Haiti Moves to Tighten Laws on Sexual Violence

Women protest insecurity and living conditions at a tent camp in central Port-au-Prince, January 2011.
Women protest insecurity and living conditions at a tent camp in central Port-au-Prince, January 2011.

Published the day before International Women’s Day last week by Inter-Press Service:

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Mar 7 2013 (IPS) – Haiti is poised to enact major reforms to its penal code to make it easier for victims of rape to prosecute their attackers.

The amendments to the penal code would precisely define sexual assault in accordance with international law, legalise certain types of post-rape abortions, and criminalise marital rape.

The changes also mandate state-funded legal aid to victims who cannot pay for counsel. Discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation” would be banned in limited circumstances, in a first for Haitian law.

“I think it’s an exciting time,” Rashida Manjoo, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, said in February at a conference on the reforms. “It’s a small start with the penal code, but it’s a good start.”

Lawyers and activists at the conference pored over a three-page draft of the reforms. They’re optimistic that Haiti’s parliament will approve them within the year. Haiti’s prime minister and the ministry of justice have indicated they support the amendments. Continue reading “Haiti Moves to Tighten Laws on Sexual Violence”

Audio: Haitians describe harsh lives, failures of resettlement

Here’s a feature story that ran in yesterday’s Free Speech Radio News newscast:

President Martelly and officials commemorate the third anniversary of the quake on January 12, 2013.
President Martelly and officials commemorate the third anniversary of the quake on January 12, 2013.

Script:

Saturday marked the third anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake. UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton flew in for a brief, somber ceremony held with Haiti’s President, Michel Martelly, at a mass grave outside the capital city…

AMBIENT SOUND TENT CAMPS

Walking through the Carradeux camp in Port-au-Prince, it’s easy to get lost. 10,000 families live here. At the entrance, there are neat rows of transitional shelters – wooden one-room shacks. Continue reading “Audio: Haitians describe harsh lives, failures of resettlement”

The Uses of Paul Farmer: The Doctor and the Haitian Machine

Published by CounterPunch:

Photo credit: Reuters
Photo credit: Reuters

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
– Martin Luther King Jr.

PORT-AU-PRINCE – Dr. Paul Farmer stood alone in a corner of Hotel Karibe conference room, watching the spectacle.

Reporters buzzed around Bill Clinton, jostling with one another and yelling out questions. The former president was the newly-minted United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti.

It was September 2009, just a few months before the earthquake.

Farmer had been appointed as the Deputy Envoy. But it seemed perverse that the reporters would ignore him.

“Dokte Paul,” as his patients here call him, has been a true friend to Haiti.

A Harvard-educated doctor and public health expert, Farmer co-founded Partners In Health. As a tiny clinic in rural Haiti has grown into a medical complex and now a hospital, he’s innovated and delivered top-class healthcare to the poorest Haitians for three decades.

His accomplishments are profiled in Tracy Kidder’s book Mountains Beyond Mountains, which is taught in classrooms across the country. I was reading it at the time.

As a recent college graduate and a newcomer to Haiti, I wasn’t going to miss this chance to interview a personal hero of mine. So I ran over.

We talked about Haiti’s challenges. He folded his arms and leaned in, peering through round wire-rimmed glasses. His answers were thoughtful. Farmer had always been a sharp critic of the international community’s treatment of Haiti.

Eventually I asked him a blunt question: “Do you think the administration here was under pressure from international forces to fight the increase in the minimum wage?”

I’d seen graffiti calling for bump in wages in Port-au-Prince earlier that day. In the preceding months, as the government stalled on enacting the wage hike from $3 to a mere $5 per day, protests had engulfed the downtown area.

Farmer stammered a little bit, said he didn’t know, and subtly changed the subject.

One reader left an ominous comment on the interview. “No disrespect to Dr. Farmer, as I believe he is sincere,” he wrote, “but he is now a part of the ‘machine’ that essentially drives Haiti.” Continue reading “The Uses of Paul Farmer: The Doctor and the Haitian Machine”

Three Years Later: Three Answers to Haiti’s Predicament

Photo credit: Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press

I wrote a guest post for the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s excellent Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch:

1.  How would you describe the situation in Haiti today?

“Peyi a vin kraze.” As Haiti enters a new year, I’ve heard this phrase several times from different Haitians over the past week. It’s usually said with a resigned, slight shake of the head.

In English, this means “The country has completely crashed.”

Last week, the U.S. Coast Guard repatriated 168 people fleeing Haiti by boat. At least 360,000 people displaced by the earthquake live in appalling conditions in tent camps throughout the capital city, three years after the earthquake. The cholera epidemic killed 27 more people in the first week of January, bringing the total number of casualties to nearly 8,000.

So the situation is dire. And while I don’t want to add to Haiti’s bad press, this really should not be understated. It’s hard to take the government’s ubiquitous new slogan, “Haiti is Open for Business,” seriously.

At the same time, it’s important to point out that in the minds of outsiders, Haiti often comes packaged with a set of spurious assumptions.

Haiti is simultaneously romanticized and demeaned as so unique, poor and chaotic that it becomes a category unto itself. It’s the land of zombies and vodou (usually this word is spelled pejoratively as voodoo). Haitians are amazingly “resilient” – code for inhuman, able to go on suffering indignities that others could not.

In fact, Haiti is more like the United States than one might think. The country is afflicted with vast wealth inequality and an influential power elite. Many young people can’t find jobs. The healthcare system is a mess. Farmers are struggling to maintain their livelihoods amidst environmental destruction. Continue reading “Three Years Later: Three Answers to Haiti’s Predicament”

“If I don’t have a different type of worker in 12 years, I have failed. Haiti has failed.”

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It’s about time I publish this interview I conducted last year with Georges Sassine, President of The Association of Industries of Haiti and Executive Director of CTMO-HOPE. Under the US law of the same name, the HOPE commission is charged with maintaining labor standards in Haitian factories that receive tariff-exemptions and trade privileges for garments they export United States.

I found his blunt honesty to be refreshing. Sassine lays out his entire argument, projecting 12 years into the future, for how garment manufacturing can alleviate Haiti’s poverty in the long run. He’s a man on a mission.

He also responds to charges made last year by union activists that bosses were firing workers for organizing in Port-au-Prince’s textile factories. I quoted in him my report for Inter-Press News on the controversy. The Better Work Haiti labor monitoring program later backed up the allegations and the workers were ultimately reinstated.

I introduced myself as a journalist trying to learn more about the alleged worker firings, as we sat down at a table at the Hotel Montana:

Georges Sassine: The incidents were not about organizing anything.  The incidents were: One of them was a guy who wanted to make something, and the other was someone distributing leaflets and they asked him to stop doing it and he started to yell. Continue reading ““If I don’t have a different type of worker in 12 years, I have failed. Haiti has failed.””

A WikiLeaks Haiti retrospective

I made the initial contacts, over a period of months in 2011, that led to a partnership between WikiLeaks, The Nation magazine, and Haiti Liberte to analyze and publish the cache of secret diplomatic cables from the Port-au-Prince Embassy.

The always-excellent Public Archive invited me to compile this retrospective of the important revelations showing the scope of US influence on Haiti. Check it out.

gal.embassy0125.gi

If you had free reign over classified networks… and you saw incredible things, awful things… things that belonged in the public domain, and not on some server stored in a dark room in Washington DC… what would you do?”

“God knows what happens now. Hopefully worldwide discussion, debates, and reforms… I want people to see the truth… because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public.

Bradley Manning, “Manning-Lamo Chat Logs Revealed” Wired (July 2011).

Alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning’s pretrial hearing is expected to end next week. In what little media coverage the trial has received so far, attention has focused more on the harsh conditions of Manning’s imprisonment than the disruptive political ramifications of having exposed the secret machinations of the most powerful nation in the world.

In one of the thousands of leaked diplomatic cables, former US Ambassador to Haiti Janet Sanderson described Haiti as a “small, poor nation in the shadow of the American behemoth.” Unsurprisingly, as the Atlantic Wire put it, the cables highlight how America has been micromanaging and manhandling the Haitian government into aligning their policies with U.S. interests.”

