Image from internal USAID document, caption reads: “Site flooding due to improper drainage”
On March 25, 2015, USAID suspended CEEPCO Contracting – which had been working on shelter programs in Haiti –from receiving further government contracts, pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation. CEEPCO joins Thor Construction, which was suspended in early February. The investigation concerns faulty construction practices related to 750 houses built in Caracol, Haiti by USAID. CEPR Research Associate Jake Johnston reported in February for VICE News:
CEEPCO's CEO is Harold Charles, a Haitian-American who was formerly one of the Haitian government's representatives to the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC), run by Bill Clinton and meant to be in charge of the $10 billion in earthquake relief. The IHRC had initially approved the USAID shelter program back in December 2010.
Charles also enjoys a close, personal relationship with Haitian President Michel Martelly. In an interview in 2013, Charles said, "I do know and have very close friends up through the highest ranks of government," adding, "Martelly is a childhood friend of mine." One former government official in Haiti said in an interview, "this was seen as a deal that would please Martelly."
Despite the initial assessment in August, 2014 that revealed the construction problems, USAID extended CEEPCO's contract for work at other shelter sites in Haiti this past January. CEEPCO’s contract for the Caracol site was awarded without competition. A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the justification document is ongoing. A FOIA request for the initial assessment documenting the problems with the houses was recently responded to, but USAID withheld the entire document that was sought, citing the ongoing legal investigation.
Though the investigation continues, many thousands of Haitians continue to live in the poorly constructed houses. A contracting document from November, 2014, stated that repairs must be “carried out immediately in order to prevent possible harm to residents.” But it is unclear if meaningful remediation efforts have taken place. An internal document reveals that many of the identified problems would require serious structural work to the houses.
In November, Tetra Tech, another U.S.-based firm, received a $5 million contract to oversee the repair efforts. The firm has been performing structural evaluations of the houses in anticipation of a future legal suit. One draft document, prepared by Tetra Tech and obtained by HRRW, details 29 instances “of material substitutions, field design changes, lack of quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) and lack of quality workmanship.”
During a meeting yesterday at the Hotel Karibe Convention Center, the CEP presented a draft electoral calendar to political parties present. The proposal would have the first round of legislative elections on August 9, the second round of legislative elections and first round of presidential elections on October 25 and finally the second round of presidential elections and local elections on December 27. The electoral decree, which provides the legal basis for the election, was approved by the president on March 2.
A key date in the electoral process will be March 23, when the CEP will publish the list of registered political parties. Registration will open on March 16 and parties will have 5 days to register. This will be looked at as a key indicator of the inclusiveness of elections, as in past elections key political parties have been excluded from participation. Some opposition political movements were not present at yesterday’s meeting, including MOPOD, RDNP and Petit Dessalines, according to Alterpresse. For his part former Senator Moise Jean Charles of Petit Dessaline explained they would not attend, “…because conditions have not been met. The electoral environment is part of the context of the crisis.”
INITE, which joined the Martelly government as part of a political deal in January, was supportive of the proposed calendar. Paul Denis expressed his party’s support for the holding of three elections, while adding that some continue to not want elections at all. “No one should come with pretexts for not organizing elections so as to generate trouble in the country,” he said. In an interview with Le Nouvelliste, former INITE Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive indicated his intention to run, at some level, in the elections.
Fanmi Lavalas and Fusion both expressed concern with the calendar, preferring to have the election in two-rounds as opposed to three. Le Nouvelliste reported that according to Dr. Louis Gérald Gilles of Lavalas, “neither political parties nor the country will have the necessary economic resources to participate in an electoral process that stretches from March 16 to December 27 2015.” Lavalas was excluded from participating in the 2010 elections. In an interview earlier this week with the Haiti Press Network, Prime Minister Evans Paul stated that, “an important sum will be made available to the various political organizations to run in the presidential elections.”
While there are concerns over the proposed timetable, the bigger issue appears to be in the formation of the Bureaux electoraux départementaux (BED) and Bureaux electoraux communaux (BEC). These institutions play a key oversight role as their members are responsible for communal and departmental dispute resolution. According to Le Nouvelliste, “Most political parties considered that the CEP should have first resolved the issue of the members of the BEC and BED before focusing on the electoral calendar.” Gilles of Lavalas added that, “the BED and BEC constitute the basis for credible elections in the country.”
In response to the questions raised about the BED and BEC, Nehemy Joseph, a member of the CEP, stated they lacked control over financial resources and were unable to travel the country and ensure that the local institutions are being formed properly. In an interview with Le Nouvelliste, the head of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Sophie de Caen, announced that the electoral fund had over $38 million at its disposal. But, while the Haitian government is the largest single contributor, control of those funds rest with the international community and the UNDP in particular. Le Nouvelliste reported that, “certain political party leaders have roundly denounced the fact that the UNDP controls more than $38 million for the country’s elections, while the relevant body for the organization of elections, the CEP, functions with very limited economic resources.”
A final decision on the electoral calendar will be made in the coming days.
CEPR Research Associate and lead HRRW blogger, Jake Johnston, published the following piece on VICE news today:
After the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in January 2010, the US government responded with an ambitious plan to build 15,000 new houses in the country. But the ensuing program to put roofs over the heads of displaced Haitians has included a boondoggle of epic proportions at one $35 millionhousing development, where shoddy construction practices and faulty sewage systems are currently the subject of an ongoing investigation.
On February 3, the US-based company Thor Construction was suspended from receiving government contracts because of its work in Haiti. Another contractor with close ties to the Haitian president has so far escaped punishment.
As the relief effort's flagship housing project comes under increased scrutiny, interviews with involved parties and an analysis of contract documents, independent reports, and congressional testimony reveals that the problem is far from a simple case of contractor malfeasance. Rather, USAID, the government agency responsible for administering foreign civilian aid, simply failed to provide meaningful oversight of its contractors and ensure adequate results for US-taxpayer financed projects.
In April 2012, Thor received $18.4 million to build 750 houses at a site on Haiti's northern coast called Caracol-EKAM, part of the international community's high-profile reconstruction project at the Caracol Industrial Park. At a star-studded inauguration of the park in October 2012, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton toured the new buildings and spoke of "affordable homes with clean running water, flush toilets, and reliable electricity... built to resist hurricanes and earthquakes."
In June 2013, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the initial target of 15,000 total houses in Haiti had been reduced to just 2,600 while at the same time costs increased from $53 million to more than $90 million. USAID Assistant Administrator Beth Hogan explained to Congress that the high costs were "because of the requirements" that the contractor "meet international building codes, that it comply with federal building standards," and "that these materials would be disaster- and hurricane-proof." Hogan added that she was "very happy with the quality" of the houses.
But a year and a half later, Hogan's story is coming apart at the seams. In November, USAID awarded a $5 million no-bid contract to US-based Tetra Tech to provide remediation services for the Caracol houses. An independent assessment conducted in August 2014 "revealed numerous deficiencies," with the houses, including roofs not being fastened, use of "sub-specification" materials, and "other structural and drainage issues," according to a contract document. Given the location's susceptibility to hurricanes and other extreme weather events, the document noted repairs must be "carried out immediately in order to prevent possible harm to residents."
In December, Rep. John Conyers and 76 other members of congress wrote to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, urging the U.N. to provide a settlement mechanism for cholera victims and their families and lays out the reasons why the UN should be legally obliged to provide such a mechanism. The members of Congress add that, “while we applaud the UN’s efforts to secure more funding for cholera treatment….we wish to respectfully remind you that these efforts do not absolve the UN of its obligation to receive legal claims from victims of the epidemic and provide remediation for the affected communities.” 2 months later, Ban Ki-moon has finally sent the members of Congress a lengthy response which the defenders of Haiti’s cholera victims have characterized as “untenable as a matter of law and logic.”
In a letter, dated February 19, 2015, Ban Ki-moon responds to the 76 members of congress. Most of the letter is dedicated to outlining all the work the U.N. has done to combat cholera in Haiti. The U.N. has indeed issued calls for cholera funding, but the Haitian government’s 10-year cholera eradication plan remains woefully underfunded. Just 18 percent of the $2.2 billion required has thus far been pledged, with less than 13 percent actually disbursed, according to the most recent data [PDF]. A donor conference in October failed to secure significant additional pledges of support.
Only at the end of the letter does Ban actually respond to the members of Congress’ request for a settlement mechanism for the victims of cholera. After initially rejecting the claims of the victims in a terse statement with little explanation, Ban provides perhaps the most thorough explanation to date for why the U.N. will not hear the claims:
Claimants invoked Section 29 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations of 1946 (the "General Convention") and paragraph 55 of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Government of Haiti, which implements Section 29(a) of the General Convention in the agreement with Haiti.
Section 29(a) is limited by its terms to the consideration of private law claims. In the practice of the Organization, disputes of a private law character have been understood to be disputes of the type that arise between private parties, such as, claims arising under contracts, claims relating to the use of private property in peacekeeping contexts or claims arising from motor vehicle accidents. The Organization has regularly received and provided compensation for such claims arising out of acts attributable to its peacekeeping missions and personnel.
I wish to assure you that, in the present case, the claims were thoroughly and carefully considered. After a review of the claims and the history and implementation of Section 29(a) of the General Convention, the claimants were informed that the claims were not receivable pursuant to Section 29 of the General Convention. As the claims in question raised broad issues of policy that arose out of the functions of the United Nations as an international organization, they could not form the basis of a claim of a private law character and, consequently, the claims did not fall within the scope of Section 29(a) of the General Convention. For the same reason, it was determined that these claims were not of the type for which a claims commission is provided under the SOFA, since the relevant provision of the SOFA also relates to claims of a private law character.
To read Ban’s full response, click here. Unfortunately, while this may be the most words a U.N. official has said about the legal case, it leaves much to be desired. Bruce Rashkow, a former high-ranking official in the U.N.’s Office of Legal Affairs wrote last year that the U.N. stance that cholera claims were “not receivable” was unprecedented. “Indeed, as the head of the UN legal office that routinely handled claims against the Organization for some ten years, I did not recall any previous instance where such a formulation was utilized in regard to such claims,” Rashkow wrote.
The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, which is representing Haitian cholera victims in their legal battle, provided the following response to Ban’s letter:
The Secretary-General’s assertion that the claims of Haiti’s cholera victims are an exception to the UN’s legal obligation to compensate people harmed by its negligence is untenable as a matter of law and of logic. The Secretary-General fails to cite a single authority supporting the view that the cholera claims are not “disputes of a private law character.” To the contrary, dozens of the world's leading experts in international law -- including many who have held positions in the UN -- have reviewed the cholera victims’ claims against the UN in conjunction with the UN's legal obligations. These experts agree that the cholera claims are private law claims, and that the UN had an obligation to settle them. The experts’ findings have been presented in a vast number of legal blogs, court briefs, and media articles, and are as applicable today as they were when the UN first dismissed the claims.
A complaint from Haitian communities and supported by New York University’s Global Justice Clinic and Accountability Counsel has been rejected by the World Bank on technical grounds. The groups had asked for the Bank’s Inspection Panel to review whether assistance the Bank is providing to the Haitian government follows Bank guidelines relating to transparency and environmental safety.
Since 2013, the World Bank has provided technical assistance to the Haitian government in rewriting its mining laws, leading to a new mining law being drafted in 2014. Though Haiti has not seen large-scale commercial mining for decades, the government awarded multiple concessions in 2012 over opposition protests. In 2013, following a forum on mining sponsored by the World Bank, then Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe declared that to advance Haiti’s development, “we are counting heavily on the contribution of the mining sector.”
The Haitian communities’ complaint [PDF] states:
Complainants fear that, due to the government’s weak capacity and the law’s inadequacies, this increased investment in the mining sector will result in serious social and environmental harms, including contamination of vital waterways, impacts on the agriculture sector, and involuntary displacement of communities. Complainants are also concerned about the exclusion of Haitian people from the law reform process, particularly when contrasted with the reported regular participation of the private sector in drafting the new law. Further, Complainants fear that the government of Haiti lacks the capacity to regulate and monitor mining company activity.
In its response, the World Bank’s Inspection Panel says that it “has decided not to register the case.” The Panel acknowledged that the issues raised were “serious and legitimate,” and agreed that the new mining law could “have significant and considerable adverse environmental and social consequences.” However, because the World Bank support was provided through a technical assistance mechanism, “policies and procedures applicable to design, appraisal and implementation of a project, including the safeguard policies, were not applied to the Haiti Mining Dialogue.” The mechanism is not subject to the World Bank’s safeguard policies and therefore the Inspection Panel refused to hear the complaint.
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, members of the CEP put forth their proposal for an electoral calendar leading up to presidential elections by the end of 2015. CEP president Pierre Louis Opont said they were considering holding legislative elections, including 20 of 30 Senate seats and the entire 99-member Chamber of Deputies, in July. The second round of the legislative elections would be held alongside Presidential elections on October 25, 2015 with the second round of the presidential race and local elections taking place sometime in January.
In a press release on February 9, the CEP said they had circulated a draft electoral decree to political parties for comment and would send it on to the executive by Friday, February 13 to be officially published (Laurette Backer posted a version of the draft electoral decree here). Political parties, civil society and other stakeholders were given until 4 PM Wednesday to submit their comments to the CEP, however many political groupings have stated they were not consulted prior to the CEP’s announcement.
Announcement Gets Mixed Reaction from Political Parties
The Fusion political party, which supports the government, denounced the CEP’s announcement. “I think the CEP was misguided to take such a decision without consultation. It’s a clumsy move, which could plunge the country into more difficulties,” a Fusion representative told Alterpresse. Fusion stated they had sent a letter to the government about their concerns with the CEP’s actions and reiterated their proposal of holding a single election in 2015 for all positions. Rosemand Pradel of Fusion told Le Nouvelliste that “Political parties are important actors in the electoral process, the CEP cannot define an electoral calendar on its own.”
Sauveur Pierre-Etienne, coordinator of OPL, stated that the CEP had yet to make contact with political parties and that he saw “shenanigans” in the announcement from the CEP. “The proposed electoral calendar is completely absurd,” Pierre-Etienne told Le Nouvelliste, “How do you organize elections spread out over a six-month period?“ According to Le Nouvelliste, he suggested that this could be a strategy aimed at “ruining” the opposition defined by the CEP and those in power.
John Henry Ceant of Renmen Ayiti pointed to the political agreement signed January 11 at the Kinam hotel, which stated that the CEP would find consensus between the presidency and political parties around the formation of the electoral law and timetable. “The CEP has put the cart before the horse,” Ceant told Le Nouvelliste.
Responses were relatively muted from opposition groups. MOPOD coordinator Jean André Victor told Alterpresse, “No, we have not yet considered the issue. We remain, for the moment [focused on] demonstrations supporting the departure of Michel Martelly from power.” Fanmi Lavalas, which was prevented from participating in the previous election, said in a statement to Alterpresse that the executive committee was “studying the situation.” In comments to Le Nouvelliste, Dr. Maryse Narcisse of Fanmi Lavalas said the organization had yet to receive the draft electoral decree that the CEP said was sent to political parties last week. No political party can handle “the social and material costs of several elections in one year,” she added.
Role of International Community
In January, President Martelly called for legislative elections to be held by May, according to Haiti Libre, noting that, “According to some experts…we should wait at least 5-6 months to have the elections, which brings us to July-August. When we think to two rounds, each time, we must wait for the results, challenges, that brings us to October. So I feel that at this point, those proposing elections in six months are talking about one turn.” Among those that have advocated for legislative elections in July is U.S. Ambassador Pamela White, who reportedly relayed this preference to some of the remaining 10 Senators still in office at a meeting last week. In private meetings in Washington D.C., U.S. officials have continually stated a preference for one single election to take place in 2015, given the problems with logistics and funding.
Haiti’s current Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), formed in late January, is the fourth incarnation of an electoral council since Martelly’s ascension to the presidency in 2011. With elections delayed over three years, parliament ceasing to function and the country run by a de facto government, the current CEP will have a large role in leading the country to elections and a restoration of constitutional rule. “Fair elections will require an impartial, independent and constitutional CEP to facilitate the free participation of all political parties,” wrote the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) last month.
While the formation of previous electoral councils did not follow Article 289 of the Haitian constitution (Martelly originally wanted to form a permanent electoral council that is subject to different provisions, for background on this, see here), the current one hews more closely to what is outlined there. Nine representatives from various sectors of civil society nominated representatives to the CEP, which were then ratified by the President. However, as IJDH points out, the process “deviated from the relevant constitutional provisions in several respects, including the participation of new civil society groups, and prohibiting the participation of government agents and political parties.” Further, the political accord outlining this new process never received parliamentary approval. Another aspect that differs from what is outlined in Article 289 is that Martelly requested each of the nine sectors to submit two names for the CEP. The executive branch would then be able to choose one of them for the post. While not called for in the constitution, this is a similar process as was used to form the previous CEP under Preval, which oversaw the flawed 2010 elections.
The electoral council is tasked with drafting the electoral law, which will govern the upcoming and as yet unscheduled elections. One of the key questions the CEP must address is whether one or two elections will be held in 2015. President Martelly has called for a first election in May, to elect a new legislature, followed by presidential elections toward the end of the year. In a meeting Wednesday with some of the remaining 10 senators in Haiti’s parliament, U.S. Ambassador White reportedly stated her belief that partial elections could be held as early as July. There is also the question of inclusiveness; during the last election, political parties were arbitrarily excluded from the balloting and previous electoral councils under Martelly had been criticized for also blocking full participation in elections.
The international community will also play a key role in the functioning of the CEP, as foreign donors will be paying nearly the entire cost of elections. After a visit from the United Nations Security Council, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power briefed the Security Council, stating, “The provisional council is charged with developing a framework for the elections crucial to Haiti’s stability. We were impressed with the electoral council’s seriousness of purpose and commitment to independence, and we offered its members our full support.”
For the first time since the CEP’s formation two weeks ago, some news on its work emerged today from an exclusive interview from an anonymous member of the CEP with Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste. A press conference next Tuesday, February 10, is also expected, according to Le Nouvelliste (UPDATE: the CEP issued a press release today announcing a press conference for February 10. The release states that they will outline the electoral calendar among other announcements). The member told the paper that a draft electoral law was nearly complete and would soon be sent to Martelly for publication in Le Moniteur, the official gazette laws are published. Normally an electoral law would have to be passed by parliament, thus calling into question its legal viability. Since at least early November, the U.S. government has considered the expiration of parliamentarians’ terms to be a foregone conclusion; however they have consistently stated their belief that Martelly would only use his executive powers to hold an election and not to push through other, unpopular measures.
In July of 2014, Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald reported on then Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe’s “Hillary Clinton”--style campaigning:
But Lamothe’s schedule reflects a Hillary Clinton-like method of raising a future candidate’s profile without officially announcing for office. And that is prompting concern and panic in Haiti where observers say the presidential posturing is intensifying a crisis prompted by legislative and local elections that are three years behind schedule.
In order to run, Lamothe would need certification that he has not misused government funds. But the opposition-controlled Senate is unlikely to support giving him the décharge, leaving opponents and some supporters of President Michel Martelly to see delaying the Oct. 26 elections until next year as key. Martelly will rule by decree, practically guaranteeing that Lamothe will get the needed clearance. Opponents believe the delay would lead to Martelly’s downfall.
Six months later and indeed the long overdue elections remain unscheduled, and the entire lower chamber and an additional one-third of the Senate’s terms expired earlier this month. That has left Martelly to rule by decree until elections are held. As for Lamothe’s presidential candidacy, after his resignation in December, he told Charles:
“We wanted to show people what progress was happening in the country and of course that led to a misperception that I am trying to run for president…I always said it, I told that to the president, I told that to the press, I was always clear I was not a presidential candidate.”
Today, the Nouvelliste reports that one of the ten remaining senators, seen as close to Martelly, Andris Riche, has made a request to the relevant authorities to obtain the décharge for Lamothe.
Yesterday, Radio Kiskeya made public a letter from leaders of the station to Lucien Jura, spokesperson of the presidency, alleging that President Martelly had personally given cash to journalists at a meeting in December. The letter begins:
Radio Tele Kiskeya hereby wishes to protest - to the president of the Republic and to you [presidential spokesperson Lucien Jura] in particular - the ignoble act of corruption that you were both responsible for last December 23 when, following a reception which you invited journalists with National Palace accreditation to, you delivered envelopes to them containing fifty thousand gourdes (50,000.00 Gdes) and forty thousand gourdes (40,000.00 Gdes).
According to the information received from the concerned parties, the president of the Republic, Michel Joseph Martelly, personally offered them "a little gift that's so modest that it's not worth mentioning." Subsequently, he referred them to his spokesperson, Lucien JURA, and to Esther FATAL, head of the communication office of the Presidency, who personally delivered to each one of them the ignoble seal [envelope with presidential seal] beneath the glare of the palace cameras.
The letter reports that 3 Radio Kiskeya journalists received the payment and have been “severely sanctioned.” The letter continues, writing that the actions at the National Palace reflect “the general level of deterioration of moral values at both the state level and within all of society, including the press unfortunately.”
Today, Shearon Roberts, an assistant professor of Mass Communication at Xavier University of Louisiana, writes about the situation facing Haitian journalists, five years after the earthquake:
Haiti’s media landscape had been divided before the earthquake along political lines. The disaster brought media factions together as news organizations faced limited resources, ongoing political-socio-economic crises and a strong adversary in the government of President Michel Martelly.
“The Haitian state does not want freedom of the press that is not in their interest,” said Liliane Pierre-Paul, president of the Association National de Médias Haïtiens (ANMH), Haiti’s largest media organization. “They do no wish to respect transparency. They do no want to have awareness among the population, and they do not approve of our reporting that denounces their behavior in government.”
Last July, in a stirring and rare demonstration of bipartisanship, the U.S. House and the Senate passed a bill dedicated to increasing transparency and accountability around the billions of dollars of U.S. government funds allocated to assistance to Haiti since the January 2010 earthquake. On August 8, President Obama signed the Assessing Progress in Haiti Act and the clock began ticking down for the State Department to produce the first of several comprehensive reports detailing the government’s assistance efforts, as mandated by the new law.
Assessing Progress instructed the State Department to complete a first report by the end of 2014. While it’s not clear that that deadline was met, the Department’s Office of the Haiti Special Coordinator posted their report on their web page by the time the fifth anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake rolled around on January 12.
The reporting requirements outlined in Assessing Progress are far-reaching and fairly concrete. It’s therefore not surprising that the report is truly massive in size, consisting of a general report on the results of U.S. assistance to Haiti and 17 attachments, many of which are PDFs of spreadsheets containing detailed quantitative and qualitative information about U.S. aid programs.
The question is: Is all of this information useful to those seeking an answer to the oft-repeated question, “Where did the money go?” The answer is undoubtedly yes, but it doesn’t take more than a rapid survey of the report to see that the information provided is, in many cases, incomplete. Furthermore, there are instances where State’s reporting may formally comply with the letter of the law, but not with its clear intent of providing lawmakers and the public with a better idea of the concrete results of U.S. Haiti assistance.
We’re not going to attempt a thorough analysis of this report at this time. A rigorous and complete assessment requires considerable input from stakeholders, in particular those on the ground in Haiti. For now we’ll share a few general observations regarding the report’s contents, highlighting what we see as the good, the bad and the murky.
A United Nations Security Council delegation is set to arrive in Haiti beginning a three-day visit to discuss the ongoing political crisis in the country. Thousands of protesters, who have taken to the streets of the capital to call for the president’s resignation, planned to go to the airport to greet the visiting members. On Monday, Haiti’s Foreign Minister, Duly Brutus addressed the Security Council in New York, asking for “the Security Council as well as all of our partners in the international community to continue to back the government” of President Martelly.
But the international community’s overt support for Martelly has already had a negative impact on the political crisis, as Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald reported earlier this week:
The U.S. had hoped a last-minute deal brokered between Martelly and several opposition political parties would have allowed for lawmakers’ terms to be extended for up to four months, and an electoral law to be passed. But parliament dissolved before either measures could be voted after pro and anti-Martelly senators failed to show up to provide the necessary 16 member quorum.
Biden commended Martelly’s “efforts to reach a negotiated agreement,” while recognizing that he had “made several important concessions in order to reach consensus, and expressed disappointment that Haiti’s Parliament did not pass an electoral law before lapsing on January 12,” said the statement from the White House.
Hours before the signing of the deal, the U.S. Embassy issued a press release stating U.S. support for Martelly should he have to rule by decree. Many believed that statement, and later U.S. Ambassador Pamela White’s appearance in the parliament chambers on the night of the aborted vote, were deal changers that helped encourage senators not to show up. Both were widely condemned as un-welcomed interference in Haitian domestic politics.
(Updated January 20, 2015, 12:10 p.m. to include a response from the American Red Cross - see below.)
Two years ago, we noted that the American Red Cross’ (ARC) annual update on its response to the Haiti earthquake raised a number of questions, and seemed to provide less detailed information than earlier updates that the ARC had released. This year is little different: The ARC’s five-year update [PDF] is big on saying how many people have been “helped,” “reached” or are “benefiting” due to ARC activities, but few details are offered to explain exactly what this means. Since the ARC is far and away the top U.S. recipient [PDF] of funds for disaster response, and notably served as the go-to organization for millions of Americans who wanted to donate in the aftermath of the earthquake, transparency from the Red Cross is especially warranted.
The Red Cross’ update is overwhelmingly glowing and positive, and certainly the organization has had an impact through helping to build or repair hospitals and waste-water treatment facilities, among other concrete examples. While it may not be surprising for an organization to tout its achievements while downplaying (or ignoring) its shortcomings, considering past questions about its spending and documented problems with some of the ARC’s post-earthquake work in Haiti, an acknowledgment, at least, of “lessons learned” might not be out of place. Yet the ARC response to past criticism of its Haiti response has often been strongly defensive.
In her introductory note, ARC President and CEO Gail McGovern writes that the organization has or is now spending all of the donations it has received for the Haiti earthquake response: “We have spent or made commitments to spend all $488 million of these donations for the Haiti earthquake for projects and programs impacting more than 4.5 million Haitians.” What should be the final breakdown, then, of the ARC’s original earthquake response spending is only slightly different than the percentages the ARC reported two years ago [PDF]: 35 percent for shelter, 15 percent for health (excluding cholera), 14 percent for emergency relief, 11 percent for disaster preparedness, 10 percent for livelihoods, and 5 percent for cholera (which, as we have noted, continues to be a major health emergency in Haiti, killing hundreds of people last year). Yet how exactly these funds have been used, and how effective they have been, is unclear from the update. “4.2 million people benefiting from hygiene promotion activities,” and “3.5 million people benefiting from cholera prevention and outbreak response services” are just two examples of big numbers that the ARC mentions in the report, but “benefiting” is undefined. Further, there is little information provided as to whether these millions of people continue to benefit, whether the ARC’s investments are sustainable, and how the Haitian beneficiaries of joint projects the ARC has engaged in with other groups are counted (and whether each organization working in collaboration on such projects also counts each “beneficiary” its respective impact assessments).
(Note: A number of the links below are for PDF or Excel files.)
Number of people killed in the earthquake in 2010: over 217,300
Minimum number of Haitians killed by the U.N.–caused cholera epidemic: 8,774
Number of years it took after the introduction of cholera for the international community to hold a donor conference to raise funds for the cholera response: 4
Amount pledged for cholera eradication: $50 million
Amount needed: $2.2 billion
Number of years it would take to fully fund the cholera-eradication plan at current disbursement rate: 40
Number of Haitians who died from cholera through the first 8 months of 2014: 55
Number who have died since, coinciding with the start of the rainy season: 188
Number of new cholera cases in 2014, through August: 9,700
Projected number of cholera cases for all of 2014, after the United Nations reduced their estimate in September 2014: 15,000
Minimum number of new cholera cases since that announcement: 14,000 (through December 8)
Number of U.N. lawyers who were present during oral arguments in a federal court in New York to argue in favor of the U.N.’s immunity: 0
Number of members of the U.S. Congress who wrote to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last month urging the U.N. to respond justly to cholera claims: 77
On October 23 Haiti’s cholera victims finally had their first court hearing regarding their suit against the UN. However, no one from the UN showed up. Since 2011, representatives of the victims have sought to obtain reparations from the UN given the overwhelming evidence that troops from the United Nations’ Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) were responsible for bringing cholera to the island. As the UN has refused to receive the victims’ claims, human rights lawyers at the Haiti-based Bureau des Avocats Internationaux and U.S.-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, filed a lawsuit in U.S. courts. After months of deliberations, the Southern Federal District Court of New York held a hearing on the question of whether the UN could enjoy immunity from prosecution when it had violated its treaty obligations to submit to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. While the victims’ legal representatives argued against UN immunity vis-à-vis the cholera claims, no UN representative appeared before the court and, instead, the U.S. Attorney General’s office presented arguments in defense of the UN. The court’s decision on the immunity question is still pending.
Now, 77 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by senior Democrat John Conyers, have weighed in with a letter urging UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “to create a fair process to adjudicate the claims made by cholera victims that allows for the remediation of the affected communities.”
As the letter points out, thousands of Haitians have died since the cholera epidemic began in October 2010 – at least 8,774 [PDF] according to Haiti’s health ministry – and over 700,000 Haitians have become infected, putting a terrible burden on a country with no clean water infrastructure to speak of and few health professionals to help prevent and abate the epidemic.
The letter lays out the reasons why the UN should be legally obliged to provide a settlement mechanism for the victims:
The Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations (CPIUN) mandates that the UN “provide for appropriate modes of settlement” of private law claims. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) the UN signed with the Government of Haiti expands on this obligation by specifying that claims are to be heard and settled by a standing commission. The UN has formally recognized the importance of access to justice in its own Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy for Victims of Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law.
This isn’t the first time that Conyers and other members of Congress have publicly pressed the UN to do much more to address Haiti’s deadly cholera epidemic. In July of 2012, Conyers and 103 other House representatives signed a letter calling for the UN to “act decisively” to control the epidemic. This and other international pressure no doubt contributed to Ban Ki-moon eventually launching, with much fanfare, a “new initiative” to help fund a $2.2 billion cholera elimination plan for Haiti, involving the development of extensive drinking water and sanitation systems. At the time, the Secretary-General proudly announced that $215 million of existing international donations had been earmarked for the plan but also noted that $500 million would be needed over the following two years to keep the plan advancing according to schedule.
“The freedom to demonstrate and freedom of expression are rights guaranteed by international conventions, enshrined in the Haitian constitution and supported by the law,” Sandra Honoré, the head of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), said last month following a week of protests across the country, which resulted in a number of reported deaths. Honoré added that the Haitian government must ensure that “offenders are prosecuted.” But Honoré may have an opportunity to lead by example after videos from Haitian media surfaced over the weekend showing a U.N. soldier firing a handgun in the direction of protesters. The video shows him discharge his weapon multiple times, then aggressively try to prevent a cameraman from filming him.
In a statement today, Amnesty International condemns this episode as well as injuries suffered the day before by protesters allegedly at the hands of the Haitian National Police. Protests calling for the resignation of both the president and prime minister have been occurring nationwide over the last month in response to the government’s failure to hold elections — now more than three years overdue. In an attempt to quell the unrest, Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe resigned Saturday night, after President Martelly signaled Friday that he would accept the recommendations of a presidential advisory committee, which had called for Lamothe’s ouster. U.S. State Department officials Thomas Shannon and Tom Adams were in Haiti last week, apparently helping pave the way for the resignation.
“The political climate in Haiti is getting tenser and tenser. It is imperative that the Haitian National Police and the MINUSTAH are able to cope with the situation in a way that ensure protection of human rights. People must be allowed to exercise their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, without fear of being shot at,” said Chiara Liguori, Caribbean researcher at Amnesty International.
At a ceremony yesterday afternoon, an advisory committee handed their report over to Haitian President Michel Martelly, requesting the removal of Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe among other actions aimed at resolving Haiti’s electoral crisis. Jacqueline Charles reports for the Miami Herald:
The 10-page report, penned by an 11-member presidential commission, sets a timetable for Lamothe’s resignation. It also recommends replacing the head of the country’s Supreme Court and members of the body charged with organizing long-delayed elections. Dozens who have been arbitrarily arrested and deemed by human rights groups to be political prisoners should be released, the report said.
The Herald released a copy of the report they had received, which is available here (PDF). The Haitian government and international community, mainly the United States and United Nations, have long blamed the electoral delay on opposition from the so-called “Group of Six” senators. With parliamentary terms set to expire January 12 and no solution to the electoral crisis, it appears as though the positions of both the government and international community are softening; however it might not be enough.
The advisory commission was created by President Martelly following a week of increasingly large demonstrations throughout Haiti, calling on the president and prime minister to resign and for the holding of elections. Martelly is expected to make a decision on the recommendations by the end of the week. The moves come as the U.S. has taken on an even more visible role in trying to break the electoral impasse.
Just months after the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, had laid the blame squarely on Haiti’s opposition for the delays, current U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Pamela White met with some opposition political parties on December 2 (although reportedly not Famni Lavalas, a party that has consistently won all of the elections that it's been allowed to participate in). In a statement after the meeting, the U.S. embassy said that White was “extremely impressed with their analysis of the current political situation, dedication to Haiti's future and willingness to truly negotiate for the betterment of their country.” An opposition leader, Jean André Victor, told the press after the meeting with White: “We told Mrs White in no uncertain terms that the current crisis is one of Haiti's making, and it is up to Haiti to find a solution.”
But U.S. diplomatic efforts continue. Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste reported last night that Thomas Shannon, an advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry, arrived in Haiti yesterday and will be holding meetings with various political players in the country. A visit from Kerry himself has yet to be confirmed but has been widely expected in the coming days.
From January through August of 2014, 69 Haitians died from cholera and some 8,628 fell ill, a 76 percent drop from the previous year, the United Nations reported. In October, at a high-level donor conference convened to raise money to help fight cholera, World Bank director Jim Kim told the assembled diplomats that the reduction in cases was “an achievement of which Haiti and its development partners can be proud.” The U.N. decreased their projections for the number of new cases in 2014 to 15,000 from 45,000 and proudly stated that the “case fatality rate is below the 1 per cent target rate set by the World Health Organization.”
But the last few months have shown the optimism to be premature, at best. As heavy rains have hit Haiti, so too has a resurgence of cholera. With data through November 21, 2014 [PDF], the number of cases in 2014 has already shot past the 15,000 estimate to over 20,000. More worryingly, since the beginning of September, 135 Haitians have died from cholera, nearly twice as many as had died over the first 8 months of the year. Further, the much-watched case fatality rate stands at 1.3 percent over that time period, above the 1 percent target.
Yesterday, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which has treated nearly 30 percent of those sickened by cholera in Haiti, warned that the response capacities inside Haiti were severely limited and unable to cope with the recent increase. “We have tried to refer patients to other cholera treatment centers, but we soon realized there were not enough beds,” explained Olivia Gayraud, MSF medical coordinator in Haiti. “The Martissant center was quickly overwhelmed by the number of patients, as national health structures are poorly prepared to react to cholera outbreaks, despite them being predictable during the rainy season,” she added.
According to documents from USAID, 750 houses built by USAID near the new Caracol industrial park, were found to be of poor quality and will take millions of dollars to repair. The houses are part of USAID’s “New Settlement Program,” which was the subject of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in October 2013 as well as a USAID Inspector General (IG) audit in April 2014.
The GAO report found that USAID had initially planned on building 15,000 houses but that the number had been reduced to just 2,600. At the same time costs skyrocketed, from $53 million to over $90 million. At the time of the report, just 900 houses had been built across Haiti. (For more on the housing project, and how these estimates changed, see “Outsourcing Haiti” from earlier this year in Boston Review.)
Speaking before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in October 2013, Beth Hogan, an Assistant Administrator at USAID, explained how those cost increases occurred:
Again, it's because of the requirements that we put into our solicitation document that it meet international building codes, that it comply with federal building standards, that these materials would be disaster- and hurricane-proof.
Hogan went on to say that she was “very happy with the quality” with which the contractors were building the houses. David Gootnick, the author of the GAO report and the Director of International Affairs and Trade at the agency, echoed Hogan’s remarks, telling Congress that, “they are excellent homes that are built to a very high standard.”
However, last month, USAID quietly awarded a contract worth up to $4.5 million to an American-based firm, Tetra Tech, to provide a remediation plan for the Caracol houses. The seriousness of the deficiencies was great enough for USAID to bypass normal contracting procedures and award the contract without receiving other bids. The justification document, required when normal procedures are not followed, explains that an independent assessment was performed in August 2014, which “revealed numerous deficiencies” including “missing roof fasteners, sub-specification roof materials and concrete reinforcement, and other structural and drainage issues.”
“Haitian people are all too familiar with the court expressing sympathy to their plight but closing doors to them,” concluded Muneer Ahmad, Clinical Professor of Law at Yale Law School, at today’s federal District Court hearing concerning the U.N.’s immunity for introducing cholera to Haiti. “That need not be the case here,” said Ahmad.
For one day, at least, the Southern District federal court in New York did open their doors, as Judge Oetken heard oral arguments in the case George et al. V. United Nations et al. The question before the court today was whether or not the U.N. and its officers should have immunity from claims arising from the introduction of cholera into Haiti by U.N. troops in October 2010.
“It is not seriously disputed that the U.N. is responsible for causing this devastating epidemic,” stated Beatrice Lindstrom, a staff attorney at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and counsel for the thousands of Haitian cholera victims represented in the suit. The U.N. did not appear in court but rather it was U.S. government attorney Ellen Blain who spoke in defense of U.N. immunity, citing the U.S.’s obligation as host nation to the U.N.
Lindstrom argued that the U.N.’s immunity, as called for in Section 2 of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations [doc] (CPIUN) did not need to be expressly waived by the U.N., because it had failed to provide an alternative dispute mechanism, as called for in Section 29 of the CPIUN. Lindstrom stated that these two sections were “two-sides of the came coin” and that the convention must be interpreted “in whole.” By failing to live up to its obligations under Section 29, the U.N. would not be able to then claim immunity under Section 2. U.S. attorneys argued that there was no link between the two sections and pointed to previous cases where U.S. courts have upheld immunity.
However, in those previous cases, the plaintiffs argued, the U.N. had provided an alternative dispute mechanism, and the question was over its adequacy. This was the first case before U.S. courts where the U.N. had failed entirely to live up to its obligations under Section 29, according to the plaintiffs as well as international law scholars, who filed amicus curiae with the court.
Like a Matryoshka doll, inside each cholera elimination initiative for Haiti one will find another and inside that, yet another. At the two-year anniversary of the earthquake, in January 2012, organizations launched a “call to action” for the elimination of cholera. Almost a year later, in December 2012, the U.N. launched a “new” initiative designed to “support an existing campaign.” Then in February 2013, the Haitian government and international partners announced a 10-year elimination plan. When funding was slow to come, the U.N. and other partners began raising funds for a two-year emergency response. In March of 2014, another “high-level” committee was formed and then in July, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon traveled to Haiti to launch a “Total Sanitation” campaign within the “context” of the cholera elimination plan. Since that first announcement in 2012, 1,600 Haitians have died from cholera. Today, in a “high-level” donor conference sponsored by the World Bank, the Haitian government presented yet another plan.
“We have a plan, it’s a $310 million plan for three years,” Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told the crowded 13th floor conference room in the World Bank headquarters here in Washington, DC. Lamothe urged those in attendance to “take action” and “fast-track this process” in order to “protect the lives of millions of people” and “ensure the most vulnerable of the society are protected against water-borne diseases.” But the 2.5-hour conference ended up short on pledges and long on pleas, with only the event’s sponsor, the World Bank, contributing substantial funds.
Cholera, which scientific studies have found was introduced to Haiti by United Nations troops in 2010, has so far killed at least 8,614 and sickened over 700,000. While no speakers at the conference mentioned how the disease was imported to Haiti, Lamothe did play a short video, in which the narrator explains that, “based on press reports, it [cholera] originated on a Nepalese camp of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH.” Later in the video, a Haitian explains how he blamed the U.N. for cholera’s introduction. Meanwhile, lawyers and human rights groups continue to press for U.N. responsibility through the courts. A federal court in New York will hear oral arguments on the U.N.’s immunity on October 23.
“The UN has a binding international law obligation to install the water and sanitation infrastructure necessary to control the cholera epidemic, as well as compensate those injured,” said Brian Concannon of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, who is representing cholera victims in their case against the U.N. “MINUSTAH has spent far more than $2 billion since cholera broke out on other things. It is a question of priorities.”
While the U.N. has refused to accept responsibility for the disease’s introduction or take direct remedial actions, in December 2012 Ban pledged to “use every opportunity” to raise the necessary funds for cholera elimination and has since cited the U.N.’s “moral obligation” to respond to cholera. Despite the support, actors have thus far failed to raise an adequate amount of funds for the eradication plan. At the conference, Ban stated that “as of today, the $2.2 billion 10-year national plan is just 10 percent funded. While a lot has been done, there is clearly much more to do.”
At the United Nations Security Council meeting last week, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power did not mince words regarding who was to blame for Haiti’s electoral impasse. Power, speaking to the assembled members, stated bluntly [PDF]:
But a group of six senators seems intent on holding elections hostage to partisan concerns, even going so far as to prevent a debate on the electoral law.
Legislators in a democracy have a responsibility to defend their constituents’ rights. But when elected officials take advantage of democracy’s checks and balances to cynically block debates and elections altogether, they stand in the way of addressing citizens’ real needs.
It wasn’t just the U.S. referencing the so called “Group of 6.” The head of MINUSTAH, the U.N. mission in Haiti, also blamed a “group of Senators opposed to the El Rancho Accord.” Today, in a separate action, 15 U.S. members of Congress wrote to the Senate president Simon Desras. As the Miami Herald reports, the lawmakers wrote that:
“We are deeply concerned that the Haitian Senate has been unable to pass the requisite legislation to authorize elections this year….We believe that Haitians deserve better than to have this fundamental democratic right continually delayed.”
But, the Herald continues, “[i]n addition to the senators, several large political parties in Haiti are also opposed to the agreement and were not part of the negotiations [the El Rancho Accord]. In addition to raising constitutional issues, Martelly opponents have also raised questions about the formation of the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) tasked with organizing the vote. Many feel that it is currently being controlled by the executive.”
Opposition leader Mirlande Manigat, a conservative who lost to Martelly in a run-off election in 2011 and is a constitutional scholar, responded to the comments from the U.S. and the U.N., saying it was unreasonable to overlook the role that Martelly has played in the delay:
“For three years, he refused to call elections. A large part of this is his fault…It is unfair to accuse the six senators for the crisis.”
As we have noted previously, there are legal and constitutional reasons behind the oppositions’ electoral stance. According to Mario Joseph, managing lawyer for the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, “Prompt elections are much needed, but elections will only remedy Haiti’s political crisis if they are run fairly by a constitutionally-mandated electoral council. President Michel Martelly has delayed elections for three years because he does not want to lose the political control he has enjoyed without full parliamentary oversight.”