Michel Forst, The Miami Herald
February 23, 2012
Earlier this month I was in Miami after my 10th U.N. mission to Haiti. While the catastrophic earthquake two years ago has deeply affected the country, ending more than 300,000 lives and impacting millions of others, I remain hopeful that something positive can come from the tragedy. Haiti is now faced with the opportunity to commit to respect for human rights — civil and political; economic, social, and cultural — and to the rule of law.
The need for reform of the judiciary, police, and penitentiary systems is of utmost importance if Haiti is to proceed on the road to democracy. With regards to the judiciary and human rights, it is critical that the recent appointments of Chief Justice for the Constitutional Court and the Superior Council of the Judiciary result in institutions that become effective vehicles for justice in Haiti.
Reform of the Haitian National Police, many of whom have been accused of severe human rights violations, is also critical. Thus, I have called for a mechanism that will demonstrate accountability in the fight against impunity and corruption within the police force. At least 130 police officers, proven to be corrupt and dangerous, should be immediately dismissed.
Conditions in jails and prisons and prolonged, preventative detention must also improve. Conditions in detention centers — where inmates have less than 20 square inches to live and sleep, and lack food, water and health care — are intolerable and constitute cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment under international law. While the new prison in Croix-de-Bouquets holds promise, I have called for a law that would set respect for human rights as the foundation for prison reform by affirming the principle that while prison is a deprivation of liberty, the guarantee of all other rights enshrined in the 1987 Constitution and in international texts, shall be respected.
The recent ratification by the Senate of the U.N. Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights sets a strong framework for this and for other reforms that guarantee greater protections for the rights to education, health, water, and food to all in Haiti. The Haitian people need to see their rights taken seriously by their government.
In the same vein, I met with victims and families of the human rights atrocities committed under the regime of “Baby Doc” Duvalier. Along with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, I expressed the importance of the fight against impunity. To serve justice and the rules of law in Haiti, accountability mechanisms must be implemented. I support the victims’ decision to appeal the judgment which dropped charges against Duvalier.
Approximately 500,000 persons are still living in what were supposed to be temporary settlement camps after the earthquake. I visited the largest camp, in which 7,000 persons reside, and observed the 2 informal camps around its perimeters, where 70,000 persons live because they have nowhere else to go. Such informal camps strain the official camp’s already-limited availability of food and water. I have called for the adoption of a comprehensive strategy allowing displaced persons to return to their communities of origin, in acceptable conditions and not in makeshift shelters.
Security in camps is still of utmost concern. Rape and sexual violence are serious problems facing women and girls. A more concerted effort by all authorities must be made to prevent such abuse, improve data collection, guarantee security and psychological and medical treatment for those reporting abuses, and prosecute those responsible for such violations.
While Haiti continues to face many structural challenges, adherence to the rule of law, human rights, and the fight against corruption and impunity are critical to Haiti’s successful reconstruction and for the development of a strong democratic nation.
Michel Forst is a U.N.-appointed official on human rights in Haiti and general secretary of the National Human Rights Commission of France.
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