IHRC Board Meets Amidst Mounting Criticism

April 08, 2011

As Bill Clinton heads to Haiti to participate in the second day of meetings of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC), the exclusion of Haitian and civil society input should be on top of the agenda. Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald reported yesterday, “Almost nine months after a battered Haiti approved a U.S.-backed blueprint for its recovery, small nongovernmental and grassroots community organizations essential to the country’s long-term reconstruction are being left behind in the nearly $2 billion in reconstruction projects that have been approved.” But not only are they missing out on the funding, they are being overlooked in the decision making process as well.

In December the 12 Haitian members of the IHRC wrote a formal letter outlining their marginalization within the IHRC. They wrote:

The twelve Haitian members present here feel completely disconnected from the activities of the IHRC. There is a critical communication and information shortage at the TIC [Information and Communication Technology] on the part of the Executive Secretary and even more from the Executive Committee. In spite of our role in the governance structure of the institution, we have so far received no follow-up on the IHRC activities.

In general, contact is only established one day before the board meetings. Board members have time neither to read, nor analyze, nor understand–and much less to respond intelligently–to projects submitted at the last minute, despite all the complaints expressed and promises made on this subject.

The letter adds that, “In reality, Haitians members of the board have one role: to endorse the decisions made by the Director and Executive Committee.”

The IHRC originally had a mandate of 18 months, which would expire in October, however yesterday members discussed an extension of the mandate. Meanwhile, a group of Haitian civil society organizations have called for the IHRC’s dissolution. The organizations cite the overall lack of progress and marginalization of grassroots groups and the Haitian state:

A year after the promises of reconstruction with billions of U.S. dollars, we find that nothing of significance has really been undertaken. There has been no break with the approaches and practices that have, over the years, impoverished and rendered the Republic of Haiti so vulnerable. On the contrary, we are witnessing an acceleration of all the phenomena reflecting collective decline and regression. The millions of people affected directly or indirectly by the earthquake continue to face the consequences of this decline in a state of destitution and without accompaniment. The extraordinary movement of inter-Haitian solidarity that emerged forcefully in the aftermath of the earthquake has been completely marginalized by the dominant forces.

We call for the disappearance of the IHRC whose existence is an affront to our collective dignity. Budgets for specific projects for the rehabilitation and development of new infrastructure should be managed by the competent organs of the state in each of the areas concerned. We must put an end to the creation of parallel bodies that accelerate the destruction of the state. We call preferably for the introduction of new and effective mechanisms of social control to ensure the participation of the sectors that make up the country’s majority in decision-making and strategic directions.

A new analysis by the UN Special Envoy for Haiti shows that just 37 percent of the $4.6 billion in funding pledged at the donor conference one year ago has been disbursed.  While many, including the U.S., are waiting until the new government takes office to distribute the pledges, the situation on the ground has not improved. As the official start of the rainy season has now passed, organizations are already noticing an uptick in the number of cholera cases. Also, despite high-level statements touting the decrease in camp population as a success, the fact is that most were forced to leave because of illegal evictions and lack of services. Many have left the camps for housing that was severely damaged in the earthquake and has yet to be repaired. As the rains increase and hurricane season approaches, those living in damaged housing may face just as grave dangers as do those in the camps. Yet the IHRC has not been able to address the fundamental housing needs and human rights of Haitians.

As part of the UN Universal Periodic Review, set to take place in October, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti as well as numerous other Haitian and international NGOs, submitted a report on housing rights that discusses the IHRC at length. The report notes that:

In September 2010, the IHRC put forth a draft Neighborhood Return and Housing Reconstruction Framework that it created in consultation with the Government of Haiti and the UN’s Shelter Cluster. The Framework purports to “meet the needs of the families affected by the earthquake and help restore the basis of peoples’ social and economic lives.”[39] It does not adequately reflect international guidelines on durable solutions for IDPs that ensure protection of their human rights, however.[40] For example, the Framework does not provide sufficient protection for renters, those with informal living arrangements, or those who have a right to occupy disputed land under domestic or international law, which make up the vast majority of those displaced by the earthquake.[41]

The report continues:

While the Government of Haiti has the primary role to respect, protect and fulfill the right to housing, the IHRC plays a central role in deciding the direction of Haiti’s reconstruction and as such, has a responsibility to implement a human rights based approach throughout its activities, which includes capacity building, participation, transparency and accountability.[42] The IHRC has not engaged meaningfully with Haitian stakeholders to ensure their participation in decision-making on housing policy.  The IHRC lacked a consultation mechanism that would allow IDPs, the primary stakeholders in the Framework, the opportunity to provide input on design and to ensure necessary modifications to the projects to maximize the realization of human rights.  Drafts of the Framework have not been made available in Creole, the only language spoken by a majority of the population.  The lack of transparency and participation is inconsistent with a human rights based approach, and has resulted in little ownership of the plan by the Government and affected communities. At the time of this submission, the Government has yet to adopt this or any other return and resettlement policy, exposing IDPs to continued vulnerability and lack of access to sustainable housing solutions.

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