only to quietly back away from these commitments. The goodwill of the international community is certainly critical today to Haiti’s future but charity alone will not be enough to ultimately rebuild a safer and more sustainable Haiti. Only by forging a new path, guided by a commitment to the human rights of the Haitian people, can the international community help to create real, lasting change.

Charity is a personal act of choice with no real repercussions. Human rights are legal obligations, grounded in our shared acknowledgement of human dignity – something that every government must respect and no government can take away.

In the aftermath of this disaster, every country and international organization working toward recovery in Haiti needs to ensure that their actions will promote the respect and dignity of the Haitian people based on constitutionally and internationally recognized rights to water, health, and education. By partnering with the Haitian government and local communities in assessing the nation’s recovery needs and making long term pledges to support the government of Haiti in meeting these needs, donors can pave a sustainable path towards recovery. Additionally, the donor nations should commit to making their aid transparent so every Haitian knows where funds are going. Accountability mechanisms are needed to ensure that the government of Haiti, the international community and NGOs use these funds appropriately.

As the world looks for a way to help Haiti rebuild after the earthquakes, the international community has opportunity to avert a second man-made disaster. The United States and the international donor states and institutions must act now to end a painful history of irresponsible aid policies in Haiti. In acting immediately, as recovery plans are developed, we can honor the survivors of this tragedy by supporting Haitians as they build a better Haiti.

Kerry Kennedy is President and founder of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (www.rfkcenter.org).

Monika Kalra Varma is Director of the RFK Center for Human Rights.

December 01, 2015
John Wight
From Iraq to Syria: Repeating a Debacle
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: the Left Takes Charge
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Revenge? The Fight for the Border
Sami Al-Arian
My Ordeal: One of America’s Many Political Trials Since 9/11
Steffen Böhm
Why the Paris Climate Talks Will Fail, Just Like All the Others
Gilbert Mercier
Will Turkey Be Kicked Out of NATO?
Bilal El-Amine
The Hard Truth About Daesh and How to Fight It
Pete Dolack
Solidarity Instead of Hierarchy as “Common Sense”
Dan Glazebrook
Rhodes Must Fall: Decolonizing Education
Colin Todhunter
Big Oil, TTIP and the Scramble for Europe
Eric Draitser
Terror in Mali: An Attack on China and Russia?
Linn Washington Jr.
Torture and Other Abuses Make Turkey as American as Apple Pie
Randy Shaw
Krugman is Wrong on Gentrification
Raouf Halaby
Time to Speak Out Against Censorship
Jesse Jackson
It’s Time for Answers in Laquan McDonald Case
Patrick Walker
Wake Up Zombie, Kick Up a Big Stink!
November 30, 2015
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Embrace of Totalitarianism is America’s Dirty Little Secret
Omur Sahin Keyif
An Assassination in Turkey: the Killing of Tahir Elci
Uri Avnery
There is No Such Thing as International Terrorism
Robert Fisk
70,000 Kalashnikovs: Cameron’s “Moderate” Rebels
Jamie Davidson
Distortion, Revisionism & the Liberal Media
Patrick Cockburn
Nasty Surprises: the Problem With Bombing ISIS
Robert Hunziker
The Looming Transnational Battlefield
Ahmed Gaya
Breaking the Climate Mold: Fighting for the Planet and Justice
Matt Peppe
Alan Gross’s Improbable Tales on 60 Minutes
Norman Pollack
Israel and ISIS: Needed, a Thorough Accounting
Colin Todhunter
India – Procession of the Dead: Shopping Malls and Shit
Roger Annis
Canada’s New Climate-Denying National Government
Binoy Kampmark
Straining the Republic: France’s State of Emergency
Bill Blunden
Glenn Greenwald Stands by the Official Narrative
Jack Rasmus
Japan’s 5th Recession in 7 Years
Karen Lee Wald
Inside the Colombia Peace Deal
Geoff Dutton
War in Our Time
Charles R. Larson
Twofers for Carly Fiorina
John Dear
An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism