Event Announcement: Scholar of Haitian Human Rights Struggle to MN

September 21, 2014

There is a powerful saying in Haitian Creole: Konstitisyon se papye, bayonet se fè. (“The constitution is paper, the bayonet is steel.”) It reflects the fact that simply securing rights on paper is never enough. Rather, any human rights campaign must grapple with issues of power as much as it does with issues of law. That begins with creating popular pressure to even get to the metaphorical “day in court.” And it continues after the people have won their hard-earned “paper” rights.

In short, successful human rights work requires building a social movement.

This perspective permeates the pages of Fran Quigley’s new book, How Human Rights Can Build HaitiIt is fundamentally a book about the “rule of law.” But as longtime followers of this blog know, “rule of law” rhetoric has historically been deployed to justify horrendous abuses of power in Haiti.QuigleyBookCover

That’s part of why this book deserves a wide audience. It recognizes that Haiti’s material hardship is exacerbated because they can’t enforce their rights (ranging from political sovereignty to business contracts to labor rights).

But Quigley doesn’t call on the military or UN peacekeepers to secure those rights at gunpoint, which is the typical international community approach (and which, unsurprisingly, often results in violating more rights than it secures). Rather, he recognizes that those rights must be articulated in a way that reflects commonly held values, and enforced by civil society as well as institutions of law.

Leading “the Struggle” – Grassroots Human Rights Advocacy

Enter Mario Joseph and Brian Concannon, the protagonists of this book, who are integral to both the legal and grassroots branches of this fight in Haiti. They are the heads of Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and the Institute for Justice And Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), respectively. Quigley’s book documents their work to advance the rights of everyday Haitians, and shines a light on several of the actors and systems that persistently lead to gross violations of those rights.

Rather than beginning with the familiar rundown of Haiti’s travails, Quigley mainly focuses on key dimensions of this struggle:

He gives ample attention to the “beyond-the-courtroom” strategy for raising the profile of these issues, changing the terms of the debate, and increasing the resilience of civil society.

As a result, this book is a welcome contribution to the burgeoning literature on post-quake Haiti. First, because it focuses on the agency of everyday Haitians in the face of various oppressors. And second, because it marries granular detail about the struggle on the ground with awareness of the international mechanisms that perpetuate inequality and rights violations in Haiti.

Event Details: Fran Quigley to Minnesota

Thus, it is with great pleasure that we announce Fran Quigley will be joining the Haiti Justice Alliance in Minnesota for a series of events in Northfield and Minneapolis.

Quigley is a law professor at Indiana University, where he teaches in the Health and Human Rights Clinic. In addition to working in human rights advocacy, much of his scholarship focuses on the intersection between building human rights/rule of law and social movement principles.

As such, he is well-positioned to peel back the layers and give a holistic portrayal of the inner workings of Haiti’s human rights struggle. We hope you’ll join us for one of the events listed below.

Minneapolis – Wed., Oct. 22

University of Minnesota:

  • Building Human Rights in Haiti: Book Event
    4:30 PM, 235 Blegen Hall

Northfield – Thu., Oct. 23

Carleton:

  • Coffee with Prof. Quigley: a chance to explore career paths and human rights work
    9:00 AM, Sayles-Hill 252

St. Olaf:

  • Lunch with Prof. Quigley: Building Human Rights in Haiti + conversation
    11:00 AM, Sun Ballroom, Buntrock Commons 3rd Floor

Carleton:

  • How Human Rights Can Build Haiti
    4:30 PM, Leighton 305

For other opportunities to connect with Prof. Quigley, or questions about these events, contact Natalie Miller at mill5118@umn.edu.


Event Announcement: Haiti Human Rights Reformer to MN

March 30, 2012

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.


MINUSTAH’s Deadly Denials

February 16, 2012

…Violent abuses are MINUSTAH’s (the UN Haiti Mission’s) basic modi operandi for protecting US & other Western economic interests by targeting poor Haitians…

Council on Hemispheric Affairs

A UN Security Council delegation is currently in Haiti to “review its mandate” and “evaluate” its efforts in the country. At the conclusion of this 4-day trip, the delegation will report on its findings. Given that the UN formally denies responsibility for the cholera outbreak ravaging the country, it won’t tally the 7,000 cholera deaths as part of its impact.

In light of this, it’s tempting to review yet again the “mountain of evidence” proving the UN’s fault for the outbreak. But there’s no need. The only remaining question about UN culpability is not whether they’re to blame for introducing cholera to Haiti, but whether the tools of international law will work on behalf of justice or on behalf of the powerful.

Instead, this post provides historical context for evaluating MINUSTAH’s public statements about the ongoing cholera crisis. Specifically, we compare similar public statements about a previous scandal to internal documents that only came to light years after the fact.

For those who aren’t familiar with the UN Mission’s history in Haiti, this post will show that MINUSTAH has used public denials not just to deflect responsibility, but to provide cover for continuing its “violent abuses.”

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