FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How Human Rights Can Save Haiti

by FRAN QUIGLEY

Last month, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced a new initiative to address the cholera epidemic in Haiti. The plan includes a variety of measures, most notably the building of desperately-needed water and sanitation infrastructure.

This is not yet cause for celebration. The UN and the international community have so far committed to pay only a fraction of the estimated $2.2 billion cost of the program. And the 10-year plan lacks an appropriate sense of urgency, with many more Haitians sure to die needlessly while it is being carried out.

But the announcement is definitely promising news, because it shows that the United Nations is responding to the pressure of a relentless global human rights campaign. Multiple experts, including a member of an investigatory panel appointed by the UN itself, have concluded that the cholera outbreak was triggered by the UN’s own reckless disregard for the health and safety of the Haitian people. Those investigations establish that, in October, 2010, untreated human waste from cholera-infected UN troops was dumped into a tributary of Haiti’s main waterway, leading to a gruesome wave of chaos and death that claimed 7,800 lives and sickened 600,000 more.

After two years of deflecting blame, the UN’s December 11th statement is a step in the right direction. It is a step the UN is taking only after a firm and insistent push by Haitian human rights activists and the international organizations that support them.

That push began almost immediately after the outbreak, when Haitians took to the streets demonstrating against the United Nations, gathering outside UN bases chanting Jistis ak reparasyon! Justice and reparations. The Haitian-U.S. human rights partnership Bureau des Avocats Internationaux and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti filed legal claims against the UN on behalf of thousands of cholera victims and their families.

The movement soon went global. In the U.S., 104 members of Congress wrote to the UN demanding a fast and effective response. Advocacy groups turned up the heat with media outreach that led to influential editorials in several major newspapers, including The New York Times, calling for UN accountability. A coast-to-coast series of events featured the award-winning documentary film Baseball in the Time of Cholera, produced by actress Olivia Wilde and famed entrepreneur Elon Musk, which movingly chronicles the tragic impact cholera inflicted on one Haitian family. When a delegation from the UN Security Council visited Haiti in February, they were hounded by protesters demanding action on cholera. A petition launched by filmmaker Oliver Stone on Avaaz.org garnered 7,000 signers in its first week.

On the streets of Port-au-Prince and in the online petitions, the message is the same: Haiti suffers from cholera because the Haitian people lack basic human rights. Consider the massive criminal and civil liability that would have ensued if the UN had caused 7,000-plus deaths by dumping untreated and infected human waste in U.S. waterways. Yet, over two years since cholera exploded in the Haitian countryside, the UN has refused to even acknowledge responsibility, much less compensate the victims.

For Haitians, this is a familiar phenomenon. Once, the Duvaliers and other brutal kleptocrats used money and muscle to oppress the Haitian poor with impunity. Now it is the UN who clearly feels it is powerful enough, and its Haitian victims weak enough, that it can avoid the consequences it would shoulder in almost any other nation on earth.

But Ban Ki-moon’s statement last month suggests that the UN’s sense of impunity in Haiti may finally be eroding. Grassroots Haitian activists working for justice alongside international lawyers, sympathetic rights activists, and celebrities duplicates the classic blueprint for social change that worked to end South African apartheid, establish civil rights for African-Americans, and install democracy in Eastern Europe. It can work to bring justice to Haiti, too.

Cholera is certainly not Haiti’s only problem that begs for a human rights solution. Over three hundred thousand Haitians are still homeless nearly three years after the January 12, 2010 earthquake, despite global pledges of $10 billion for earthquake recovery. The fact that Haiti’s suffering endures despite such generosity is heart-breaking, but not surprising. When aid flows into a country whose elections exclude the most popular political party and whose resulting government threatens journalists and imprisons its political opponents, it is like trying to build a home without first establishing a sturdy foundation and durable framing. That is why the same activists calling for UN responsibility for cholera are pushing for criminal prosecution of Haitian human rights abusers, free and fair elections, and other core components of a sustainable and just society.

Haitians are proud of their history as the only modern nation to be created through the overthrow of slaveholders.  They know well that recognition of their human rights will come from demand, not largesse.

So Ban Ki-moon’s cholera announcement is not bad for starters. But is time for the UN, the world’s foremost promoter of human rights, to practice what it preaches, and remedy the grievous harm it has caused.

The Haitian people, with the help of a global network of human rights activists, will insist on it. Jistis ak reparasyon.

Fran Quigley is clinical professor and director of the Health and Human Rights Clinic at Indiana University McKinney School of Law.


Fran Quigley is a professor at Indiana University McKinney School of Law, where he directs the Health and Human Rights Clinic. He is the author of How Human Rights Can Build Haiti (Vanderbilt University Press).

More articles by:
May 31, 2016
Miguel A. Cruz-Díaz
Imperial Blues: On Whitewashing Dictatorship in the 21st Century
Vijay Prashad
Stoking the Fires: Trump and His Legions
Patrick Howlett-Martin
Libya: How to Bring Down a Nation
Uri Avnery
What Happened to Netanyahu?
Corey Payne
Reentry Through Resistance: Détente with Cuba was Accomplished Through Resistance and Solidarity, Not Imperial Benevolence
Bill Quigley
From Tehran to Atlanta: Social Justice Lawyer Azadeh Shahshahani’s Fight for Human Rights
Manuel E. Yepe
Trump, Sanders and the Exhaustion of a Political Model
Bruce Lerro
“Network” 40 Years Later: Capitalism in Retrospect and Prospect and Elite Politics Today
Robert Hunziker
Chile’s Robocops
Aidan O'Brien
What’ll It be Folks: Xenophobia or Genocide?
Binoy Kampmark
Emailgate: the Clinton Spin Doctors In Action
Colin Todhunter
The Unique Risks of GM Crops: Science Trumps PR, Fraud and Smear Campaigns
Dave Welsh
Jessica Williams, 29: Another Black Woman Gunned Down By Police
Gary Leupp
Rules for TV News Anchors, on Memorial Day and Every Day
May 30, 2016
Ron Jacobs
The State of the Left: Many Movements, Too Many Goals?
James Abourezk
The Intricacies of Language
Porfirio Quintano
Hillary, Honduras, and the Murder of My Friend Berta
Patrick Cockburn
Airstrikes on ISIS are Reducing Their Cities to Ruins
Uri Avnery
The Center Doesn’t Hold
Raouf Halaby
The Sailors of the USS Liberty: They, Too, Deserve to Be Honored
Rodrigue Tremblay
Barack Obama’s Legacy: What Happened?
Matt Peppe
Just the Facts: The Speech Obama Should Have Given at Hiroshima
Deborah James
Trade Pacts and Deregulation: Latest Leaks Reveal Core Problem with TISA
Michael Donnelly
Still Wavy After All These Years: Flower Geezer Turns 80
Ralph Nader
The Funny Business of Farm Credit
Paul Craig Roberts
Memorial Day and the Glorification of Past Wars
Colin Todhunter
From Albrecht to Monsanto: A System Not Run for the Public Good Can Never Serve the Public Good
Rivera Sun
White Rose Begins Leaflet Campaigns June 1942
Tom H. Hastings
Field Report from the Dick Cheney Hunting Instruction Manual
Weekend Edition
May 27, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Silencing America as It Prepares for War
Rob Urie
By the Numbers: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are Fringe Candidates
Paul Street
Feel the Hate
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
Basic Income Gathers Steam Across Europe
Andrew Levine
Hillary’s Gun Gambit
Jeffrey St. Clair
Hand Jobs: Heidegger, Hitler and Trump
S. Brian Willson
Remembering All the Deaths From All of Our Wars
Dave Lindorff
With Clinton’s Nixonian Email Scandal Deepening, Sanders Must Demand Answers
Pete Dolack
Millions for the Boss, Cuts for You!
Peter Lee
To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki
Gunnar Westberg
Close Calls: We Were Much Closer to Nuclear Annihilation Than We Ever Knew
Karl Grossman
Long Island as a Nuclear Park
Binoy Kampmark
Sweden’s Assange Problem: The District Court Ruling
Robert Fisk
Why the US Dropped Its Demand That Assad Must Go
Martha Rosenberg – Ronnie Cummins
Bayer and Monsanto: a Marriage Made in Hell
Brian Cloughley
Pivoting to War
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail