[News] Justice and Reparations in Haiti
news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Oct 24 12:58:24 EDT 2013
October 24, 2013
Signs of Hope
Justice and Reparations in Haiti
by FRAN QUIGLEY
The month of October brings an unwelcome anniversary for Jacqueline
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
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
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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