On April 15, a coalition of organizations working for human rights in Haiti convincingly presented the need for transparency, donor accountability and local participation in the panel discussion �Aid Haiti Can Believe In: A Human-Rights Based Approach to Development.��� The event was organized to follow the international Donor�s Conference on Haiti held the day before at the Inter-American Development Bank.� Speakers from the five host organizations�Partners In Health (PIH), the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ), the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center), and Zanmi Lasante�addressed an overflow crowd on maximizing the impact of international assistance to Haiti.� The event was co-sponsored by Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Maxine Waters (D-CA).
The panel discussion focused on the need to ensure that aid empowers the Haitian government to be a true caretaker of its citizens� rights.� The five organizations work in coalition to improve the human rights situation in Haiti, including efforts to track and monitor foreign assistance, from initial pledges of aid through the implementation of projects.� Donna Barry, Advocacy and Policy Director of Partners In Health kicked off the event by reading a statement by Loune Viaud, Director of Operations for Zanmi Lasante, who was unable to attend in person.� Viaud, recipient of the 2002 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, synthesized the problem.� �It is frustrating to say the least to hear about the millions and even billions of dollars being committed to the country but to not see the benefits on the ground.�� Her statement emphasized the importance of recognizing economic and social rights as equal to civil and political rights, and the dire need for basic health and social services in Haiti, a need her organization fulfills in partnership with Haitian government institutions.� She further urged that aid be given directly to the Government of Haiti, which could then partner with organizations in the model of Zanmi Lasante.
Monika Kalra Varma, Director of the RFK Center, spoke about the shortcomings of the 2004 Donor Conference and how the lack of transparency or accountability mechanisms doomed the implementation of that Conference�s development plans.� Over a billion US dollars was pledged in 2004, yet the results on the ground have been extremely disappointing. In order to ensure that the goals of the 2009 Donors� Conference are met, Varma stressed that pledges must be fulfilled within the priority sectors laid out by the government of Haiti.� In addition, the Haitian people should be involved in every step of an open and transparent process, which begins with setting project priorities with the Haitian government through to implementation and oversight of projects.� Finally, a system must be created that allows civil society groups to track the disbursement and use of funds.
Meg Satterthwaite, Faculty Director of CHRGJ, argued for recognition of the right to development and discussed how using a human rights-based approach can improve the on-the-ground effects of development assistance.� Using the example of the right to water, Satterthwaite outlined how a rights-based approach would empower Haitian communities to participate fully in all stages of a water project, from initial decisions about where community water sources should be placed, to ensuring that pledged funds actually result in new systems that serve the most needy communities.
Brian Concannon, Director of IJDH, contextualized the current situation in Haiti, pointing out the role that foreign governments have had in creating the fragile state.� He reminded the audience that Haiti is not a blank slate to be recreated each time the international community comes together, but stressed instead that we must draw upon the lessons of the past and hold governments accountable for their actions.
Paul Farmer, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President of Partners In Health, discussed how much he has learned working in Haiti for the past 25 years.� He promoted the benefits of engaging with the government of Haiti as opposed to allowing aid to channel through NGOs or other parallel systems.� The relationship between Partners In Health and the Government of Haiti can be a model of cooperation that allows NGOs to use their expertise and energy to assist in building the capacity of the Government, rather than creating an unsustainable shadow state.
The briefing was attended by many Congressional staff members from both the House and Senate as well as staff of NGOs, businesspeople, and other interested members of the public, including the Ambassador of Brazil.� Attendees raised questions about governance in Haiti, mechanism to improve state-NGO interactions, the potential for involving Haiti�s worldwide diaspora, and diversifying Haiti�s global image to include positive depictions.
Cindy Buhl, Chief of Staff for Congressman Jim McGovern, closed the briefing with a promise to work with all parties to improve how aid is programmed and delivered in Haiti and to promote a rights-based approach to development through their offices.