Haiti Relief & Reconstruction Watch

Haiti Relief & Reconstruction Watch

Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch is a blog that tracks multinational aid efforts in Haiti with an eye towards ensuring they are oriented towards the needs of the Haitian people, and that aid is not used to undermine Haitians' right to self-determination.

In late October, Uruguayan president José Mujica announced that he planned to withdraw his country’s troops from Haiti, where they make up 11 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping mission. Citing the long delayed legislative elections, Mujica told the press:

One thing is to try to help the Haitian people build a police force that is in charge of security. That’s fine… Another thing is being there indefinitely with a regime that we think is at least dubious in terms of a continuity of democratic renewal.

MINUSTAH, as the U.N. mission is known, has been in Haiti since 2004 following the coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In October the mission’s mandate was extended by the U.N. Security Council for another year, though a gradual drawdown of troops was also agreed. After his initial statements, Mujica traveled to Brazil where he met with President Dilma Rousseff. Brazil leads MINUSTAH and is the largest troop-contributing country, accounting for 16 percent of the personnel.

After the meeting, Mujica stated that he and Rousseff agreed that the mission should not become a “Praetorian Guard” to protect a government that was not moving forward democratically. On November 20, the U.N. spokesperson for the Secretary General acknowledged that “preliminary and informal discussions have taken place with the Uruguayan representatives in New York regarding the planned withdrawal of a part of their troops,” but that “no formal notification has as yet been exchanged.”

On November 25, before travelling to Haiti for a meeting with President Martelly, Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro met in New York with Brazilian and U.N. officials to discuss MINUSTAH’s presence in Haiti. Almagro stated that while Uruguay would only gradually withdraw its troops in line with the Security Council resolution, if “autocratic” tendencies in the Haitian government continued, they would immediately withdraw. Specifically, Almagro conditioned continued Uruguayan support to MINUSTAH on the holding of the overdue legislative elections.

Regional Implications

In June 2012, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) met to discuss MINUSTAH and agreed to form a working group “for the purposes of elaborating a scheme on the strategy, form, conditions, stages, and timeline of a Plan of Reduction of Contingents of the Military Component of the Mission.” Though there has been little movement since then, the recent actions by Uruguay may change that.

Foreign ministers from Argentina and Brazil met November 21, announcing that they shared a common view on MINUSTAH and that while “it should not be perpetuated” neither could it depart immediately. According to news reports, the ministers believed the withdrawal would require a “regional vision” and should again be brought up by UNASUR in early 2014.

Together, the nine South American troop contributing countries make up about 50 percent of MINUSTAH personnel and nearly 70 percent of the military contingent, meaning any movement for withdrawal from the region will have huge implications. As can be seen in the Figure below, while MINUSTAH has diminished in size over the last two years, most of this has just been the phasing out of the post-earthquake surge in personnel. The current size of MINUSTAH is only 4 percent smaller than pre-earthquake. But while overall levels have been reduced, Latin America’s share of military personnel has steadily grown. MINUSTAH is now more reliant on Latin America than ever.

MINUSTAH Troop level

In late October, Uruguayan president José Mujica announced that he planned to withdraw his country’s troops from Haiti, where they make up 11 percent of the U.N. peacekeeping mission. Citing the long delayed legislative elections, Mujica told the press:

One thing is to try to help the Haitian people build a police force that is in charge of security. That’s fine… Another thing is being there indefinitely with a regime that we think is at least dubious in terms of a continuity of democratic renewal.

MINUSTAH, as the U.N. mission is known, has been in Haiti since 2004 following the coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In October the mission’s mandate was extended by the U.N. Security Council for another year, though a gradual drawdown of troops was also agreed. After his initial statements, Mujica traveled to Brazil where he met with President Dilma Rousseff. Brazil leads MINUSTAH and is the largest troop-contributing country, accounting for 16 percent of the personnel.

After the meeting, Mujica stated that he and Rousseff agreed that the mission should not become a “Praetorian Guard” to protect a government that was not moving forward democratically. On November 20, the U.N. spokesperson for the Secretary General acknowledged that “preliminary and informal discussions have taken place with the Uruguayan representatives in New York regarding the planned withdrawal of a part of their troops,” but that “no formal notification has as yet been exchanged.”

On November 25, before travelling to Haiti for a meeting with President Martelly, Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro met in New York with Brazilian and U.N. officials to discuss MINUSTAH’s presence in Haiti. Almagro stated that while Uruguay would only gradually withdraw its troops in line with the Security Council resolution, if “autocratic” tendencies in the Haitian government continued, they would immediately withdraw. Specifically, Almagro conditioned continued Uruguayan support to MINUSTAH on the holding of the overdue legislative elections.

Regional Implications

In June 2012, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) met to discuss MINUSTAH and agreed to form a working group “for the purposes of elaborating a scheme on the strategy, form, conditions, stages, and timeline of a Plan of Reduction of Contingents of the Military Component of the Mission.” Though there has been little movement since then, the recent actions by Uruguay may change that.

Foreign ministers from Argentina and Brazil met November 21, announcing that they shared a common view on MINUSTAH and that while “it should not be perpetuated” neither could it depart immediately. According to news reports, the ministers believed the withdrawal would require a “regional vision” and should again be brought up by UNASUR in early 2014.

Together, the nine South American troop contributing countries make up about 50 percent of MINUSTAH personnel and nearly 70 percent of the military contingent, meaning any movement for withdrawal from the region will have huge implications. As can be seen in the Figure below, while MINUSTAH has diminished in size over the last two years, most of this has just been the phasing out of the post-earthquake surge in personnel. The current size of MINUSTAH is only 4 percent smaller than pre-earthquake. But while overall levels have been reduced, Latin America’s share of military personnel has steadily grown. MINUSTAH is now more reliant on Latin America than ever.

MINUSTAH Troop level

Rick Westhead of the Toronto Star reports:

One of Canada’s largest garment companies [Gildan Activewear] has promised to ensure that thousands of workers who make its clothing in Haitian factories are paid at least $7.22 per day, the country’s minimum wage.

The move followed revelations that some labourers making apparel for Gildan Activewear were paid so little they had no money for food.

In addition to Gildan, Fruit of the Loom also agreed to ensure their contractor’s compliance with the minimum wage, according to Scott Nova, an official with the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC). The statements from the two companies comes after a report (PDF), authored by the WRC found that “the majority of Haitian garment workers are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally due as a result of the factories’ theft of their income.” The WRC found that “over three quarters of the workers who were interviewed reported that they were unable to pay for three meals per day for themselves and their immediate family.”

As we previously described, the WRC noted that “tacitly complicit” in this wage theft were large North American brands such as “Gap, Gildan, Hanes, Kohl’s, Levi’s, Russell, Target, VF, and Walmart,” which all source clothing from Haiti. The WRC report called for these brands to ensure their third-party contractors comply with the minimum wage as well as compensate employees for their previous underpayment.

In a public statement, Gildan also called for “an industry-wide meeting and other combined efforts, involving brands, retailers and worker representatives similarly committed to ensuring compliance, in order to bring a common resolution to this issue in a manner which will appropriately address the working conditions in the apparel industry.” Gildan added that “we understand that one issue that will be on the table for discussion will be remedies for past non-compliance.”

Better Work Haiti, an international monitoring organization run by the International Labor Organization and funded by the World Bank and U.S. Department of Labor, has consistently reported massive non-compliance with Haiti’s minimum wage law. In their latest report, released in October, Better Work reported 100 percent non-compliance in the 23 factories covered in the report, but Better Work added that:

In the Minimum Wage Law there are two applicable wage requirements in exporting apparel factories in Haiti: the minimum wage of reference, currently set at 200 Gourdes per day (article 1 of the law), and the production wage (Minimum Wages: Piece Rate), currently set at 300 Gourdes per day (article 2.2 of the law). The production wage refers to a legal requirement for the employer to set piece rates in a manner such that a worker can earn 300 Gourdes during eight regular hours of work per day.

The Haitian government and Haitian manufacturers have advocated for an interpretation of the law which mandates only the lower of the two wages be paid, but Fruit of the Loom, in a public statement, acknowledges that, “It is our view that the clear intent of Haiti’s minimum wage law is for production rates to be set in such a manner as to allow workers to earn at least 300 gourdes for 8 hours of work in a day. Based on our independent investigation, we concur with the WRC that the garment industry in Haiti generally falls short of that standard.”

“The commitments from Gildan and Fruit of the Loom will put substantial pressure on other buyers,” Nova told the Toronto Star.

Rick Westhead of the Toronto Star reports:

One of Canada’s largest garment companies [Gildan Activewear] has promised to ensure that thousands of workers who make its clothing in Haitian factories are paid at least $7.22 per day, the country’s minimum wage.

The move followed revelations that some labourers making apparel for Gildan Activewear were paid so little they had no money for food.

In addition to Gildan, Fruit of the Loom also agreed to ensure their contractor’s compliance with the minimum wage, according to Scott Nova, an official with the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC). The statements from the two companies comes after a report (PDF), authored by the WRC found that “the majority of Haitian garment workers are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally due as a result of the factories’ theft of their income.” The WRC found that “over three quarters of the workers who were interviewed reported that they were unable to pay for three meals per day for themselves and their immediate family.”

As we previously described, the WRC noted that “tacitly complicit” in this wage theft were large North American brands such as “Gap, Gildan, Hanes, Kohl’s, Levi’s, Russell, Target, VF, and Walmart,” which all source clothing from Haiti. The WRC report called for these brands to ensure their third-party contractors comply with the minimum wage as well as compensate employees for their previous underpayment.

In a public statement, Gildan also called for “an industry-wide meeting and other combined efforts, involving brands, retailers and worker representatives similarly committed to ensuring compliance, in order to bring a common resolution to this issue in a manner which will appropriately address the working conditions in the apparel industry.” Gildan added that “we understand that one issue that will be on the table for discussion will be remedies for past non-compliance.”

Better Work Haiti, an international monitoring organization run by the International Labor Organization and funded by the World Bank and U.S. Department of Labor, has consistently reported massive non-compliance with Haiti’s minimum wage law. In their latest report, released in October, Better Work reported 100 percent non-compliance in the 23 factories covered in the report, but Better Work added that:

In the Minimum Wage Law there are two applicable wage requirements in exporting apparel factories in Haiti: the minimum wage of reference, currently set at 200 Gourdes per day (article 1 of the law), and the production wage (Minimum Wages: Piece Rate), currently set at 300 Gourdes per day (article 2.2 of the law). The production wage refers to a legal requirement for the employer to set piece rates in a manner such that a worker can earn 300 Gourdes during eight regular hours of work per day.

The Haitian government and Haitian manufacturers have advocated for an interpretation of the law which mandates only the lower of the two wages be paid, but Fruit of the Loom, in a public statement, acknowledges that, “It is our view that the clear intent of Haiti’s minimum wage law is for production rates to be set in such a manner as to allow workers to earn at least 300 gourdes for 8 hours of work in a day. Based on our independent investigation, we concur with the WRC that the garment industry in Haiti generally falls short of that standard.”

“The commitments from Gildan and Fruit of the Loom will put substantial pressure on other buyers,” Nova told the Toronto Star.

The AP reported yesterday that, “the number of Haitians still displaced by the 2010 earthquake has dropped below 200,000… That marks an 89 percent decline since the camp population peaked in July 2010 at 1.5 million people.” According to official figures, the camp population currently stands at 171,974, compared to over 278,000 in June of 2013 at the time of the last report. The drop is the largest over a single reporting period in nearly three years.

Yet, looking closer, over 50 percent of this reduction since June is the result of a decision by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the entity which monitors the camp population, to remove three areas, Canaan, Jerusalem and Onaville from the official camp list. Together, these three areas are home to an estimated 54,045 individuals. The IOM report states:

On July 11th 2013, the Government of Haiti represented by UCLBP (Unité de Construction de Logements et Bâtiments Publics), submitted a formal request to IOM to remove the three settlements from the DTM (i.e. from the list of IDP sites that exist in the country).

The UCLBP request is motivated by the observation that the characteristics of these settlements are those of “… new neighborhoods needing urban planning with a long term view …”, not of IDP sites.

But the situation facing those who reside in the three areas is far from secure. This week Amnesty International reported that:

Residents of the Lanmè Frape area of Canaan, an informal settlement in the municipality of Cabaret, on the northern outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, have had their simple dwellings repeatedly destroyed by police officers accompanied by armed men. The residents told Amnesty International that they have been the victims of attacks on more than 10 occasions over the last 18 months and several of them have also been arrested on unfounded charges for periods of up to a month. Two hundred families currently remain in the Lanmè Frape area, although as many as 600 lived there before the forced evictions began.

Amnesty continues, describing how the area came to be occupied:

The Lanmè Frape area of Canaan is part of a large tract of land which the then government declared for “public use” (utilité publique) two months after the earthquake in March 2010. Tens of thousands of people who lost their homes in the earthquake have subsequently relocated there, but many face eviction from people claiming ownership of the land.

Beyond the previously “official” camp communities of Canaan, Jerusalem and Onaville, it is believed that tens of thousands more families have moved to the surrounding area since the earthquake. Over the last year, the UCLBP has lobbied the international community for funding to make investments in urban planning for the area. According to minutes from the February 2013 Haiti Reconstruction Fund (HRF) meeting (PDF), the head of the UCLBP, Odnell David, made a presentation requesting $15 million as part of a $50 million project to address the situation in Canaan-Jerusalem. The government “has a moral obligation to take care of these people and undertake investment,” David said. Yet, although donor countries all supported the use of HRF funds for investments in the Canaan area, when funding decisions were made this September, no resources were allocated for the project.

There were also other motives for addressing the displacement crisis in Canaan. According to the official minutes, the David explained that, “this area poses a threat to neighboring industrial and touristic development.” Two weeks later, at the next HRF meeting (PDF), he described how this “project is the starting point for the larger project of developing the entire northern area of the city of Port-au-Prince.”

Haiti IEZ
Image from World Bank study on prospects for “Integrated Economic Zones” in Haiti (Via Haiti Grassroots Watch)

The area in question has long been the planned site for the development of an “integrated economic zone,” which would include an industrial park. Yet the influx of those displaced after the earthquake has slowed these plans. The developer who owns the land, Gérard-Emile “Aby” Brun acknowledged in an interview with Haiti Grassroots Watch in July of last year that the “project has essentially ‘fallen apart’ because of the invasion of some 60,000 squatters into the region after the René Préval government declared the land ‘public utility.’”

The need for investments in urban infrastructure for the area is clear, but the lack of financial resources dedicated to this effort and the involvement of police in the forcible eviction of those living there, raises concerns about the government’s intentions. Without their official status as IDPs, those living in the areas of Canaan, Jerusalem and Onaville may not be afforded the oversight and protection needed to abate future violent evictions.

The AP reported yesterday that, “the number of Haitians still displaced by the 2010 earthquake has dropped below 200,000… That marks an 89 percent decline since the camp population peaked in July 2010 at 1.5 million people.” According to official figures, the camp population currently stands at 171,974, compared to over 278,000 in June of 2013 at the time of the last report. The drop is the largest over a single reporting period in nearly three years.

Yet, looking closer, over 50 percent of this reduction since June is the result of a decision by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the entity which monitors the camp population, to remove three areas, Canaan, Jerusalem and Onaville from the official camp list. Together, these three areas are home to an estimated 54,045 individuals. The IOM report states:

On July 11th 2013, the Government of Haiti represented by UCLBP (Unité de Construction de Logements et Bâtiments Publics), submitted a formal request to IOM to remove the three settlements from the DTM (i.e. from the list of IDP sites that exist in the country).

The UCLBP request is motivated by the observation that the characteristics of these settlements are those of “… new neighborhoods needing urban planning with a long term view …”, not of IDP sites.

But the situation facing those who reside in the three areas is far from secure. This week Amnesty International reported that:

Residents of the Lanmè Frape area of Canaan, an informal settlement in the municipality of Cabaret, on the northern outskirts of the capital, Port-au-Prince, have had their simple dwellings repeatedly destroyed by police officers accompanied by armed men. The residents told Amnesty International that they have been the victims of attacks on more than 10 occasions over the last 18 months and several of them have also been arrested on unfounded charges for periods of up to a month. Two hundred families currently remain in the Lanmè Frape area, although as many as 600 lived there before the forced evictions began.

Amnesty continues, describing how the area came to be occupied:

The Lanmè Frape area of Canaan is part of a large tract of land which the then government declared for “public use” (utilité publique) two months after the earthquake in March 2010. Tens of thousands of people who lost their homes in the earthquake have subsequently relocated there, but many face eviction from people claiming ownership of the land.

Beyond the previously “official” camp communities of Canaan, Jerusalem and Onaville, it is believed that tens of thousands more families have moved to the surrounding area since the earthquake. Over the last year, the UCLBP has lobbied the international community for funding to make investments in urban planning for the area. According to minutes from the February 2013 Haiti Reconstruction Fund (HRF) meeting (PDF), the head of the UCLBP, Odnell David, made a presentation requesting $15 million as part of a $50 million project to address the situation in Canaan-Jerusalem. The government “has a moral obligation to take care of these people and undertake investment,” David said. Yet, although donor countries all supported the use of HRF funds for investments in the Canaan area, when funding decisions were made this September, no resources were allocated for the project.

There were also other motives for addressing the displacement crisis in Canaan. According to the official minutes, the David explained that, “this area poses a threat to neighboring industrial and touristic development.” Two weeks later, at the next HRF meeting (PDF), he described how this “project is the starting point for the larger project of developing the entire northern area of the city of Port-au-Prince.”

Haiti IEZ
Image from World Bank study on prospects for “Integrated Economic Zones” in Haiti (Via Haiti Grassroots Watch)

The area in question has long been the planned site for the development of an “integrated economic zone,” which would include an industrial park. Yet the influx of those displaced after the earthquake has slowed these plans. The developer who owns the land, Gérard-Emile “Aby” Brun acknowledged in an interview with Haiti Grassroots Watch in July of last year that the “project has essentially ‘fallen apart’ because of the invasion of some 60,000 squatters into the region after the René Préval government declared the land ‘public utility.’”

The need for investments in urban infrastructure for the area is clear, but the lack of financial resources dedicated to this effort and the involvement of police in the forcible eviction of those living there, raises concerns about the government’s intentions. Without their official status as IDPs, those living in the areas of Canaan, Jerusalem and Onaville may not be afforded the oversight and protection needed to abate future violent evictions.

Several new reports released in the past two weeks by the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), Gender Action, and Better Work Haiti examine working conditions in Haiti’s garment factories and find that most workers are not being paid the wages they are legally owed, even as they are subject to unsafe and unsanitary working conditions, sexual harassment, and other abusive treatment.

A new report [PDF] released this week by the WRC, an organization that monitors working conditions in apparel factories producing products sold in the U.S. market, finds that most Haitian garment workers are subject to wage theft. The New York Times’ Randal Archibold and Steven Greenhouse reported this week that

[t]he report …focused on 5 of Haiti’s 24 garment factories and found that “the majority of Haitian garment workers are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally due as a result of the factories’ theft of their income.”

The group said that the factories deprive workers of higher wages they are entitled to under law by setting difficult-to-meet production quotas and neglecting to pay overtime.

The WRC report states:

Tacitly complicit in this theft of wages are the major North American apparel brands and retailers, like Gap, Gildan, Hanes, Kohl’s, Levi’s, Russell, Target, VF, and Walmart, that are buyers of garments from Haiti. Although most, if not all, of these firms are well-aware of this law-breaking, they continue with business as usual, profiting from the lower prices that they can obtain from factories that cheat their workers of legally owed wages.

As the Associated Press noted in their coverage of the WRC report:

Under a law that took effect in 2009, garment workers who meet production quotas earn 300 gourdes for an eight-hour day, or $6.81. Workers elsewhere earn 200 gourdes, or $4.54.

The report accuses employers of cheating workers in three ways: Production quotas are set so high that workers can’t meet the goals in a regular work day. Wages paid for overtime are based on an hourly rate below the minimum wage for production workers instead of at a premium rate above this wage as required by law. Some factory workers aren’t paid for work performed before and after their recorded working hours or during lunch breaks.

The report was released the same day that Better Work Haiti, “a partnership of the [International Labor Organization] and the International Finance Corporation” released its biannual review [PDF] of Haitian factories’ compliance with “core labour standards and national labour law in the factories that are eligible for tariff advantages under HOPE II” legislation with the United States. Better Work Haiti examined many more factories – 23 altogether – and also found that most were failing to meet their legal commitments to workers. Only 25 percent of workers were being paid 300 gourds for an eight-hour day, while “The average percentage of piece rate workers earning between 201 and 249 gourdes after eight hours of regular work is 43%, and 32% for those earning between 250 and 299 gourdes…”

This level of pay makes it very difficult for workers to get by. Gender Action noted in a report titled “Building Back by Half?” [PDF] released last week:

According to one study, Haitian women workers were spending half of their daily wages on transport to and from work and a mid-day meal, leaving little funds to provide for their families, including paying school fees for children (Haiti Grassroots Watch 2012b). Unwilling to respect even these very basic pay rates, it is doubtful that garment manufacturers will generate significant economic gains for their Haitian women employees.

WRC noted that “Workers report that as a result of their low wages, they cannot obtain needed medical attention for themselves or their children.”

Factories in the Caracol industrial park – a showcase project of post-quake reconstruction and “U.S. State Department and Clinton Foundation pet project” that has been highly controversial – are among those engaging in wage theft, according to the WRC:

The WRC’s research indicates that a similarly egregious level of wage theft is occurring at the country’s Caracol Industrial Park, a new factory complex on Haiti’s northern coast whose construction was heavily subsidized by the U.S. State Department and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).5 The Caracol complex is slated to eventually employ more than 20,000 workers. 

At Caracol, the WRC found that “On average, workers were paid 34% less than the law requires…” Caracol’s anchor tenant, SAE-A, according to the WRC, “produces apparel for Walmart, as well as for other major U.S. retailers, such as Target, Old Navy and Kohl’s.”

In a separate report focused on the Caracol park, based on interviews with community residents and factory workers (and also released last week), Gender Action concludes that the

estimated 2,000 workers (as of July 2013) barely make ends meet, with unstable jobs in mediocre conditions, let alone invest in surrounding communities. Apparel assembly workers face tremendous pressure to produce more and more for minimal wages, with instances of verbal and, in one documented case, physical abuse. Donors predict that women would be empowered through [Caracol Industrial Park] PIC jobs; based on women workers’ testimony, PIC jobs are not empowering.

One Caracol worker told the New York Times:

“I am forced to live with debt,” said Rositha Guerrier, 27, who has worked at Sae-A for more than a year and said she was told she would be paid 350 Haitian gourdes a day, but makes 200. But like many workers she prefers to stay on the job because she has found few alternatives.

An underpaid female worker, Guerrier can be seen as a typical apparel factory worker. As Gender Action notes, “The garment factory workforce comprises mostly women (CIA 2012). In December 2012, just over 64 percent of garment workers in 24 factories registered by Better Work Haiti…were women (2013: 30).” Disturbingly, Gender Action notes in “Building Back by Half?” that

Women workers have also expressed concerns about workplace sexual harassment (Better Work 2013: 16). Sexual harassment is often unreported for fear of retaliation, as well as power imbalance between victims and perpetrators. Women workers also have poor sanitation facilities.

Indeed, Better Work Haiti’s new review concluded that “A major issue is that 21 factories were found to not have the legally required number of accessible toilets, as reported in the previous reports.”

Better Work Haiti also found “a 91% non-compliance rate  for Worker Protection,” in part because “Fifteen factories did not have proper guards installed and maintained on all dangerous moving parts of machines and equipment,” and “Electrical wires, switches, plugs were not properly installed, grounded and maintained in six factories.” The Associated Press also noted that “The study …says many Haitian garment workers don’t have sufficient access to toilets, safe drinking water, emergency exits or medical care.”

Several new reports released in the past two weeks by the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC), Gender Action, and Better Work Haiti examine working conditions in Haiti’s garment factories and find that most workers are not being paid the wages they are legally owed, even as they are subject to unsafe and unsanitary working conditions, sexual harassment, and other abusive treatment.

A new report [PDF] released this week by the WRC, an organization that monitors working conditions in apparel factories producing products sold in the U.S. market, finds that most Haitian garment workers are subject to wage theft. The New York Times’ Randal Archibold and Steven Greenhouse reported this week that

[t]he report …focused on 5 of Haiti’s 24 garment factories and found that “the majority of Haitian garment workers are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally due as a result of the factories’ theft of their income.”

The group said that the factories deprive workers of higher wages they are entitled to under law by setting difficult-to-meet production quotas and neglecting to pay overtime.

The WRC report states:

Tacitly complicit in this theft of wages are the major North American apparel brands and retailers, like Gap, Gildan, Hanes, Kohl’s, Levi’s, Russell, Target, VF, and Walmart, that are buyers of garments from Haiti. Although most, if not all, of these firms are well-aware of this law-breaking, they continue with business as usual, profiting from the lower prices that they can obtain from factories that cheat their workers of legally owed wages.

As the Associated Press noted in their coverage of the WRC report:

Under a law that took effect in 2009, garment workers who meet production quotas earn 300 gourdes for an eight-hour day, or $6.81. Workers elsewhere earn 200 gourdes, or $4.54.

The report accuses employers of cheating workers in three ways: Production quotas are set so high that workers can’t meet the goals in a regular work day. Wages paid for overtime are based on an hourly rate below the minimum wage for production workers instead of at a premium rate above this wage as required by law. Some factory workers aren’t paid for work performed before and after their recorded working hours or during lunch breaks.

The report was released the same day that Better Work Haiti, “a partnership of the [International Labor Organization] and the International Finance Corporation” released its biannual review [PDF] of Haitian factories’ compliance with “core labour standards and national labour law in the factories that are eligible for tariff advantages under HOPE II” legislation with the United States. Better Work Haiti examined many more factories – 23 altogether – and also found that most were failing to meet their legal commitments to workers. Only 25 percent of workers were being paid 300 gourds for an eight-hour day, while “The average percentage of piece rate workers earning between 201 and 249 gourdes after eight hours of regular work is 43%, and 32% for those earning between 250 and 299 gourdes…”

This level of pay makes it very difficult for workers to get by. Gender Action noted in a report titled “Building Back by Half?” [PDF] released last week:

According to one study, Haitian women workers were spending half of their daily wages on transport to and from work and a mid-day meal, leaving little funds to provide for their families, including paying school fees for children (Haiti Grassroots Watch 2012b). Unwilling to respect even these very basic pay rates, it is doubtful that garment manufacturers will generate significant economic gains for their Haitian women employees.

WRC noted that “Workers report that as a result of their low wages, they cannot obtain needed medical attention for themselves or their children.”

Factories in the Caracol industrial park – a showcase project of post-quake reconstruction and “U.S. State Department and Clinton Foundation pet project” that has been highly controversial – are among those engaging in wage theft, according to the WRC:

The WRC’s research indicates that a similarly egregious level of wage theft is occurring at the country’s Caracol Industrial Park, a new factory complex on Haiti’s northern coast whose construction was heavily subsidized by the U.S. State Department and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).5 The Caracol complex is slated to eventually employ more than 20,000 workers. 

At Caracol, the WRC found that “On average, workers were paid 34% less than the law requires…” Caracol’s anchor tenant, SAE-A, according to the WRC, “produces apparel for Walmart, as well as for other major U.S. retailers, such as Target, Old Navy and Kohl’s.”

In a separate report focused on the Caracol park, based on interviews with community residents and factory workers (and also released last week), Gender Action concludes that the

estimated 2,000 workers (as of July 2013) barely make ends meet, with unstable jobs in mediocre conditions, let alone invest in surrounding communities. Apparel assembly workers face tremendous pressure to produce more and more for minimal wages, with instances of verbal and, in one documented case, physical abuse. Donors predict that women would be empowered through [Caracol Industrial Park] PIC jobs; based on women workers’ testimony, PIC jobs are not empowering.

One Caracol worker told the New York Times:

“I am forced to live with debt,” said Rositha Guerrier, 27, who has worked at Sae-A for more than a year and said she was told she would be paid 350 Haitian gourdes a day, but makes 200. But like many workers she prefers to stay on the job because she has found few alternatives.

An underpaid female worker, Guerrier can be seen as a typical apparel factory worker. As Gender Action notes, “The garment factory workforce comprises mostly women (CIA 2012). In December 2012, just over 64 percent of garment workers in 24 factories registered by Better Work Haiti…were women (2013: 30).” Disturbingly, Gender Action notes in “Building Back by Half?” that

Women workers have also expressed concerns about workplace sexual harassment (Better Work 2013: 16). Sexual harassment is often unreported for fear of retaliation, as well as power imbalance between victims and perpetrators. Women workers also have poor sanitation facilities.

Indeed, Better Work Haiti’s new review concluded that “A major issue is that 21 factories were found to not have the legally required number of accessible toilets, as reported in the previous reports.”

Better Work Haiti also found “a 91% non-compliance rate  for Worker Protection,” in part because “Fifteen factories did not have proper guards installed and maintained on all dangerous moving parts of machines and equipment,” and “Electrical wires, switches, plugs were not properly installed, grounded and maintained in six factories.” The Associated Press also noted that “The study …says many Haitian garment workers don’t have sufficient access to toilets, safe drinking water, emergency exits or medical care.”

In a development that has received much media attention, lawyers working on behalf of Haitian cholera victims brought a class action lawsuit against the United Nations on Wednesday over U.N. troops’ role in introducing the cholera bacteria to Haiti three years ago. The suit was filed in a federal court in New York on behalf of five named victims by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and the law firm of Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger, Tetzelli & Pratt, with more plaintiffs expected to join. Since it is a class action complaint, the amount of damages sought is unspecified, although it does include $2.2 billion in order to provide full funding for the Haitian and Dominican governments’ cholera eradication plan, which was created with the U.N. but is only about 9 percent funded some 8 months after it was unveiled.

The IJDH warned the U.N. in May that such a lawsuit would be forthcoming if the organization continued to dodge responsibility for bringing cholera to Haiti. This Friday, October 19 will mark three years since the first cholera case was reported in Haiti in over a century.

Reuters reported:

“Haiti today has the worst cholera epidemic in the world,” said Miami attorney Ira Kurzban, who announced the lawsuit at a joint news conference with the human rights groups Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).

“Before these events, Haiti did not know of cholera for 100 years. Cholera was brought to Haiti by U.N. troops,” Kurzban said.

Asked to comment on the suit, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said: “We don’t discuss claims brought against the U.N.”

The United Nations was working on the ground in Haiti to provide assistance to those affected, he added. It was committed to do all it can do “to help the people of Haiti overcome the cholera epidemic,” Haq said.

Although the U.N. has yet to admit responsibility for the epidemic that has killed over 8,300 people and sickened over 675,000, at least 10 scientific studies have linked the outbreak to U.N. troops from Nepal. As IJDH explains in a press release

The 67-page complaint, filed [Wednesday] in federal court in the Southern District of New York, details extensive evidence demonstrating that the UN knew or should have known that its reckless sanitation and waste disposal practices posed a high risk of harm to the population, and that it consciously disregarded that risk, triggering an explosive epidemic.

Among the reckless practices, IJDH notes that

Defendants knowingly disregarded the high risk of transmitting cholera to Haiti when, in the ordinary course of business, they deployed personnel from Nepal to Haiti, knowing that Nepal was a country in which cholera is endemic and where a surge in infections had just been reported. Defendants failed to exercise reasonable care to test or screen the personnel prior to deployment, allowing them to carry into Haiti a strain of cholera that a UN-appointed panel of experts and other independent scientific experts have since determined is the source of Haiti’s present cholera epidemic.

And

Defendants stationed their personnel on a base on the banks of the Meille Tributary, which flows into the Artibonite River, Haiti’s longest river and primary watersource for tens of thousands. There, Defendants discharged raw sewage from poor pipe connections, haphazard piping, and releases of water contaminated with human waste. They also regularly disposed of untreated human waste in unprotected, open-air pits outside the base where it flowed into the Meille Tributary. Defendants’ sanitation facilities and disposal pits overflowed in heavy rain, emitted noxious odors, and exposed the local community to raw sewage.

The complaint goes on to describe how despite being aware of the dangers, the U.N. “did not take any steps” to mitigate them, and “recklessly failed to take remedial steps necessary to contain the outbreak” once it began – including by “willfully delay[ing] investigation” and “obscur[ing] discovery of the outbreak’s source.”

This behavior was especially negligent, since, as IJDH states, “Defendants have long known that Haiti’s weak water and sanitation infrastructure created a heightened vulnerability to waterborne disease but failed to exercise due care to prevent the devastating outbreak of such disease.” Indeed, the U.N. previously attempted to lay blame for the epidemic with Haiti’s lacking water and sanitation infrastructure – seemingly overlooking that these factors made the U.N.’s behavior all the more dangerous and egregious.

The suit was filed just days after a high-level U.N. official finally spoke out and said that Haitian cholera victims are owed compensation. Speaking at a ceremony in Geneva where BAI Director Mario Joseph was a finalist for the Martin Ennals human rights award, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said “I have used my voice both inside the United Nations and outside to call for the right — for an investigation by the United Nations, by the country concerned, and I still stand by the call that victims of — of those who suffered as a result of that cholera be provided with compensation.”

But Pillay did not say who should compensate the victims and their families. Pillay’s comments in turn come only weeks after Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told the U.N. General Assembly that “The United Nations has ‘a moral responsibility” in the deadly cholera outbreak,” as the Miami Herald reported.

The lawsuit was greeted with a new wave of editorials condemning the U.N. both for its negligence in causing the epidemic and its “obstinacy” in refusing to take responsibility and ensure justice for the victims. The New York Times called on the U.N. to “acknowledge responsibility, apologize to Haitians and give the victims the means to file claims against it for the harm they say has been done them. It can also redouble its faltering, underfinanced response to the epidemic, which threatens to kill and sicken thousands more in the coming decade.” Bloomberg echoed these sentiments, adding that the organization should “create a compensation fund for families of the dead, the ailing and the many more who are expected to fall victim to cholera in Haiti over the next decade.”

Despite U.N. troops’ responsibility in the disease’s emergence, the U.N. Security Council unanimously decided to extend the U.N.’s Haiti mission (MINUSTAH’s) mandate for another year, meaning that another over half-million dollars will go to the unpopular military and police presence instead of efforts to eradicate cholera. Ironically, in making the decision, as the Associated Press reported, “The Security Council urged the United Nations on Thursday to keep up efforts to combat cholera in Haiti in a resolution extending the mandate of the peacekeeping force whose soldiers have been widely blamed for starting the epidemic.”

In a development that has received much media attention, lawyers working on behalf of Haitian cholera victims brought a class action lawsuit against the United Nations on Wednesday over U.N. troops’ role in introducing the cholera bacteria to Haiti three years ago. The suit was filed in a federal court in New York on behalf of five named victims by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and the law firm of Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger, Tetzelli & Pratt, with more plaintiffs expected to join. Since it is a class action complaint, the amount of damages sought is unspecified, although it does include $2.2 billion in order to provide full funding for the Haitian and Dominican governments’ cholera eradication plan, which was created with the U.N. but is only about 9 percent funded some 8 months after it was unveiled.

The IJDH warned the U.N. in May that such a lawsuit would be forthcoming if the organization continued to dodge responsibility for bringing cholera to Haiti. This Friday, October 19 will mark three years since the first cholera case was reported in Haiti in over a century.

Reuters reported:

“Haiti today has the worst cholera epidemic in the world,” said Miami attorney Ira Kurzban, who announced the lawsuit at a joint news conference with the human rights groups Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).

“Before these events, Haiti did not know of cholera for 100 years. Cholera was brought to Haiti by U.N. troops,” Kurzban said.

Asked to comment on the suit, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said: “We don’t discuss claims brought against the U.N.”

The United Nations was working on the ground in Haiti to provide assistance to those affected, he added. It was committed to do all it can do “to help the people of Haiti overcome the cholera epidemic,” Haq said.

Although the U.N. has yet to admit responsibility for the epidemic that has killed over 8,300 people and sickened over 675,000, at least 10 scientific studies have linked the outbreak to U.N. troops from Nepal. As IJDH explains in a press release

The 67-page complaint, filed [Wednesday] in federal court in the Southern District of New York, details extensive evidence demonstrating that the UN knew or should have known that its reckless sanitation and waste disposal practices posed a high risk of harm to the population, and that it consciously disregarded that risk, triggering an explosive epidemic.

Among the reckless practices, IJDH notes that

Defendants knowingly disregarded the high risk of transmitting cholera to Haiti when, in the ordinary course of business, they deployed personnel from Nepal to Haiti, knowing that Nepal was a country in which cholera is endemic and where a surge in infections had just been reported. Defendants failed to exercise reasonable care to test or screen the personnel prior to deployment, allowing them to carry into Haiti a strain of cholera that a UN-appointed panel of experts and other independent scientific experts have since determined is the source of Haiti’s present cholera epidemic.

And

Defendants stationed their personnel on a base on the banks of the Meille Tributary, which flows into the Artibonite River, Haiti’s longest river and primary watersource for tens of thousands. There, Defendants discharged raw sewage from poor pipe connections, haphazard piping, and releases of water contaminated with human waste. They also regularly disposed of untreated human waste in unprotected, open-air pits outside the base where it flowed into the Meille Tributary. Defendants’ sanitation facilities and disposal pits overflowed in heavy rain, emitted noxious odors, and exposed the local community to raw sewage.

The complaint goes on to describe how despite being aware of the dangers, the U.N. “did not take any steps” to mitigate them, and “recklessly failed to take remedial steps necessary to contain the outbreak” once it began – including by “willfully delay[ing] investigation” and “obscur[ing] discovery of the outbreak’s source.”

This behavior was especially negligent, since, as IJDH states, “Defendants have long known that Haiti’s weak water and sanitation infrastructure created a heightened vulnerability to waterborne disease but failed to exercise due care to prevent the devastating outbreak of such disease.” Indeed, the U.N. previously attempted to lay blame for the epidemic with Haiti’s lacking water and sanitation infrastructure – seemingly overlooking that these factors made the U.N.’s behavior all the more dangerous and egregious.

The suit was filed just days after a high-level U.N. official finally spoke out and said that Haitian cholera victims are owed compensation. Speaking at a ceremony in Geneva where BAI Director Mario Joseph was a finalist for the Martin Ennals human rights award, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said “I have used my voice both inside the United Nations and outside to call for the right — for an investigation by the United Nations, by the country concerned, and I still stand by the call that victims of — of those who suffered as a result of that cholera be provided with compensation.”

But Pillay did not say who should compensate the victims and their families. Pillay’s comments in turn come only weeks after Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told the U.N. General Assembly that “The United Nations has ‘a moral responsibility” in the deadly cholera outbreak,” as the Miami Herald reported.

The lawsuit was greeted with a new wave of editorials condemning the U.N. both for its negligence in causing the epidemic and its “obstinacy” in refusing to take responsibility and ensure justice for the victims. The New York Times called on the U.N. to “acknowledge responsibility, apologize to Haitians and give the victims the means to file claims against it for the harm they say has been done them. It can also redouble its faltering, underfinanced response to the epidemic, which threatens to kill and sicken thousands more in the coming decade.” Bloomberg echoed these sentiments, adding that the organization should “create a compensation fund for families of the dead, the ailing and the many more who are expected to fall victim to cholera in Haiti over the next decade.”

Despite U.N. troops’ responsibility in the disease’s emergence, the U.N. Security Council unanimously decided to extend the U.N.’s Haiti mission (MINUSTAH’s) mandate for another year, meaning that another over half-million dollars will go to the unpopular military and police presence instead of efforts to eradicate cholera. Ironically, in making the decision, as the Associated Press reported, “The Security Council urged the United Nations on Thursday to keep up efforts to combat cholera in Haiti in a resolution extending the mandate of the peacekeeping force whose soldiers have been widely blamed for starting the epidemic.”

On September 19, in an event attended by U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Pamela White, USAID and Haitian government officials, the U.S.’ largest post-earthquake program came to its official close. According to Ambassador White, the $155 million Haiti Recovery Initiative (HRI) “is among the U.S. Government’s biggest earthquake response programs, and throughout its entire lifetime, the program has remained committed to helping Haitians rebuild their communities and work with national and local leadership to prioritize and respond to community needs.” But, as the program comes to a close, there remain more questions than answers as to what was accomplished.

In the first days after the earthquake in Haiti, USAID awarded contracts to Chemonics International and Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), each with a value of up to $50 million dollars. The contracts were awarded through USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, which aims to support “U.S. foreign policy objectives…in priority countries in crisis,” according to their website. Chemonics’ contract with USAID, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, explains that “OTI seeks to focus its resources where they will have the greatest impact on U.S. diplomatic and security interests.” Further, while noting that “OTI cannot create a transition or impose democracy,” they can “identify and support key individuals and groups…In short, OTI acts as a catalyst for change where there is sufficient indigenous political will.”

A press release from USAID announcing the end of the program lists a number of interventions taken by OTI: provision of emergency materials to those displaced, removal of rubble, cash-for-work programs and rehabilitation of government infrastructure, among others. While the press release contains few details, quarterly and annual reports on the OTI website are supposed to provide greater detail — yet there hasn’t been an update posted in over a year-and-a-half. When asked about the lack of disclosure in December 2012, a USAID official responded that “Due to USAID’s website overhaul, more information will be available in the New Year.” No such information has been posted.

USAID Refuses to Release Info to Prevent “Demonstrations”

What information has been made public about OTI’s operations in Haiti has called into question the efficiency and performance of OTI’s contractors. In October 2012, the USAID Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released an audit on the HRI program, finding that the program was “not on track” to complete its projects on schedule. The audit also found that Chemonics was operating with little to no oversight on the part of USAID. Performance indicators were “not well-defined” and only one performance evaluation was completed despite the contract stating that “they should be conducted between two and four times a year.” A previous USAID OIG audit found that OTI was not performing internal financial reviews, despite the contractors “expending millions of dollars rapidly…in a high-risk environment.”

Documents obtained from Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by HRRW have redacted cost information, and the contractually mandated report on to whom Chemonics distributed funds has not been released either. After HRRW appealed the redactions, USAID responded in July, upholding their decision and in fact going even further, reissuing the document that had previously been released, with the entire Statement of Work redacted (the previous version had redacted just part of it). As can be seen in the highlighted section of the image, below, USAID justifies the lack of transparency by stating that “if the information is released, we believe that the information will be used selectively and out of context,” and that “to release the information in such a way could willfully stir up false allegations about the HRI and cause strife within target communities.” Finally, USAID notes that the “release of the information in the Statement of Work would likely instigate demonstrations and create an unsafe environment in which to implement and/or develop programs.” It is unclear how or why the projects listed in their press release would lead to such a violent reaction.

USAID FOIA

The response may refer to the last time OTI was active in Haiti, after the 2004 coup that ousted democratically-elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Field Reports from USAID at the time stated that they saw the “political transition” in 2004 as having “created a new environment for collaboration with the Interim Government of Haiti,” and that “Haiti’s future depends on elections that are considered free and fair to ensure the legitimacy of the new government.” Further reports from USAID describe how they used OTI-funded programs in neighborhoods to reduce participation in protests and limit support for politicians from Fanmi Lavalas, the party of the deposed Aristide. In August 2005, USAID reported that:

OTI initiated a Play for Peace summer camp in Petit Place Cazeau, the Port-au-Prince stronghold of Lavalas Party presidential candidate Father Gerard Jean-Juste… The fruits of these efforts were seen during a recent demonstration attended by 200 people. At the same time that the demonstration was taking place, 300 people were enjoying the summer camp activities. It is believed that this camp prevented the demonstration from being larger and giving greater legitimacy to the protesters. The coming weeks will see a deepening of OTI activities in Petit Place Cazeau, where events like the summer camp will become increasingly important now that Father Jean-Juste has been arrested. His imprisonment has inflamed pro-Lavalas fires in the area and made him a martyr to some Haitians. [The document has been edited on the USAID website]

The same month, a USAID-sponsored soccer game would be the scene of a horrific massacre, when masked killers armed with guns and machetes – accompanied by uniformed police – stormed a stadium in Martissant in the middle of a match and shot and hacked at least eight people to death. The Miami Herald described the perpetrators as a new “death squad.”

OTI’s work has also been the center of controversy in Venezuela and Bolivia. Recently released diplomatic cables from Wikileaks describe a five point plan, implemented by OTI from 2004-2006 that was aimed at “penetrating [Venezuelan president Hugo] Chavez’ Political Base,” “Dividing Chavismo,” “Isolating Chavez internationally,” and “Protecting Vital US business.” It’s a similar story in Bolivia, where OTI funds aided a separatist movement that attempted to destabilize the government in 2008. Demands for information on whom USAID was supporting in those countries and throughout Latin America – and why — went unanswered. OTI offices in Venezuela and Bolivia have both been closed after pressure from those governments.

While USAID may prefer to keep their projects secret, this lack of transparency may have the consequence of fostering distrust on the ground in Haiti.

On September 19, in an event attended by U.S. Ambassador to Haiti Pamela White, USAID and Haitian government officials, the U.S.’ largest post-earthquake program came to its official close. According to Ambassador White, the $155 million Haiti Recovery Initiative (HRI) “is among the U.S. Government’s biggest earthquake response programs, and throughout its entire lifetime, the program has remained committed to helping Haitians rebuild their communities and work with national and local leadership to prioritize and respond to community needs.” But, as the program comes to a close, there remain more questions than answers as to what was accomplished.

In the first days after the earthquake in Haiti, USAID awarded contracts to Chemonics International and Development Alternatives Inc. (DAI), each with a value of up to $50 million dollars. The contracts were awarded through USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, which aims to support “U.S. foreign policy objectives…in priority countries in crisis,” according to their website. Chemonics’ contract with USAID, obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, explains that “OTI seeks to focus its resources where they will have the greatest impact on U.S. diplomatic and security interests.” Further, while noting that “OTI cannot create a transition or impose democracy,” they can “identify and support key individuals and groups…In short, OTI acts as a catalyst for change where there is sufficient indigenous political will.”

A press release from USAID announcing the end of the program lists a number of interventions taken by OTI: provision of emergency materials to those displaced, removal of rubble, cash-for-work programs and rehabilitation of government infrastructure, among others. While the press release contains few details, quarterly and annual reports on the OTI website are supposed to provide greater detail — yet there hasn’t been an update posted in over a year-and-a-half. When asked about the lack of disclosure in December 2012, a USAID official responded that “Due to USAID’s website overhaul, more information will be available in the New Year.” No such information has been posted.

USAID Refuses to Release Info to Prevent “Demonstrations”

What information has been made public about OTI’s operations in Haiti has called into question the efficiency and performance of OTI’s contractors. In October 2012, the USAID Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released an audit on the HRI program, finding that the program was “not on track” to complete its projects on schedule. The audit also found that Chemonics was operating with little to no oversight on the part of USAID. Performance indicators were “not well-defined” and only one performance evaluation was completed despite the contract stating that “they should be conducted between two and four times a year.” A previous USAID OIG audit found that OTI was not performing internal financial reviews, despite the contractors “expending millions of dollars rapidly…in a high-risk environment.”

Documents obtained from Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by HRRW have redacted cost information, and the contractually mandated report on to whom Chemonics distributed funds has not been released either. After HRRW appealed the redactions, USAID responded in July, upholding their decision and in fact going even further, reissuing the document that had previously been released, with the entire Statement of Work redacted (the previous version had redacted just part of it). As can be seen in the highlighted section of the image, below, USAID justifies the lack of transparency by stating that “if the information is released, we believe that the information will be used selectively and out of context,” and that “to release the information in such a way could willfully stir up false allegations about the HRI and cause strife within target communities.” Finally, USAID notes that the “release of the information in the Statement of Work would likely instigate demonstrations and create an unsafe environment in which to implement and/or develop programs.” It is unclear how or why the projects listed in their press release would lead to such a violent reaction.

USAID FOIA

The response may refer to the last time OTI was active in Haiti, after the 2004 coup that ousted democratically-elected president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Field Reports from USAID at the time stated that they saw the “political transition” in 2004 as having “created a new environment for collaboration with the Interim Government of Haiti,” and that “Haiti’s future depends on elections that are considered free and fair to ensure the legitimacy of the new government.” Further reports from USAID describe how they used OTI-funded programs in neighborhoods to reduce participation in protests and limit support for politicians from Fanmi Lavalas, the party of the deposed Aristide. In August 2005, USAID reported that:

OTI initiated a Play for Peace summer camp in Petit Place Cazeau, the Port-au-Prince stronghold of Lavalas Party presidential candidate Father Gerard Jean-Juste… The fruits of these efforts were seen during a recent demonstration attended by 200 people. At the same time that the demonstration was taking place, 300 people were enjoying the summer camp activities. It is believed that this camp prevented the demonstration from being larger and giving greater legitimacy to the protesters. The coming weeks will see a deepening of OTI activities in Petit Place Cazeau, where events like the summer camp will become increasingly important now that Father Jean-Juste has been arrested. His imprisonment has inflamed pro-Lavalas fires in the area and made him a martyr to some Haitians. [The document has been edited on the USAID website]

The same month, a USAID-sponsored soccer game would be the scene of a horrific massacre, when masked killers armed with guns and machetes – accompanied by uniformed police – stormed a stadium in Martissant in the middle of a match and shot and hacked at least eight people to death. The Miami Herald described the perpetrators as a new “death squad.”

