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:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
David Yearsley
Brahms and the Tears of Britain’s Oppressed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail