[News] Justice and Reparations in Haiti

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Thu Oct 24 12:58:24 EDT 2013


October 24, 2013
http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/10/24/justice-and-reparations-in-haiti/


Signs of Hope


  Justice and Reparations in Haiti

by FRAN QUIGLEY

The month of October brings an unwelcome anniversary for Jacqueline 
Olonville.

A 54 year-old mother and grandmother who sells plaintains by the road 
that runs through the village of Bocozelle, Haiti, Olonville was one of 
over half a million Haitians who were sickened by the massive cholera 
outbreak of October, 2010. Olonville's affliction followed cholera's 
frightening, filthy pattern---severe stomach pain followed by 
uncontrollable diarrhea and vomiting. Fortunately, she reached a 
hospital in time.

When I spoke to her during a visit last year, I asked Olonville if she 
knew people in her community who did not survive the /kolera/. "/Wi. 
Anpil/!" she replied. Many. Especially children and old people.

Indeed, 8,000 Haitians have been killed by cholera, and hundreds more 
die each year.  Haiti had avoided cholera for a century before the 
outbreak triggered by United Nations troops systematically dumping 
untreated, infected human waste into the country's primary river. 
Despite overwhelming evidence of the UN's responsibility, evidence that 
includes the analysis of the UN's own experts, Haitian victims have not 
received so much as an apology for their grievous losses, much less a 
remedy.

But, after three years of UN stonewalling, the outlook is finally 
improving for Jacqueline Olonville and other cholera victims. Earlier 
this month, at a Geneva ceremony honoring the work of Haitian human 
rights attorney Mario Joseph, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 
/Navanethem Pillay /deviated from her prepared remarks. "Those who 
suffered as a result of that cholera (should) be provided with 
compensation," Pillay said.

It was the first time a UN official had made such a statement, but it 
did not emerge from a vacuum. Pillay spoke on the eve of the filing of a 
long-anticipated class action lawsuit against the UN by the Institute 
for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, the U.S. sister organization of 
Joseph's Bureau des Avocats Internationaux. The claim filed in U.S. 
District Court in New York asks the UN to provide the water and 
sanitation infrastructure necessary to stop cholera's spread, issue an 
apology to the Haitian people, and compensate the victims.

The lawsuit is just the most recent in a series of actions initiated by 
the people of Haiti. Street protests began almost immediately after the 
cholera outbreak, then evolved into a multinational campaign for justice 
that includes an award-winning documentary, raucous demonstrations from 
New York City to Port-au-Prince, and online petitions that have achieved 
global reach.

In response, over 100 members of Congress have publicly called for the 
UN to take responsibility for Haiti's cholera damage, a significant 
development given the U.S.'s status as the UN's top funder. And the UN 
itself has committed or raised over $200 million towards the cost of the 
desperately needed sanitation system. That amount is a fraction of the 
total necessary to address the monumental harm caused, but it is a start 
at addressing Haiti's number one public health problem.

This activism is a descendant of other momentous social movements. 
Haiti's campaign is rights-based, like the Solidarity strikes in Poland, 
the South African anti-apartheid movement, and the sit-ins and boycotts 
of the U.S. civil rights era. Haitians suffer because their basic human 
rights are not respected, a fact well-illustrated by considering the 
massive criminal and civil liability that would have crashed down on the 
UN if it had killed 8,000 Americans with its recklessness.

Accountability by the powerful is the cornerstone of human rights, which 
is why the cholera movement is so important. If the UN acknowledges its 
responsibility to Haitians, it will set an example that resonates around 
the world, where hundreds of millions struggle for access to the most 
basic of rights.

That is Jacqueline Olonville's goal. Never politically involved before, 
Olonville now attends demonstrations and even speaks to the crowds about 
cholera's impact on her village. Some of her neighbors, citing Haiti's 
long history of impunity for the powerful, tell her she is wasting her time.

But even before the recent hopeful developments, Olonville said that she 
has faith that "something" will come of all the activism and lawsuits 
and petitions. When I asked her what that "something" would be, she gave 
a three-word answer.

"/Jistis ak reparasyon/." Justice and reparations.

/*Fran Quigley* is a clinical professor at Indiana University McKinney 
School of Law. He is the author of the forthcoming /How Human Rights Can 
Build Haiti/ (Vanderbilt University Press).
/

-- 
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