OTI’s work has also been the center of controversy in Venezuela and Bolivia. Recently released diplomatic cables from Wikileaks describe a five point plan, implemented by OTI from 2004-2006 that was aimed at “penetrating [Venezuelan president Hugo] Chavez’ Political Base,” “Dividing Chavismo,” “Isolating Chavez internationally,” and “Protecting Vital US business.” It’s a similar story in Bolivia, where OTI funds aided a separatist movement that attempted to destabilize the government in 2008. Demands for information on whom USAID was supporting in those countries and throughout Latin America – and why — went unanswered. OTI offices in Venezuela and Bolivia have both been closed after pressure from those governments.

While USAID may prefer to keep their projects secret, this lack of transparency may have the consequence of fostering distrust on the ground in Haiti.

The Organization of American States (OAS) will send electoral monitors to Haiti despite the election having not been scheduled, reports AFP. According to Frederic Bolduc, the OAS Special Representative to Haiti, the observers “intend to arrive several months in advance to help authorities register voters and then count votes.” Bolduc pointed out that setting the date of the election was up to the Haitian government and that the “OAS will not decide on a date.”

Elections, which were supposed to be held in November 2011, have yet to be scheduled as conflicts between the president and parliament over the electoral law continue. The head of the U.N. mission in Haiti, Sandra Honoré, told the U.N. Security Council (PDF) in late August that the “delay in the holding of long-overdue partial senatorial, municipal and local elections is of increasing concern and poses a series of risks to the stabilization process.” If elections are not held by January 2014, the terms of many parliamentarians will end, potentially shutting down an entire branch of Haiti’s government and allowing President Martelly to rule by decree.

On a trip to Washington D.C. last week, Haitian Senator Steven Benoit put the blame for the electoral delays squarely on Martelly. Benoit noted that “after two years of hide and seek” with the electoral reforms, formation of the electoral council and submission of the electoral law, there will not be time to reach an agreement before the terms of parliamentarians come to an end. Noting that Martelly told a crowd the previous week that for the next two years he would “run Haiti as he saw fit,” Benoit warned that “having President Martelly run Haiti without a Congress and without holding elections” would ensure a return to “political instability and turmoil.”

As with previous elections, the international community is footing the bill. A United Nations Development Program (UNDP) project, funded by the U.S., Canada, Brazil, the E.U. and others has already disbursed over $401,000 and has estimated the cost of holding elections to be over $32 million. The UNDP project aims to “strengthen the technical and strategic capabilities” of the Haitian electoral council, but the council itself has come under increasing scrutiny. Last week Benoit accused Martelly of having “done all he could to have a hand-picked electoral council.” According to AFP, the involvement of the OAS “elicited numerous complaints by opposition parties, which feel Haiti should determine its own ability to hold elections.” The reaction of the opposition may be a result of the OAS’s role during Haiti’s last election.

The election in November 2010, which led to Martelly becoming president, was plagued by record-high abstention, wide-spread fraud and the exclusion of over a dozen political parties. On election day, 13 of 19 candidates called for the election to be cancelled. The only independent analysis of the voting records, performed by the Center for Economic and Policy Research determined that it was “impossible to determine who should advance to a second round” due to the high number of irregularities. While Martelly was originally found to have placed third, thus missing out on the second round, the U.S. and other foreign powers were quick to cast doubt on the results. According to multiple reports, the international community “threatened” the sitting president “with immediate exile” if he did not “bow to their interpretation of election results.” Eventually an OAS delegation was brought to Haiti and, despite not conducting a statistical analysis, recommended overturning the first round results, thus putting Martelly into the second round.

In response the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) issued a statement urging “the United States and the international community to uphold the ideals of fairness and support a new Haiti election process that is free and fair, respecting the rights of the Haitian people.” The CBC had warned before the first round that the holding of such unfair elections “will come back to haunt the international community later.”

Despite the warnings and calls for new elections, the OAS succeeded in overturning the first round elections, setting the stage for the Martelly presidency and, three years later, the political battle over another electoral process.

The Organization of American States (OAS) will send electoral monitors to Haiti despite the election having not been scheduled, reports AFP. According to Frederic Bolduc, the OAS Special Representative to Haiti, the observers “intend to arrive several months in advance to help authorities register voters and then count votes.” Bolduc pointed out that setting the date of the election was up to the Haitian government and that the “OAS will not decide on a date.”

Elections, which were supposed to be held in November 2011, have yet to be scheduled as conflicts between the president and parliament over the electoral law continue. The head of the U.N. mission in Haiti, Sandra Honoré, told the U.N. Security Council (PDF) in late August that the “delay in the holding of long-overdue partial senatorial, municipal and local elections is of increasing concern and poses a series of risks to the stabilization process.” If elections are not held by January 2014, the terms of many parliamentarians will end, potentially shutting down an entire branch of Haiti’s government and allowing President Martelly to rule by decree.

On a trip to Washington D.C. last week, Haitian Senator Steven Benoit put the blame for the electoral delays squarely on Martelly. Benoit noted that “after two years of hide and seek” with the electoral reforms, formation of the electoral council and submission of the electoral law, there will not be time to reach an agreement before the terms of parliamentarians come to an end. Noting that Martelly told a crowd the previous week that for the next two years he would “run Haiti as he saw fit,” Benoit warned that “having President Martelly run Haiti without a Congress and without holding elections” would ensure a return to “political instability and turmoil.”

As with previous elections, the international community is footing the bill. A United Nations Development Program (UNDP) project, funded by the U.S., Canada, Brazil, the E.U. and others has already disbursed over $401,000 and has estimated the cost of holding elections to be over $32 million. The UNDP project aims to “strengthen the technical and strategic capabilities” of the Haitian electoral council, but the council itself has come under increasing scrutiny. Last week Benoit accused Martelly of having “done all he could to have a hand-picked electoral council.” According to AFP, the involvement of the OAS “elicited numerous complaints by opposition parties, which feel Haiti should determine its own ability to hold elections.” The reaction of the opposition may be a result of the OAS’s role during Haiti’s last election.

The election in November 2010, which led to Martelly becoming president, was plagued by record-high abstention, wide-spread fraud and the exclusion of over a dozen political parties. On election day, 13 of 19 candidates called for the election to be cancelled. The only independent analysis of the voting records, performed by the Center for Economic and Policy Research determined that it was “impossible to determine who should advance to a second round” due to the high number of irregularities. While Martelly was originally found to have placed third, thus missing out on the second round, the U.S. and other foreign powers were quick to cast doubt on the results. According to multiple reports, the international community “threatened” the sitting president “with immediate exile” if he did not “bow to their interpretation of election results.” Eventually an OAS delegation was brought to Haiti and, despite not conducting a statistical analysis, recommended overturning the first round results, thus putting Martelly into the second round.

In response the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) issued a statement urging “the United States and the international community to uphold the ideals of fairness and support a new Haiti election process that is free and fair, respecting the rights of the Haitian people.” The CBC had warned before the first round that the holding of such unfair elections “will come back to haunt the international community later.”

Despite the warnings and calls for new elections, the OAS succeeded in overturning the first round elections, setting the stage for the Martelly presidency and, three years later, the political battle over another electoral process.

The United Nations mission in Haiti, already facing a credibility crisis over its introduction of cholera, is facing new allegations that one of its troops raped an 18-year old woman this past weekend in the town of Leogane, according to police inspector Wilson Hippolite. In an e-mailed statement, the U.N. acknowledged that they “are aware of the allegations made against a military staff member” and noted that a “preliminary investigation has been launched to determine the facts of the case.”

According to Metropole Haiti, the alleged assault occurred off National Highway #2 on Saturday when the 18-year old woman was approached by a Sri Lankan U.N. military officer. A Justice of the Peace, conducting a preliminary investigation, visited the site of the alleged assault on Sunday and found a used condom. Further tests are being conducted, according to the report. The accused has been moved to a different MINUSTAH base in another part of the country as the investigation unfolds. As of July 30, Sri Lanka had over 860 troops stationed in Haiti, making it the third largest troop contributing country to the 9 year-old mission.

This is but the latest in a string of sexual abuse scandals that have plagued the U.N. mission in Haiti. And it’s not the first time Sri Lankan troops have been involved; in 2007 over 100 Sri Lankan members of MINUSTAH were repatriated after allegations of “transactional sex with underage girls.” In fact, according to the U.N. Conduct and Discipline Unit, there have been 78 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by members of MINUSTAH reported in just the last 7 years.

Responding to the latest allegation, the U.N. mission noted that “the UN has a zero tolerance policy regarding sexual exploitation and abuse that we, at MINUSTAH, strictly enforce.” However the U.N. lacks the authority to hold accountable those who are found responsible. Troops stationed in Haiti under the U.N. mission are subject only to the justice system of their home country. In 2011, four Uruguayan troops were repatriated after a video surfaced showing the sexual assault of a Haitian man. Though the case has dragged on in the Uruguayan legal system, this week they were sentenced to 2 years and 1 month in prison. However, as they served 3 months last year as the case progressed, they will not have to return to prison, according to local news reports.

In response to the ever-expanding list of sexual abuse allegations, MINUSTAH has stepped up its efforts to train police and military on sexual conduct. The latest report of the Secretary General for the U.N. Security Council states that 1,074 personnel were put through “training sessions” and that MINUSTAH leadership, “consistently delivered a strong message to all staff members to maintain the highest standards of conduct at all times.” But, without any real authority to punish those who violate the standards, the number of sexual abuse cases continues to rise. Through the first 8 months of 2013, there had already been 13 allegations. The latest makes 14. While MINUSTAH makes up less than 10 percent of U.N. peacekeeping forces worldwide, the mission has accounted for over 35 percent of all sexual abuse and exploitation allegations against all such U.N. forces in 2013.

The United Nations mission in Haiti, already facing a credibility crisis over its introduction of cholera, is facing new allegations that one of its troops raped an 18-year old woman this past weekend in the town of Leogane, according to police inspector Wilson Hippolite. In an e-mailed statement, the U.N. acknowledged that they “are aware of the allegations made against a military staff member” and noted that a “preliminary investigation has been launched to determine the facts of the case.”

According to Metropole Haiti, the alleged assault occurred off National Highway #2 on Saturday when the 18-year old woman was approached by a Sri Lankan U.N. military officer. A Justice of the Peace, conducting a preliminary investigation, visited the site of the alleged assault on Sunday and found a used condom. Further tests are being conducted, according to the report. The accused has been moved to a different MINUSTAH base in another part of the country as the investigation unfolds. As of July 30, Sri Lanka had over 860 troops stationed in Haiti, making it the third largest troop contributing country to the 9 year-old mission.

This is but the latest in a string of sexual abuse scandals that have plagued the U.N. mission in Haiti. And it’s not the first time Sri Lankan troops have been involved; in 2007 over 100 Sri Lankan members of MINUSTAH were repatriated after allegations of “transactional sex with underage girls.” In fact, according to the U.N. Conduct and Discipline Unit, there have been 78 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by members of MINUSTAH reported in just the last 7 years.

Responding to the latest allegation, the U.N. mission noted that “the UN has a zero tolerance policy regarding sexual exploitation and abuse that we, at MINUSTAH, strictly enforce.” However the U.N. lacks the authority to hold accountable those who are found responsible. Troops stationed in Haiti under the U.N. mission are subject only to the justice system of their home country. In 2011, four Uruguayan troops were repatriated after a video surfaced showing the sexual assault of a Haitian man. Though the case has dragged on in the Uruguayan legal system, this week they were sentenced to 2 years and 1 month in prison. However, as they served 3 months last year as the case progressed, they will not have to return to prison, according to local news reports.

In response to the ever-expanding list of sexual abuse allegations, MINUSTAH has stepped up its efforts to train police and military on sexual conduct. The latest report of the Secretary General for the U.N. Security Council states that 1,074 personnel were put through “training sessions” and that MINUSTAH leadership, “consistently delivered a strong message to all staff members to maintain the highest standards of conduct at all times.” But, without any real authority to punish those who violate the standards, the number of sexual abuse cases continues to rise. Through the first 8 months of 2013, there had already been 13 allegations. The latest makes 14. While MINUSTAH makes up less than 10 percent of U.N. peacekeeping forces worldwide, the mission has accounted for over 35 percent of all sexual abuse and exploitation allegations against all such U.N. forces in 2013.

Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, on a trip to Europe to ensure continued donor support, was asked by France 24’s Marc Perelman about the ongoing cholera epidemic and U.N. responsibility. Perelman notes that “all the scientific evidence up to date points to the U.N.” but questioned Lamothe as to why the Haitian government has “never pushed for a public apology.” Lamothe stressed that the government has tried to address the issue through “direct dialogue” with the U.N., but also noted that the U.N. has an obvious “moral responsibility” to address the epidemic.

The U.N., in addition to not issuing an apology, has never accepted responsibility for the deadly epidemic that has killed over 8,260 and sickened over 675,000 in the last three years. A U.N.-backed cholera elimination plan has been unable to raise the required funds to adequately address the issue, despite Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s assurance in late 2012 that he would “use every opportunity” to raise the necessary funds. A high-level donor meeting to raise funds for the plan, scheduled for early October in Washington, has now been postponed until 2014. It had been expected that Mr. Ban, as well as World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, would attend. The plan, which requires some $450 million over its first two years, remains less than half funded.

In the meantime, cholera continues to ravage the country as the response capabilities of national actors diminish. In a bulletin earlier this week, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that “resources for cholera response, including funding and staff, have been in steady decline since 2012.” OCHA concludes by stating that “if this trend continues, it would be virtually impossible to effectively and efficiently respond to the epidemic in the event of sudden outbreaks.” The lack of adequate resources also means that detailed data on where cholera outbreaks are occurring and how many are dying is becoming harder and harder to come by. The actual toll of this imported disease could be much higher than the official numbers indicate.

In late August, members of the U.N. Security Council and countries contributing to MINUSTAH met to discuss the extension of the mission’s mandate. Not a single country (PDF) raised the issue of U.N. responsibility for cholera, though many praised the Secretary General’s efforts to eliminate it. MINUSTAH’s proposed budget for 2013/2014 is $576,619,000, more than enough to fully fund the cholera elimination plan over its first two years.

In light of continued U.N. denials of responsibility, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux continue to seek legal redress on behalf of over 6,000 cholera victims. An earlier claim brought to the U.N. was dismissed as “not receivable” in February. A recent Al Jazeera Fault Lines documentary by Sebastian Walker takes a detailed look at the evolution of the epidemic, its impact on rural communities and the responsibility of the U.N. In it, Walker interviews Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary General Eduardo Del Buey. After Del Buey reads, verbatim, the U.N. press release from February, Walker pressures him to explain the decision:

            Walker: That statement was very brief.

Del Buey: It’s a brief statement, it’s a legal statement and that’s about all we’re going to say on that.

Walker: But why is the claim not receivable?

Del Buey: Well, it’s not the United Nations practice to discuss in public the details of our responses to claims against the organization.

Walker: So you don’t have to explain yourselves?

Del Buey: No.

Walker: You are saying that not only do they not get compensation but you don’t even have to explain why?

Del Buey: Well, that’s exactly what I said, that’s the United Nations’ policy.

Walker: What would you say to a family member in Haiti who has had somebody die as a result of this disease?

Del Buey: Well, I would basically say…as a U.N. employee or as a human being?

Walker: Both?

Del Buey: As both. I would simply say, sorry about your loss, I’m really sorry that the cholera happened, we don’t exactly know what the origins are but we’re working as hard as we can to address the issue.

Walker: Everyone knows what the origins were. The scientific community is united…

Del Buey: Our panel told us that it was due to a confluence of circumstances…

Walker: Including being brought to Haiti, most likely, by U.N. peacekeepers.

            Del Buey: Well, that’s not what it said.*

The original report produced by the U.N.-appointed panel of experts did blame a “confluence of factors”, but also found that the disease was introduced “as a result of human activity” and that the sanitation conditions at the U.N. base very near to where the outbreak started “were not sufficient to prevent fecal contamination” of the nearby river. In March of 2013, the same panel (though no longer affiliated with the U.N.) issued a new report, based on all the additional scientific evidence, concluding that the U.N. was the “most likely source of introduction of cholera into Haiti.”

*Unofficial transcript.

Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, on a trip to Europe to ensure continued donor support, was asked by France 24’s Marc Perelman about the ongoing cholera epidemic and U.N. responsibility. Perelman notes that “all the scientific evidence up to date points to the U.N.” but questioned Lamothe as to why the Haitian government has “never pushed for a public apology.” Lamothe stressed that the government has tried to address the issue through “direct dialogue” with the U.N., but also noted that the U.N. has an obvious “moral responsibility” to address the epidemic.

The U.N., in addition to not issuing an apology, has never accepted responsibility for the deadly epidemic that has killed over 8,260 and sickened over 675,000 in the last three years. A U.N.-backed cholera elimination plan has been unable to raise the required funds to adequately address the issue, despite Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s assurance in late 2012 that he would “use every opportunity” to raise the necessary funds. A high-level donor meeting to raise funds for the plan, scheduled for early October in Washington, has now been postponed until 2014. It had been expected that Mr. Ban, as well as World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, would attend. The plan, which requires some $450 million over its first two years, remains less than half funded.

In the meantime, cholera continues to ravage the country as the response capabilities of national actors diminish. In a bulletin earlier this week, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that “resources for cholera response, including funding and staff, have been in steady decline since 2012.” OCHA concludes by stating that “if this trend continues, it would be virtually impossible to effectively and efficiently respond to the epidemic in the event of sudden outbreaks.” The lack of adequate resources also means that detailed data on where cholera outbreaks are occurring and how many are dying is becoming harder and harder to come by. The actual toll of this imported disease could be much higher than the official numbers indicate.

In late August, members of the U.N. Security Council and countries contributing to MINUSTAH met to discuss the extension of the mission’s mandate. Not a single country (PDF) raised the issue of U.N. responsibility for cholera, though many praised the Secretary General’s efforts to eliminate it. MINUSTAH’s proposed budget for 2013/2014 is $576,619,000, more than enough to fully fund the cholera elimination plan over its first two years.

In light of continued U.N. denials of responsibility, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux continue to seek legal redress on behalf of over 6,000 cholera victims. An earlier claim brought to the U.N. was dismissed as “not receivable” in February. A recent Al Jazeera Fault Lines documentary by Sebastian Walker takes a detailed look at the evolution of the epidemic, its impact on rural communities and the responsibility of the U.N. In it, Walker interviews Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary General Eduardo Del Buey. After Del Buey reads, verbatim, the U.N. press release from February, Walker pressures him to explain the decision:

            Walker: That statement was very brief.

Del Buey: It’s a brief statement, it’s a legal statement and that’s about all we’re going to say on that.

Walker: But why is the claim not receivable?

Del Buey: Well, it’s not the United Nations practice to discuss in public the details of our responses to claims against the organization.

Walker: So you don’t have to explain yourselves?

Del Buey: No.

Walker: You are saying that not only do they not get compensation but you don’t even have to explain why?

Del Buey: Well, that’s exactly what I said, that’s the United Nations’ policy.

Walker: What would you say to a family member in Haiti who has had somebody die as a result of this disease?

Del Buey: Well, I would basically say…as a U.N. employee or as a human being?

Walker: Both?

Del Buey: As both. I would simply say, sorry about your loss, I’m really sorry that the cholera happened, we don’t exactly know what the origins are but we’re working as hard as we can to address the issue.

Walker: Everyone knows what the origins were. The scientific community is united…

Del Buey: Our panel told us that it was due to a confluence of circumstances…

Walker: Including being brought to Haiti, most likely, by U.N. peacekeepers.

