FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How Human Rights Can Save Haiti

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.


More articles by:

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).

Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Jasmine Aguilera
Beto’s Lasting Legacy
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
Yves Engler
Ottawa, Yemen and Guardian
Michael Winship
This Was No Vote Accident
Binoy Kampmark
The Disgruntled Former Prime Minister
Tracey L. Rogers
Dear White Women, There May be Hope for You After All
Faisal Khan
Is Dubai Really a Destination of Choice?
Arnold August
The Importance of Néstor García Iturbe, Cuban Intellectual
James Munson
An Indecisive War To End All Wars, I Mean the Midterm Elections
Nyla Ali Khan
Women as Repositories of Communal Values and Cultural Traditions
Thomas Knapp
Scott Gottlieb’s Nicotine Nazism Will Kill Kids, Not Save Them
Dan Bacher
Judge Orders Moratorium on Offshore Fracking in Federal Waters off California
Christopher Brauchli
When Depravity Wins
Robert Koehler
The New Abnormal
Robby Sherwin
Here’s an Idea
Louis Proyect
The Mafia and the Class Struggle (Part Two)
Elliot Sperber
All of Those Bezos
November 15, 2018
Kenneth Surin
Ukania: the Land Where the Queen’s Son Has His Shoelaces Ironed by His Valet
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Spraying Poisons, Chasing Ghosts
Anthony DiMaggio
In the Wake of the Blue Wave: the Midterms, Recounts, and the Future of Progressive Politics
Christopher Ketcham
Build in a Fire Plain, Get What You Deserve
Meena Miriam Yust
Today It’s Treasure Island, Tomorrow Your Neighborhood Store: Could Local Currencies Help?
Karl Grossman
Climate of Rage
Walter Clemens
How Two Demagogues Inspired Their Followers
Brandon Lee
Radical Idealism: Jesus and the Radical Tradition
Kim C. Domenico
An Anarchist Uprising Against the Liberal Ego
Elliot Sperber
Pythagoras in Queens
November 14, 2018
Charles Pierson
Unstoppable: The Keystone XL Oil Pipeline and NAFTA
Sam Bahour
Israel’s Mockery of Security: 101 Actions Israel Could Take
Cesar Chelala
How a Bad Environment Impacts Children’s Health
George Ochenski
What Tester’s Win Means
Louisa Willcox
Saving Romania’s Brown Bears, Sharing Lessons About Coxistence, Conservation
George Wuerthner
Alternatives to Wilderness?
Robert Fisk
Izzeldin Abuelaish’s Three Daughters were Killed in Gaza, But He Still Clings to Hope for the Middle East
Dennis Morgan
For What?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Government is Our Teacher
Bill Martin
The Trump Experiment: Liberals and Leftists Unhinged and Around the Bend
Rivera Sun
After the Vote: An Essay of the Man from the North
Jamie McConnell
Allowing Asbestos to Continue Killing
Thomas Knapp
Talkin’ Jim Acosta Hard Pass Blues: Is White House Press Access a Constitutional Right?
Bill Glahn
Snow Day
November 13, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Midterm Results are Challenging Racism in America in Unexpected Ways
Victor Grossman
Germany on a Political Seesaw
Cillian Doyle
Fictitious Assets, Hidden Losses and the Collapse of MDM Bank
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail