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Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction

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Cholera Victims’ Lawyers to Seek Billions in Damages if UN Continues to Deny Responsibility Print

Lawyers seeking justice on behalf of thousands of cholera victims announced their next steps after the U.N. rebuffed their claim in February, citing immunity. Saying that they were offering the U.N. its “last opportunity to accept its legal responsibility,” attorneys with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) announced in a press conference today (video here) that the U.N.’s response opens doors to trying the case in national courts, and that they will pursue this option if the U.N does not reply with “an appropriate response” in the next 60 days. The BBC’s Mark Doyle reported that “The lawyers say they will file claims for $100,000 (£64,000) for the families of those who have died and $50,000 (£32,000) for every one of the hundreds of thousands who have fallen sick,” which would total billions of dollars.

The attorneys described the U.N.’s rationale for rejecting the claim as being on “flimsy grounds.” They also placed the case in a broader context of impunity for abuse, which has included sexual assaults by U.N. troops and officers, and extrajudicial shootings in Haiti and other countries where U.N. troops have been stationed.

Attorney and IJDH board member Ira Kurzban slammed the U.N.’s justification of dumping of sewage into rivers as a matter of “policy,” even though this would clearly go against U.N. principles. Kurzban also noted that the U.N.’s failure to establish a standing claims commission that would allow Haitians to seek redress for U.N. wrongs goes against its responsibility to the world.

Also speaking at the press conference, Dr. Jean Ford Figaro, MD, MPH, and Health Education Coordinator at Boston Medical Center detailed various recommendations that the U.N.’s own Independent Panel of Experts have made that have yet to be implemented. Among these are the screening of U.N. troops, the distribution of prophylaxis, and on-site treatment of human waste. Figaro cited a new Physicians for Haiti paper that states that all three of these “recommendations could be implemented at either no or minimal cost to the UN.” In its paper, Physicians for Haiti also notes, “Two year later, the UN has not responded publicly to the [Panel’s] report, made public any proceedings from the task force, or made any of the changes in its medical or sanitation protocols recommended by the report.”

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Congresswoman Lee Re-Introduces Bill to “Assess Progress” of U.S. Haiti Assistance Print

On April 25th, Representative Barbara Lee of California introduced H.R. 1749, the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act, which would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to produce a detailed and comprehensive report on U.S. aid programs to Haiti since the January 2010 earthquake.  The bill, which has 24 original co-sponsors, reflects the growing concern in Congress about the lack of tangible progress in U.S. post-quake relief and reconstruction efforts, and the lack of transparency around how U.S. aid money is being used.

An earlier version of this bill was passed in the House of Representatives in May of 2011 and later was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but never made it to a vote on the Senate floor.  The legislation has been significantly revised and, whereas the old bill (which can be viewed here) had general reporting requirements, the new bill (which can be viewed here) has very specific and probing reporting language that should help shed light on how USAID funds are being used on the ground in Haiti.  Among other things, the legislation calls for:

·         An assessment of the “amounts obligated and expended on United States Government programs and activities since January 2010 (…) including award data [read: financial data] on the use of implementing partners at both prime and subprime levels, and disbursement data from prime and subprime implementing partners.”

·         A description of “goals and quantitative and qualitative indicators to evaluate the progress, or lack of achievement of such goals…”

·         An “assessment of the manner in which the Department of State and USAID are working with Haitian ministries and local authorities, including the extent to which the Government of Haiti has been consulted on the establishment of goals and timeframes and on the design and implementation of new programs…”

·         An “assessment of how consideration for vulnerable populations, including IDPs (Internally Displaced Populations), women, children, orphans, and persons with disabilities, have been incorporated in the design and implementation of new programs and infrastructure”

·         An “assessment of how agriculture and infrastructure programs are impacting food security and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Haiti”

Last month CEPR published a report titled “Breaking Open the Black Box” describing the lack of transparency of U.S. aid programs in Haiti, particularly at the contracting level, and recommended USAID reporting requirements similar to those found in H.R.1749.  The report noted that the effectiveness of U.S. aid to Haiti has been questioned by the GAO, the USAID Inspector General and other government watchdogs. 

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A Tale of Two Trials: Duvalier vs. Ríos Montt Print

Over the last decade the fight for accountability in Latin America for crimes committed by past dictatorships has seen a tremendous number of successes. In Peru, Alberto Fujimori is in jail. In Argentina dozens of defendants have been convicted in just the last year. But two ongoing cases continue to drag on, Efraín Ríos Montt in Guatemala and Jean-Claude Duvalier in Haiti. Both Ríos Montt and Duvalier enjoyed support of all kinds from the U.S. government, but the U.S.’s response to the cases illustrates the ongoing hypocrisy of the U.S. in the region.

In Guatemala, as numerous media outlets have described it, Ríos Montt is “the first former head of state in the Americas to stand trial for genocide in a national court.” While the case was recently suspended, after a week of legal maneuvers, it appears that it may be set to resume this week.  After the trial was suspended on April 18, investigative journalist Allan Nairn reported that “Guatemalan army associates had threatened the lives of case judges and prosecutors and that the case had been annulled after intervention by Guatemala’s president, General Otto Pérez Molina.” Nairn, who investigated atrocities in Guatemala in the ‘80s – including Pérez Molina’s involvement in them -- was supposed to testify at the trial.

But less than a week later, the U.S. sent Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen J. Rapp to Guatemala to “meet with U.S. Government and Embassy officials, local victims groups, and other international officials.” Last Friday, as the trial continued to be suspended, State Department Acting Deputy Spokesperson  Patrick Ventrell stated:

So we urge the Government of Guatemala to ensure that this legal case is conducted in accordance with Guatemala’s domestic and international legal obligations, and we expect the process and outcome will advance the rule of law.

The statement from the State Department came the same day that Rapp concluded his trip to Guatemala. Over the weekend, president Pérez Molina also seemed to partially walk back his previous statements criticizing the trial, calling the trial “historic” and pledging to not personally intervene.

In Haiti, on the other hand, the U.S. has been entirely absent.

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Accused of Sexual Abuse, MINUSTAH Officer Flees Haiti Print

In February, the United Nations confirmed that a Canadian serving with the United Nations Police contingent of MINUSTAH had been accused of sexually and physically assaulting a Haitian woman. Yesterday, Marie Rosy Kesner Auguste Ducena, a lawyer with the Haitian National Human Rights Defense Network, told CBC news that, though the victim reported the assault to police, “nothing will happen... Women who will go to complain, you will see that maybe somebody will take the complaint and will say to her you will be called after. But in fact, the case will just be closed.” CBC notes that the “day after the incident, the man boarded a flight back to Canada, where he remains.”

This is but the latest in a series of sexual abuse allegations leveled against MINUSTAH personnel in Haiti. According to U.N. data, since 2007 there have been 70 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation against MINUSTAH members, but as CBC news points out, “not one has ended up in a Haitian court.”

The lack of accountability of U.N. military and police personnel in Haiti has “undermined” the organizations reputation and its ability to carry out its mandate, according to Mark Schneider of the International Crisis Group (ICG). "The UN should ensure that in the agreement with the troop-contributing countries, that there is an understanding of what will happen if an abuse occurs — that there will be a full investigation, and that there will be appropriate action taken," Schneider added.

According to the CBC, the current case is complicated by the fact that the Canadian was serving as a UN Police agent. The CBC reports:

Soldiers can be tried in a military court, but under UN rules, civilian staff — including police officers — are immune from criminal prosecution in the country where the alleged offence occurred. Once back in Canada, they cannot be charged for a crime committed abroad.

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Is the IOM Underestimating the Impact of Forced Evictions? Print

The IOM reported this week that over the last three months, some 27,000 people have left IDP camps, bringing the total amount remaining to around 320,000. The IOM credits the vast majority of this reduction, some 74 percent, on relocation programs – most often a one-year rental subsidy. The report’s “highlights” section says that “Evictions accounted for a 6% decrease in IDP household population.”  Yet the data in the report directly contradicts this. Of a reported reduction of 6,401 households, the IOM says 977 were forced to leave due to evictions, representing over 15 percent of the total reduction.

But even this is most likely an underestimate. Over previous months, there has been “a dramatic new wave of forced evictions,” according to the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). One camp which has been under the threat of eviction, and from which some families have already been evicted, is Camp Gaston Margon. On March 22, Amnesty International released a statement, warning that:

Approximately 650 families living in Gaston Margon displacement camp in the Port-au-Prince municipality of Carrefour are currently under the threat of forced eviction. Already, on 15 February, 150 families were forcibly evicted from the camp by police officers and a group of men carrying machetes and knives who were accompanied by a local justice of the peace. The armed men began destroying the families’ shelters, while some people were still inside, and attacked individuals that attempted to stop them. The police also shot their firearms into the air to intimidate the families. One infant was reported to have suffered injuries when armed men and police damaged a shelter with the child still inside. The men reportedly threatened to burn down the entire camp and to kill the children of families who did not move.

During the previous IOM reporting period, Camp Margon had a population of 3,376. During the most recent reporting period, the population had decreased to 2,327. Given the reports of threats of eviction, and at least a partial eviction, it is clear that this reduction is not simply a case of “spontaneous return,” as the IOM report implicitly states.

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