Consider this less-than-comprehensive overview of the profound American impact on Haiti in three key areas, as revealed by Manning and WikiLeaks:

POLITICS

US officials led a far-reaching international campaign aimed at keeping former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide exiled in South Africa, rendering him a virtual prisoner there for the last seven years, according to secret US State Department cables…

Read the rest at The Public Archive »

Bill Clinton Admits the UN Introduced Cholera to Haiti

Bill Clinton
UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton speaks to hospital staff in Mirebalais.

From my blog entry for the Pulitzer Center in March:

In early March, Bill Clinton showed he is learning the lessons of Haiti’s man-made disasters. Far from natural byproducts of the nation itself, the widespread poverty, misery and deaths among Haitians have an awful lot to do with mistakes made by influential foreigners.

After the January 2010 earthquake, Clinton acknowledged that he was wrong to champion agricultural trade policies during his presidency that benefitted “some of my farmers in Arkansas,” but damaged the livelihoods of Haitian peasant farmers.

Those policies helped drive Haitians out of the countryside into overcrowded, shoddily-built urban slums in Port-au-Prince, where many of them perished in the quake. Earthquakes of that magnitude don’t kill tens of thousands of people in industrialized countries.

“I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did; nobody else,” Clinton said in testimony before the U.S. Senate.

On March 7, Clinton candidly admitted to having learned another lesson from another man-made tragedy in Haiti—the October 2010 cholera outbreak which has killed more than 7,000 and made sick at least 500,000 Haitians.

At a press conference at a new hospital in Mirebalais, with United Nations troops standing guard outside, I asked him whether he agreed with recent comments by the American ambassador to the UN that those responsible for the cholera’s introduction to Haiti should be “held accountable.”

Cholera was alien to Haiti and the Caribbean prior to the outbreak. Multiple scientific studies have pinpointed UN peacekeeping troops as the definitive or most likely source of imported cholera bacteria from Nepal to central Haiti.

Clinton sidestepped the question, at one point calling that decision “above his pay grade.” He receives a symbolic $1 per year salary from the UN as its special envoy to Haiti.

But he also became the first UN representative to acknowledge the truth that’s long been in plain sight, ever since reporters captured shocking images of waste from the Mirebalais UN peacekeeping base flowing into Haiti’s waterways.

“I don’t know that the person who introduced cholera to Haiti, the UN peacekeeping soldier from South Asia, was aware that he was carrying the virus,” Clinton said. (It is a bacterium, not a virus.) Continue reading “Bill Clinton Admits the UN Introduced Cholera to Haiti”

New Allegations of Sexual Exploitation Against UN Peacekeepers in Haiti

With the news this morning of new sexual exploitation allegations involving minors against UN peacekeeping personnel in Haiti, I wanted to flag this follow-up ABC News piece to the story we broke last September, published earlier this month. The peacekeeping troops accused of sexually abusing the young man in Port Salut have been released from custody. The impunity I described in detail here continues:

The case against five United Nations peacekeepers caught on tape in an alleged sexual assault on a Haitian teenager has apparently stalled and the accused soldiers have been freed, a UN official has confirmed.

The men were sent back to Uruguay last summer to face trial after cell phone video obtained by ABC News appeared to show uniformed soldiers assaulting an 18-year-old Haitian as he is held down on a mattress in a UN compound in Port Salut, Haiti. The video shows soldiers in their UN uniforms, one of them with his pants down. The victim’s mother said her son was taken inside the base by five UN soldiers who accused him of making fun of them.

“They beat and maltreated him,” Rose-Marie Jean told ABC News in an interview. “Two raped him from behind.”

The release of the accused men comes at an unsettling time for the UN in Haiti, two years after a devastating earthquake rocked the struggling island nation, and three months after the grainy video of the alleged assault triggered street protests from those who believe international peacekeepers are able to abuse Haitian citizens with impunity. Since the video surfaced, more UN peacekeepers — this time from Brazil — have been accused of beating Haitian civilians. Read the rest →

Rose Mina deserves better (updated)

It’s a cold Christmas night in Seattle and I’m up at 3 in the morning.  I miss the warmth of Haiti.

Readers, I have a request.  Does anyone remember Rose Mina Joseph?

