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.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Weekly News Round-Up: Human Rights and International Investment

December 10, 2011

Human Rights in Haiti

Yesterday was the UN-sponsored International Day of Human Rights – a day laden with irony for the people of Haiti. The occasion sparked protests, writing, and petitions from Haitian activists.

Pairs well with: Haitians protesting in St. Marc, Haiti, to demand respect for their human rights in front of a UN sign bearing the mission’s name, MINUSTAH (left). A boy at the protest holding a sign that says, “Haitians have rights like everyone!” (right).

Photo credit: @gaetantguevara

Also pairs well with: This piece from Etant Dupain covering the protests: “It is a contradiction for the UN to celebrate their International Day for Human Rights while members of the mission are violating human rights in Haiti.”

Action Alert: Our partner group, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, began a petition asking the UN to honor cholera victims’ human rights in honor of human rights day. Consider signing here.

More International Forums on Reconstruction

After last week’s Invest in Haiti forum (critiqued here), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Haiti Reconstruction Forum took place in Miami on Thursday. The goal of the event was similar: promoting investment in Haiti.

Pairs well with: Jacqueline Charles, Miami Herald reporter, live-tweeted the event. Her coverage was the only source for details of what was discussed at the forum, including:

    1. the announcement of a potential IDB-financed “portable school” project;
    2. praise for the industrial park;
    3. more support for the hotel industry ;
    4. an IDB-supported $700 million agriculture plan.

Also pairs well with: Carlson Hotels visited Haiti on the day of the forum to look into starting a hotel to rival the new, 173-room hotel built by Marriott. It appears that the international community plan for Haiti’s economy has distilled itself into the two T’s: Textiles and Tourism.

Weekly Links Round-Up: Haiti’s Economic Future, MINUSTAH Poll, and More!

December 2, 2011

Invest In Haiti: The Future of the Haitian Economy

President Martelly plans to create 500,000 jobs in three years. Some of these will come from a new Marriott hotel being planned in downtown Port-au-Prince, but he intends even more to come from a new industrial park in Caracol, Haiti.

Pairs Well With: This investigation finding that the garment industry – which will take center stage in the new industrial park – has been fraught with union suppression.

Also Pairs Well With: This Haiti Grassroots Watch investigation highlighting the wage suppression, poor working conditions, and bad track record of “sweatshop-led development” in Haiti.


USAID begins construction at the industrial park in Caracol, Haiti.


MINUSTAH Poll & Doublespeak

A new poll finds that two-thirds of Haitians want the immediate withdrawal of UN forces.

Pairs Well With: The headline-making line about the UN, however, came from Nigel Fisher, deputy Special Rep of the Secretary General for Haiti. In a press conference this week, he claimed that “only media and elites” want the UN out of the country – just days after the poll’s release.


Quick Hits

The US government decided to lift an 18-year arms embargo, which was only intermittently observed while in place.

The World Bank approved a $255 million plan to provide housing and education in Port-au-Prince in response to the disbanding of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission.


Framing Rule of Law Issues: Beyond “Lawless and Violent”

September 23, 2011

The media loves talking about lawlessness in Haiti (ad infinitum), which often leads to graphic depictions of ubiquitous violence. Many Haiti activists retort that these narratives brim with “unattributed false statement[s].” They point to the testimony of journalists like Sebastian Walker: “Haitians are among the most friendly, peaceful people I’ve ever encountered.”

Those informed by the mainstream media typically conclude that Haiti’s “lawlessness” necessitates more UN troops to impose security, while the justice-minded bemoan the “myth of Haiti’s lawless streets.” At this point, dialogue usually ceases as each side retires with their preferred conclusion.

Framing Rule of Law Issues Effectively

Human rights attorney Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), however, frames rule of law issues in a manner that allows for overcoming this impasse.

Read the rest of this entry »

Weekly Links Round-Up: Aba MINUSTAH

September 15, 2011


“Aba MINUSTAH” means “Down with MINUSTAH” (the UN peacekeeping force in Haiti) in Haitian Creole. Last week’s roundup covered the breaking story of four UN peacekeepers who bound and raped an 18-year old Haitian man. Outrage over this incident has snowballed into a wave of protests, which build on nearly 7 years of discontentment with the UN among many Haitians.

Given the significance of these developments, we devote most of today’s round-up to this issue.

In Haiti: Several hundred protesters marched in the capital (video), and were tear-gassed by the police. @KOFAVIV, a Haitian grassroots women’s group that provides support to victims of sexual violence, reported via Twitter that dozens of tent camp residents were forced from their homes by tear gas fired into the tents.

Picture from Port-au-Prince of tear gas being fired adjacent to tent camps. Photo Credit: Etant Dupain.

In New York: Protesters demonstrated in front of the UN building, demanding reparations for the UN-introduced cholera and for an immediate drawdown of MINUSTAH forces.

In Uruguay: Civil Society groups in Uruguay – the country whose peacekeepers committed the assault against Johnny Jean – also demonstrated for all 1,000 Uruguayan troops to be withdrawn from Haiti.

US Response: Bill Clinton articulated the US response to the protesters, saying, “MINUSTAH has done way more good (audio) than harm here,” and pleading for this not to be interpreted as reflecting poorly on MINUSTAH at large.

Rebuttal: Nicole Phillips of IJDH provides a thorough rebuttal to Clinton (audio) that details both long-standing legal concerns over MINUSTAH’s presence, as well as a number of specific concerns regarding MINUSTAH’s misconduct.

In other news, Martelly and Clinton formed a council to court foreign investors, which is an integral part of their plan to revitalize the low-wage export sector in Haiti.

Finally, for the first time since his return earlier this year, there’s reason to believe former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide will appear in public to deliver a speech. The anticipated location is at the Aristide Foundation for Democracy, which is one of our partner groups.

THE ‘HIDDEN’ HAND: The UN and Haiti’s Elections

December 12, 2010

Coming quickly on the heels of definitive evidence that the UN caused the cholera outbreak, the election results (however tainted) were announced last week. Mirlande Manigat, former first lady, and Jude Célestin, ruling party candidate, will head for the runoff – if the current results hold. This announcement was immediately greeted by protests.

In the midst of this tense pause between the initial announcement and the result of the recount, I want to comment on the UN involvement in Haiti’s election.

Haiti activists often discuss the UN Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) as a force for ill in the country. However, it can be difficult to substantiate particular instances of abuses like violent crowd control, as they actively target those who attempt to document these cases.

Two UN actions in recent weeks merit particular attention as examples of its negative influence. I want to comment on these particular actions because the UN doesn’t dispute their occurrence, yet they reveal perverse elements of the UN’s engagement with Haiti.

The first concerns a call placed by Edmund Mulet, MINUSTAH head, to Mirland Manigat and Michel Martelly. When 12 of 18 candidates called for boycotts following election day, Mulet attempted to manipulate public opinion by playing to the political ambitions of Manigat and Martelly. He placed calls to the candidates, promising each that he or she was the frontrunner and suggesting that they should rescind their calls for boycott.

The ploy worked (see the embedded video at the always excellent Haiti-Cuba-Venezuela Analysis blog in which Manigat describes the call). Both Manigat and Martelly dropped their call for boycotts, assured they would advance to the second round.

The violent anger of Martelly’s camp in response to his failure to advance comes, in large part, from his and his supporters’ belief that the government “modified the numbers” when it appeared Célestin would lose. Martelly’s unshakable confidence that the results were rigged against him stems at least in part from the private assurance he received from the UN that he was the frontrunner.

Which brings us to the second item I’d like to comment on. The UN has reacted to these protests by threatening to pull out if the initial election results aren’t respected. This is particularly striking given the fact that even the US Embassy has expressed skepticism about the announced results. With this threat, the UN is attempting to pressure the Haitian people to accept the election results (nevermind the fact that most would be glad to see them go).

This illustrates the nature of the UN’s involvement in Haiti: they intervene behind the scenes, spreading misinformation when it’s politically expedient, and then denounce the effects (i.e., the protests) of that misinformation when it becomes inconvenient.

The ultimatum issued by the UN to coerce acceptance of the election results is, in itself, a fascinating case study of MINUSTAH’s political tactics in the country. Their threat simultaneously depicts the UN mission as essential to stability in the country (“don’t reject the results, or else!”), and also gives one result (Célestin and Manigat advance) the aura of legitimacy, despite the fact that few Haiti watchers think it reflects the will of the people.

When the story of this election goes down in the history books, these low-profile interventions – calling candidates with misinformation and threatening to pull out as a piece of political theater – will likely be forgotten, replaced by images of burning tires and street protests.

But as a matter of day-to-day interference in the political sovereignty of the Haitian people, violations like these may have the larger role in shaping the outcome of Haiti’s 2010 elections.