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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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Haiti Cholera Victims Get First Hearing in Court Print

“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.

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High-Level Donor Conference on Cholera in Haiti Fails to Secure Much Needed Funding Print

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.”

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U.N. and U.S. Blame Haiti’s Opposition for Delayed Elections, Ignore History Print

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.”

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Is the Martelly Government Putting Former President Aristide in Danger? Print

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.

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USAID Education Contractor Gets a Bad Grade Print

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:

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