Haiti’s central challenges revolve around rights violations. On one level, political and business elites abuse the rights of Haiti’s poor majority. On another, the international community routinely ignores Haiti’s rights as a sovereign state. These mutually reinforcing dynamics have consistently exacerbated poverty and inequality in the country.
The Institute for Justice and Democracy (IJDH) is at the forefront of the fight to help Haitians exercise their rights in pursuit of a better future. It is thus with great pleasure that the Haiti Justice Alliance will host Brian Concannon, director of IJDH, from Apr. 10-12 for a series of exciting events in Minnesota.
This post introduces IJDH’s work on several rights-related issues, highlighting the unique virtues of their approach. Also included is the event schedule for Mr. Concannon’s visit.
The UN’s Cholera Crimes
Most prominent in the headlines of late is IJDH’s joint campaign with its Haitian affiliate, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), to sue the UN on behalf of cholera victims.
The UN mission in Haiti (known by its French acronym, MINUSTAH) failed to properly screen its peacekeepers from Nepal, where an active cholera outbreak was taking place, before sending them to Haiti. Subsequently, it failed to properly dispose of waste from the Nepalese peacekeepers’ camp, allowing fecal matter (which spreads cholera) to be dumped into Haiti’s longest and most important river, the Artibonite.
The UN argues that what “really caused” the outbreak was lack of sanitation, even as it acknowledges a UN soldier introduced the disease. With this defense, it seeks to dodge responsibility for its actions.
However, buying this argument requires a bit of amnesia. Prior to the cholera outbreak, the UN urged foreign actors to exercise additional caution given Haiti’s post-quake vulnerability. Now they’ve changed their tune, using an argument that boils down to: “Haiti’s vulnerability means we’re off the hook no matter how much damage we did.”
In this instance, the damage amounts to more than 7,000 reported deaths and half a million infections, making Haiti home to the world’s largest cholera outbreak. As does any victim of gross, criminal negligence, the people of Haiti deserve compensation. Or at the very least, they have the right to a fair hearing about whether such compensation is merited.
IJDH-BAI is spearheading the effort to overcome UN stonewalling, and provide Haitian cholera victims with a path to justice. If successful, this lawsuit will be the first time the UN itself has been held legally accountable for its actions in a fragile state.
At their core, UN abuses in Haiti (which also include pervasive sexual assault and extra-judicial killings) return to issues of sovereignty. MINUSTAH only came to be under the repressive US-imposed interim regime that followed the 2004 US-backed coup against Haiti’s democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
Thus, on one level, the UN cholera lawsuit reasserts Haiti’s sovereign rights in the face of foreign oppression enacted by a peacekeeping force the people of Haiti don’t want in their country in the first place. Mr. Concannon is one of the primary driving forces behind this unique and complex international human rights law case.
Rights of Victims, Rights of the Imprisoned: Holistic Judicial Reform
Through his work with IJDH and BAI, Mr. Concannon is also deeply involved in reforming the judicial system in Haiti. Two examples: improving access to legal services for survivors of sexual assault, and ending the backlog of inmates who have been imprisoned without so much as being formally charged.
The IJDH-BAI approach is a model of grassroots community engagement. In contrast to the top-down methods used by many foreign actors, IJDH-BAI use a “victim-centered approach,” which “combines traditional legal strategies with empowerment of victims’ organizations and political advocacy.”
As such, Mr. Concannon is not just an international law expert and an accomplished judicial reformer. He’s also a pioneer when it comes to using law for the direct empowerment of citizens. By helping the people of Haiti exercise their own rights, Mr. Concannon’s work has a lasting impact that overcomes the political vicissitudes of individual institutional reforms.
Join Us To Learn From Brian Concannon’s Expertise and Experiences
This introduction only just begins to capture the scope of Mr. Concannon’s work through IJDH and BAI. Other efforts include a high-profile case to prosecute Jean-Claude Duvalier, the former dictator of Haiti, as well as work to secure housing rights for those displaced after the earthquake.
Mr. Concannon’s full schedule of public events can be found by clicking here. Additionally, we will be screening a compelling new documentary that provides background about the effect of the cholera outbreak. This film will air at Carleton on Mon, Apr. 2 at 7:00 PM in the Weitz Center and at St. Olaf on Tue, Apr. 3 at 7:00 PM in Viking Theater.