I wrote about her back in September after breaking the news of abuses by UN soldiers caught on cell phone video in Port Salut, Haiti.  Beyond the incident captured by the video, it turned out that soldiers from the local Uruguayan UN peacekeeper battalion had had children with a number of local Haitian women.  UN regulations strongly advise against this, given the “unequal power” levels inherent in any such relationship.  Some of the women (photos) and their children had been all but abandoned by soldiers who had finished their deployments to Haiti.  But the soldiers are absolutely forbidden from having sex with minors, much less impregnating them.  The country’s legal age for sexual consent is 18.

Rose Mina became pregnant five days after turning 17 last January.  The father was Uruguayan peacekeeper Julio Posse, seen in the photo below of her birthday celebration.  Posse was sent back to Uruguay last summer for what the UN later admitted was a “very serious breach of the Code of Conduct.”  The UN mission said:

As a disciplinary measure, the soldier was repatriated and banned from serving in other UN missions. He is required by his hierarchy in Uruguay to assist the young girl and her to be born baby. We are following up on whether he was sanctioned, what was the sanction, and whether he has executed it, as well as on the continuation of assistance to the girl and the baby.

According to Rose Mina, her son’s father sent a small amount of money once since her story was covered in the press.  A flurry of journalists visited her in those days at the tiny ramshackle home she shares with her mother and uncle.  They cook under a thatched roof covering behind the house.

Apparently I’m the only one who gave her a phone number before leaving.  We’ve kept in touch since then.  Normally Rose Mina is reserved and soft-spoken. She doesn’t say a whole lot.  But on Friday she called me and was upset that I hadn’t called her sooner.  I called her back.

She immediately launched into a long, flowing tirade against “Julio.” He told her he would send money again, but has not.  Recently she called him and he claimed he couldn’t talk because he’d been in an accident.  He picked up again when she called another day, sounding perfectly normal, then abruptly hung up on her.

Rose Mina is infuriated that he hasn’t followed through on his promises and has lied to her.  She’s decided to name her son Anderson Joseph, instead of naming the boy after his father, as she had planned. For good measure, she called all the other journalists who interviewed her “thieves.”

Here are the text messages she sent me after we talked.  She’s always had a funny way of writing.  A translation:

“Hi, how are you?  Where are you?  I’m not doing well at all because the father doesn’t ever call me, he doesn’t send money for me and the child.  Merry Christmas. . .Ansel hello, it’s Rose Mina.  The foreigners in MINUSTAH never sent any small amount of money for the baby.  Try to call them for me so they can send it for me.  Merry Christmas.”

What happened to the “continuation of assistance to the girl and the baby” pledged by the UN in the statement above?  Hasn’t one of the UN’s many humanitarian agencies partnered with its peacekeeping mission to provide Rose Mina a minimal level of support?

No.  When I first wrote the story, I pleaded with the woman who sent me that statement, the UN mission’s public information officer, to follow through on the helping Rose Mina and her child.   The baby hadn’t been born yet.  Rose Mina worried about not having enough money to pay the only hospital in the town.

A few weeks later, not long before she gave birth, I called the the PIO back.  Once again, she brushed me off, assuring me someone was following up.   Rose Mina said nothing happened.  So from Port-au-Prince, I wired Rose Mina some money myself.

Here finally is the request.  I’d like to wire Rose Mina some money again.  But I’m barely keeping up with my work in Seattle.  Just last week, I wired a friend in Cite Soleil $70 USD, in part because his mom died and the morgue was about to throw her body out (here’s a photo of the transfer).   For Rose Mina, I’d like to encourage you to make a donation to this PayPal link.   If y’all hit $50, I’ll throw in $50 myself and we’ll send her an even $100.  Maybe we can do even more than that. If anyone needs more documentation to feel comfortable about donating, let me know.  The dollars that you donate to my PayPal account will simply reimburse me for $50 of the wire transfer, which I’ll send using my credit card and Western Union at a local Vietnamese market. I’ll update this post with a photo of the the transfer receipt and again when I get word that Rose Mina has received it.

That’s pretty much it.  I don’t like asking for money, nobody does.  But I’m just a little too upset and not quite rich enough to not try this. Especially with all the buying stuff and gift giving going on around these parts.  Rose Mina deserves better.

