Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Struggle continues in post-quake Haiti (

By Amy Senier,

It is two years to the day since a 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti, leveling much of Port-au-Prince, killing tens of thousands, and displacing well over 500,000. (map credit)

As indicated in the post below by IntLawGrrls contributors Sarah Paoletti and Nicole Phillips, despite pledges of $10 billion in aid, many Haitians struggle to survive in the face of forced evictions, a raging cholera epidemic, and rampant gender-based violence.

For example, even after two years:
► Half a million people continue to live in camps, some without running water or electricity. Moreover, many of these people are fighting to remain in even these substandard conditions. In the year following the earthquake, 34% of people living in camps were forced to leave those shelters as the result of evictions.

The right to housing is guaranteed by several human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (art. 25) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (art. 11). While these instruments often recognize that housing rights may be subject to State resources, they do proscribe the kinds of evictions – often by force and without adequate notice or compensation – seen in the years following the earthquake. Indeed, on November 15, 2010, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures for residents of camps located on private and public property in Haiti. The Commission called for the Government of Haiti to, inter alia, halt evictions pending the inauguration of a new government and ensure that those who had been evicted obtained remedies in court and were relocated to places with minimum sanitary and security.

► Fully 7,000 people have died and another 520,000 have become ill from cholera.
On November 3, 2011, 5,000 cholera victims filed a claim for reparations with the Claims Unit of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, or MINUSTAH. Represented by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, for which Nicole is a staff attorney, claimants alleged that the outbreak was triggered by the Mission’s negligent, reckless, and deliberately indifferent mismanagement of its own sanitation facilities, which were used by Nepalese peacekeepers who harbored the virus.

►Women and girls face a near-constant threat of sexual violence due to insecurity in camps and impunity from the criminal justice system.

These conditions implicate women’s rights to life, humane treatment, personal liberty and security as enshrined in human rights instruments such as the American Convention on Human Rights. Indeed, on December 22, 2010, the Inter-American Commission granted precautionary measures for all displaced women and girls living in Haiti’s camps. The Commission called upon the Government of Haiti to, inter alia, ensure the availability of adequate medical and mental health care to survivors of sexual violence, increase security in camps, and train law enforcement to investigate incidents of sexual violence. Despite this grant, women and girls in Haiti continued to suffer sexual and other forms of gender-based violence at alarming rates last year.

Immediately following the earthquake, the international community vowed to help Haiti “build back better.”
Yet the spirit of generosity that prevailed in the first months of 2010 has, in many cases, failed to result in actual disbursements of promised support. To be sure, some aid that has reached Haiti is leading to some tangible progress in conditions there. Nonetheless, despite many generous promises, too many Haitians continue to fight tremendous odds in the form of homelessness, disease, and insecurity. (IntLawGrrls’ prior Haiti posts here.)

While the actual distribution of promised aid would certainly help alleviate some of the suffering in Haiti, long-term progress for the country’s poor hinges upon the respect, protection, and fulfillment of human rights guaranteed in numerous international and regional human rights instruments. That is a goal of the Universal Periodic Review process that Sarah and Nicole discuss below.

Fortunately, many grassroots organizations in Haiti also are working for precisely these aims, including:
Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti/Bureau des Advocats Internationaux: litigating cases, as mentioned, and organizing civil society around issues such as accountability for gender-based violence, housing rights, improved prison conditions, and redress for the cholera epidemic.

KOFAVIV (“Commission of Women Victims for Victims”): providing direct support to women who survive sexual assault and, together with MADRE, advocating for improved security in Haiti’s camps.

Alternative Chance: working in Haiti’s prisons to provide health care, peer counseling, and advocacy to detainees who are routinely denied due process rights.

FAVILEK (“Women Victims Get Up Stand Up”): representing women who survived political violence by mobilizing for justice and reparations.

These are just a few gros – comprised of Haitian lawyers, organizers and activists – who are working toward the realization for human rights in Haiti. Many worked for social justice in Haiti for years prior to the earthquake. In light of the continued suffering since 2010, their work is even more daunting – and crucial – today.

Introducing Sarah Paoletti & Nicole Phillips

It’s our great pleasure to welcome Sarah Paoletti and Nicole Phillips as IntLawGrrls contributors.
► Sarah (top right) directs the Transnational Legal Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania Law School in Philadelphia, where she’s also a Practice Associate Professor of Law. (prior posts) Before beginning work at this international human rights and immigration clinic, she taught at American University Washington College of Law – in the International Human Rights Law Clinic, as well as a seminar on the labor and employment rights of immigrant workers. As reflected in her numerous publications, Sarah’s areas of specialty include international human rights, migrant and immigrant rights, asylum law, and labor and employment. She has presented on the rights of migrant workers before the United Nations and the Organization of American States, and also works closely with advocates seeking application of international human rights norms in the United States. On behalf of the US Human Rights Network, Sarah coordinated civil society participation in the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of the United States.
► Nicole (middle right) is a Staff Attorney at the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, which, in a lawsuit against the United Nations, represents more than 5,000 victims of a cholera epidemic that has broke out since the January 12, 2010, earthquake in Port-au-Prince. Nicole joined the Institute after the earthquake; before that, she’d been a partner in a union labor firm, Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she served as general counsel to unions and employee benefit trust funds across the country, arbitrated collective bargaining disputes, and managed a caseload in federal and state courts involving labor, employment, health insurance, and environmental regulations.
An Adjunct Professor and Assistant Director for Haiti programs at the University of San Francisco School of Law, also the home institution of IntLawGrrls contributors Connie de la Vega and Michelle Leighton. Nicole is a member of the Board of Directors of Human Rights Advocates, a Berkeley-based nongovernmental organization. She has appeared before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Human Rights Counsel, Human Rights Committee, Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination, and Commission on the Status of Women on various human rights issues.
In their post below, which appears on the 2d anniversary of the earthquake that devastated Haiti, Nicole and Sarah outline the Universal Periodic Review that the Human Rights Council is examining Haiti’s human rights record. Complementing it is Amy Senier’s post above on the quake’s aftermath.

Sarah and Nicole dedicate their post to Sonia Pierre (right), with whom Nicole had the pleasure of working both in the Dominican Republic and at the United Nations. Born 48 years ago in a “batey – the name given to settlements for sugar cane cutters working for the Dominican sugar industry” – Pierre was among 12 children in a family of Haitian descent. At age 13, Pierre led a march for workers’ rights, and so was arrested for the 1st time, jailed for a day and threatened with deportation to Haiti. Thus began a career of human rights activism that included the founding of the Movement of Dominican Women of Haitian Descent. Pierre died from a heart attack on December 4, 2011. In 2006, she had been honored as a Human Rights Laureate by the D.C.-based Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, which has established a Memorial Fund for her family.

Today Pierre joins other honorees on IntLawGrrls’ transnational foremothers page.

Heartfelt welcome!

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