In trying to explain the historic importance of the work of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and its partner the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), it is tempting to say that words fail me. But that is not exactly true. I was so moved by their fight for justice in Haiti that I wrote over 100,000 words about it, in the form of the book How Human Rights Can Build Haiti.
Many of us in the U.S. shy away from calls to justice. Instead, our natural reaction to suffering is more often to engage in acts of charity, as evidenced by the tens of thousands of folks from the U.S. who actively support mission-related work in Haiti. Schools are built, wells are dug, and medicine delivered. I applaud and admire these efforts.
But the very faith traditions that inspire the multitudes to such action also make an insistent call for human rights. For centuries, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim teachings have echoed the same refrain: charity is no substitute for justice.
In solidarity with the Haitian people, IJDH and BAI follow in that justice-seeking tradition. Social movement history shows that real change happens when inspired grassroots activists are joined by individuals and organizations who provide contacts, support, and yes, funds. That was the blueprint for the anti-apartheid movement, the U.S. civil rights movement, and the struggle against colonialism.
It is the same blueprint being followed by the movement for justice and democracy in Haiti. Evidence of that success is found in the remarkable multinational cholera response and the dramatically increased protection of women’s rights. Thanks in large part to the work of IJDH and BAI, the nation that was founded by a legendary 19th century freedom struggle is now poised to serve as a 21st century model of oppressed people reclaiming their destiny.
I am proud to be a supporter of IJDH and BAI, and excited that so many others are joining the cause. When we donate to help continue their work in Haiti, we not only give the gift of justice, we play a part in making human rights history.