As does another close friend, who was promised assistance from two large, well-known international aid organizations. They removed her (and by extension her five children) from a beneficiary list without informing her or apologizing. But that, like so much of what goes in Haiti, is another story – yet it’s really the same at its core. Haitians and their nation are treated as less than sovereign with rights.

Update: Wow!  This worked quickly. In the seven hours since I posted this, two readers have donated $75 between them.  I was expecting more of a series of smaller donations.  I’ll chip in $25, save my other $25 for someone else or a future remittance to Rose Mina, and send out the wire transfer as soon as I can (photo forthcoming). Thank you Nathan Yaffe and Kathleen O’Flynn. Here’s the receipt. (If you’d still like to make a donation to Rose Mina, just label it “for Rose Mina” in the purpose line in PayPal checkout.)

*Rose Mina gave me permission to share all this with you. Additionally, you or I could both try contacting the UN mission’s PIO Sylvie van den Wildenberg at 011 509 3702 9042 or vandenwildenberg@un.org, but that’s likely to go nowhere. And please let me know if you have an idea for how to help Rose Mina in a non-financial way, such as linking her with effective legal counsel or a women’s group with a presence in Port Salut. And, to be clear, I have never given nor offered a source or interviewee money before publishing an article. On occasion, it’s something I’ve volunteered well after whatever journalistic work I’ve done involving them has been completed, when the need is great, as it often is in Haiti.

From Haiti to Seattle. And back.

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Interviewing folks living under old tents shredded by wind and rain days as Hurricane Tomas approached Haiti in Nov. 2010

I’ve taken a reporting/blogging position in Seattle, my hometown, with the very cool Common Language Project. It’s a move I’ve been planning for a while.

“Ou poko ap vini?” “M poko konnen ki lè m ka vini anko non.”

That is to say, I don’t know when I can visit again or return. I am hoping it can be soon.

Upon learning of my imminent departure, another foreigner asked if I wasn’t going to have a “going away party.” The thought hadn’t occurred to me. My “party” turned out to be eating tonm tonm and diri sos pwa on a Sunday afternoon with a friend and her kids (and a “pi red blan”). Good times.

I’m going to miss Haiti.

I’ll miss folks yelling “blan,” “blanco,” “mon blan,” and “hey you,” at me in the street. I’ll miss the ability to instantly surprise and delight them by responding in their language (a beautiful one, and I don’t mean French).

I’ll miss Haitian cuisine, which kicks American food’s ass any day of the week. I’ll especially miss lam veritab, pate, mangos, zabokas, diri sos pwa, lalou and Malta H. Haiti’s bananas are better than American bananas too.

I’ll miss the near-total lack of enforced traffic laws and zooming about on a Chinese motorcycle. I won’t miss the traffic. And I won’t miss the shiny NGO-stickered sport utility vehicles and foreign military patrols that overpopulate the streets.

I’ll miss living in a football-crazy culture where everyone recognizes my soccer jerseys and interrogates me about my team loyalties.  I’ll miss slipping, sliding, and falling during gravel-strewn street games, trying to prove (with mixed success) that a ti blan kap jwe too.

I’ll miss widespread class consciousness and impassioned political discussions over lunch and in tap-taps. I dread integrating back into a far more depoliticized, ignorant, corporate media-saturated society – though maybe I’m being overly pessimistic.

I’ll miss walking home, feeling reflective, and being momentarily awed by the sheer strength and dignity of the Haitian people as they go about their business: laborers, machanns, students, drivers, police, etc.. I won’t miss the first question I often I received: Can you get me a job with an aid group?

I’ll miss being useful. My conscience (stricken with credible proposition that I’m betraying Haiti by leaving now) is a little bit eased knowing I broke some important stories professionally, and on a person-to-person level, I materially helped out various friends, neighbors, and strangers alike.

This list falls well short of being comprehensive.

I will miss Weed, Elizabeth, Mark, Feindy, Claudy, Esraie, Billy, Junior, Yvon, Nesly, Jonas, Lovely, Rose-Marie, Marie-Michel, Rose Mina, Johnny’s father, and others.

Nap wè.  I will be back, a harder, better, faster, stronger journalist. And I expect to keep writing about Haiti, from time to time, while lòt bò.