            Del Buey: Well, that’s not what it said.*

The original report produced by the U.N.-appointed panel of experts did blame a “confluence of factors”, but also found that the disease was introduced “as a result of human activity” and that the sanitation conditions at the U.N. base very near to where the outbreak started “were not sufficient to prevent fecal contamination” of the nearby river. In March of 2013, the same panel (though no longer affiliated with the U.N.) issued a new report, based on all the additional scientific evidence, concluding that the U.N. was the “most likely source of introduction of cholera into Haiti.”

*Unofficial transcript.

Human rights defenders in Haiti are reporting new death threats, and seem to be openly persecuted by powerful individuals and groups, as Mark Snyder and Other Worlds describe today. In an article posted on Huffington Post, Snyder profiles the case of attorney Patrice Florvilus and the Haitian human rights organization Defenders of the Oppressed. Snyder writes:

“Those before you were strong. Now they’re all dead. Stop what you are doing, or the same will happen to you.”

Those were the words delivered to Frena Florvilus, Director of Education and Advocacy of the Haitian human rights organization Defenders of the Oppressed (DOP), early on the morning of August 11 by one of four unidentified men who attempted to enter DOP’s office. The threat echoed numerous others that have been leveled against the DOP office and its staff since they took on the case of a young man who died in police custody within hours of his April 15 arrest, his body left covered with bruises and wounds inflicted by a severe beating. DOP has also been targeted for its work to support displaced peoples who face violent eviction from their camps, by the government and private landowners who are determined to rid the country of camps.

Among the latter may be former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier himself, as

Reynald Georges, a lawyer representing Haiti’s ex-dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, has brought formal accusations of arson and “association with wrongdoers” (conspiracy) against DOP’s founder and director, Patrice Florvilus, and five others. The accused received criminal court summons for Monday, August 19. Their lawyers filed an objection and request that the charges be dropped, but the prosecutor’s office has reissued the summons for Thursday, August 22.

On Monday, hundreds from the displacement camps and community organizations in Port-au-Prince marched to the courthouse together to show their support. A second march will occur Thursday.

Snyder goes on to place the threats and charges against Florvilus in the context of other human rights defenders, such as Bureau des Avocats Internationaux director Mario Joseph, who have also experienced threats and harassment from both unknown sources and Haitian authorities. Along with Joseph, Florvilus has stood up for some of the most vulnerable members of post-earthquake Haitian society – internally displaced persons (IDP’s). Like Joseph, Florvilus has also found himself confronted by attorney Reynold Georges, “best known,” Snyder writes, “for representing the recently returned ex-dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, who faces charges of crimes against humanity.” As with Joseph, the threats against Florvilus have prompted international alarm from Amnesty International, among others.

In this case, however, there appears to be a more direct connection between Georges – and Duvalier – and forced eviction and other rights violations against IDP’s. The incident in question is an April arson attempt against IDP Camp Acra, the site of multiple such attacks aimed at forcing residents to leave. According to Snyder:

The latest wave of threats relate to a chain of events that started on April 13th, when some 1,500 families living in a camp known as Camp Acra, came under threat of eviction from lawyer Reynald Georges. …Witnesses have stated that Georges entered Camp Acra brandishing a firearm, guarded by five Haitian officers and accompanied by a justice of the peace. He threatened to remove people from the land by “any means necessary.” Claiming at the time that the land belonged to his client, Duvalier, Georges is reported to have told the crowd that heavy equipment was on its way to raze the camp.

At 2:00 a.m. that morning, unknown assailants attempted to burn down the camp. Arson attacks have been used repeatedly to illegally evict displaced earthquake survivors still stuck in the camps. Families in Camp Acra activated to contain the fire to the several tarp shelters upon which ignited gasoline-soaked rags had been thrown. No physical injuries were reported.

Snyder reports how following inaction by the Haitian National Police, camp residents protested. It was then that the police acted, “randomly” arresting two men from the crowd of protesters: Méris Civil and Darlin Lexima. It was Civil who died in police custody hours after his arrest; Florvilus and DOP were able to secure Lexima’s release. Lexima says he was tortured by police. Florvilus took on Lexima and the Civil family as clients, and following that – as has happened to Joseph, he started to get followed by the police.

According to the DOP, however, this time the harassment and intimidation has come not just from Duvalierists and the police, but also from MINUSTAH:

On August 15, a patrol vehicle of heavily armed UN soldiers parked in front of DOP’s office. When one of the DOP team asked about their intentions, the soldiers responded that they were “simply following orders.”

Under its mandate, MINUSTAH is supposed to “to support …Haitian human rights institutions and groups in their efforts to promote and protect human rights; and to monitor and report on the human rights situation in the country,” as well as “protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.” But as we have described before, aside from MINUSTAH soldiers’ own shootings and killings of civilians and other crimes, the UN troops have often supported HNP in their actions even when those actions have resulted in killings, forced evictions, and other severe human rights violations.

While U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is proposing “reducing MINUSTAH’s military strength from 6,270 to 5,021 by June 2014” and is reportedly considering “replacing …MINUSTAH, ‘with a smaller, more focused assistance mission by 2016,’” such a time table far exceeds Haitians’ patience for the U.N. mission. Due in part to MINUSTAH perpetration of human rights abuses, and its having caused the cholera epidemic through reckless waste disposal near the Artibonite River, 72.2 percent of Port-au-Prince residents who were polled in August 2011 had wanted MINUSTAH out of the country either right away, within six months or within a year. 

Human rights defenders in Haiti are reporting new death threats, and seem to be openly persecuted by powerful individuals and groups, as Mark Snyder and Other Worlds describe today. In an article posted on Huffington Post, Snyder profiles the case of attorney Patrice Florvilus and the Haitian human rights organization Defenders of the Oppressed. Snyder writes:

“Those before you were strong. Now they’re all dead. Stop what you are doing, or the same will happen to you.”

Those were the words delivered to Frena Florvilus, Director of Education and Advocacy of the Haitian human rights organization Defenders of the Oppressed (DOP), early on the morning of August 11 by one of four unidentified men who attempted to enter DOP’s office. The threat echoed numerous others that have been leveled against the DOP office and its staff since they took on the case of a young man who died in police custody within hours of his April 15 arrest, his body left covered with bruises and wounds inflicted by a severe beating. DOP has also been targeted for its work to support displaced peoples who face violent eviction from their camps, by the government and private landowners who are determined to rid the country of camps.

Among the latter may be former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier himself, as

Reynald Georges, a lawyer representing Haiti’s ex-dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, has brought formal accusations of arson and “association with wrongdoers” (conspiracy) against DOP’s founder and director, Patrice Florvilus, and five others. The accused received criminal court summons for Monday, August 19. Their lawyers filed an objection and request that the charges be dropped, but the prosecutor’s office has reissued the summons for Thursday, August 22.

On Monday, hundreds from the displacement camps and community organizations in Port-au-Prince marched to the courthouse together to show their support. A second march will occur Thursday.

Snyder goes on to place the threats and charges against Florvilus in the context of other human rights defenders, such as Bureau des Avocats Internationaux director Mario Joseph, who have also experienced threats and harassment from both unknown sources and Haitian authorities. Along with Joseph, Florvilus has stood up for some of the most vulnerable members of post-earthquake Haitian society – internally displaced persons (IDP’s). Like Joseph, Florvilus has also found himself confronted by attorney Reynold Georges, “best known,” Snyder writes, “for representing the recently returned ex-dictator, Jean-Claude Duvalier, who faces charges of crimes against humanity.” As with Joseph, the threats against Florvilus have prompted international alarm from Amnesty International, among others.

In this case, however, there appears to be a more direct connection between Georges – and Duvalier – and forced eviction and other rights violations against IDP’s. The incident in question is an April arson attempt against IDP Camp Acra, the site of multiple such attacks aimed at forcing residents to leave. According to Snyder:

The latest wave of threats relate to a chain of events that started on April 13th, when some 1,500 families living in a camp known as Camp Acra, came under threat of eviction from lawyer Reynald Georges. …Witnesses have stated that Georges entered Camp Acra brandishing a firearm, guarded by five Haitian officers and accompanied by a justice of the peace. He threatened to remove people from the land by “any means necessary.” Claiming at the time that the land belonged to his client, Duvalier, Georges is reported to have told the crowd that heavy equipment was on its way to raze the camp.

At 2:00 a.m. that morning, unknown assailants attempted to burn down the camp. Arson attacks have been used repeatedly to illegally evict displaced earthquake survivors still stuck in the camps. Families in Camp Acra activated to contain the fire to the several tarp shelters upon which ignited gasoline-soaked rags had been thrown. No physical injuries were reported.

Snyder reports how following inaction by the Haitian National Police, camp residents protested. It was then that the police acted, “randomly” arresting two men from the crowd of protesters: Méris Civil and Darlin Lexima. It was Civil who died in police custody hours after his arrest; Florvilus and DOP were able to secure Lexima’s release. Lexima says he was tortured by police. Florvilus took on Lexima and the Civil family as clients, and following that – as has happened to Joseph, he started to get followed by the police.

According to the DOP, however, this time the harassment and intimidation has come not just from Duvalierists and the police, but also from MINUSTAH:

On August 15, a patrol vehicle of heavily armed UN soldiers parked in front of DOP’s office. When one of the DOP team asked about their intentions, the soldiers responded that they were “simply following orders.”

Under its mandate, MINUSTAH is supposed to “to support …Haitian human rights institutions and groups in their efforts to promote and protect human rights; and to monitor and report on the human rights situation in the country,” as well as “protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.” But as we have described before, aside from MINUSTAH soldiers’ own shootings and killings of civilians and other crimes, the UN troops have often supported HNP in their actions even when those actions have resulted in killings, forced evictions, and other severe human rights violations.

While U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is proposing “reducing MINUSTAH’s military strength from 6,270 to 5,021 by June 2014” and is reportedly considering “replacing …MINUSTAH, ‘with a smaller, more focused assistance mission by 2016,’” such a time table far exceeds Haitians’ patience for the U.N. mission. Due in part to MINUSTAH perpetration of human rights abuses, and its having caused the cholera epidemic through reckless waste disposal near the Artibonite River, 72.2 percent of Port-au-Prince residents who were polled in August 2011 had wanted MINUSTAH out of the country either right away, within six months or within a year. 

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