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lundi 14 octobre 2013

No conscience left for Haiti?

Sunday, October 13, 2013
THE question in the headline was prompted by two recent developments regarding the Caribbean nation, one of the oldest independent republics in the modern world.
One is about a lawsuit against the United Nations filed in a New York court on behalf of victims of a cholera epidemic in Haiti that killed more than 8,000 people and made hundreds of thousands sick.
in the other, lawyers and human rights activists are up in arms against the Dominican Republic where last month, the Constitutional Court in Santo Domingo ruled in favour of stripping citizenship from children of Haitian migrants.
The New York lawsuit alleges that UN peacekeepers introduced cholera to Haiti in 2010. The lawyers are demanding compensation of US$100,000 for every person who died and US$50,000 for each of those who became ill, according to media reports.
The lawyers said they were left with no other option after the UN had rejected previous claims for compensation.
The UN relies on a 1947 convention which grants the UN immunity for its actions. As such, a spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, responding to media queries back in February, said the petition for compensation was "not receivable".
There is little or no dispute about the facts surrounding the case: Investigations have pointed strongly to leaking sewage at a camp for UN soldiers from Nepal, where cholera is endemic, as the origin of the outbreak in Haiti.
No cases of the bacterial infection, which causes diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and muscle cramps, had been recorded in Haiti for more than a century until the outbreak in late 2010. The particular strain of cholera that inflicted so much death and pain on Haiti is endemic to Nepal.
The Nepalese contingent was in Haiti as part of a United Nations peace-keeping and humanitarian mission to help the Caribbean nation recover from the deadly 7.0 magnitude earthquake which hit on January 12, 2010, killing more than 200,000 and leaving another 1.5 million in makeshift camps.
In addition to the UN, governments and people around the world responded with billions of dollars to one of the worst humanitarian disasters of modern times. But three years later, hundreds of thousands are still without homes, and the recovery effort was impacted by the cholera outbreak and the unwillingness of the UN to accept responsibility for the outbreak, despite the fact that its own commission to investigate the sources of the disease pointed the finger back at the UN.
Admittedly, the UN chief announced an initiative in December 2012 to help eradicate cholera over the next decade in Haiti.
Good: but this is not good enough. There needs to be an acknowledgement that a great harm was done, albeit in the name of doing good. Our common humanity demands no less and it is my hope that something positive will come out of the courts in New York, given the stonewalling and diplomatic inertia.
Mark Doyle, BBC international development correspondent, put the issue in perspective when he reported last week:
"But this story is not just about facts. It is about over 8,000 families in one of the poorest countries in the world who have lost loved ones. It is about a United Nations that tries to do good around the world but has, in Haiti, committed terrible errors."
I agree with Doyle's assessment that the immunity on which the United Nations now stands ceremoniously "was surely never designed for a case like this. This story is no longer about facts. It is about moral choices".
That outrageous decision in the Dom Rep
For centuries, Haiti and the Dominican Republic have shared the island of Santo Domingo in a historically uneasy relationship, though it has largely been mutually beneficial, despite the ever-present, naked racism.
Over the years, tens of thousands of Haitians were brought in by big landowners who needed them to work on farms. The Haitian migrants have been widely recognised as contributors to the economy.
International reporting on the recent development point out that up until 2010, the Dominican Republic granted citizenship to anyone born on its soil. However, in 2010, a new constitution gave citizenship only to those born in the country to at least one parent of Dominican blood or whose foreign parents were legal residents, according to the United Nations.
According to official figures released last May, there are at least 450,000 Haitian immigrants living in the Dominican Republic, most of them without resident permits.
One of them is Juliana Deguis, 29. A Dominican-born daughter of Haitian immigrants, she was refused a Dominican identity card and took her case to the country's constitutional court. By upholding the 2010 law, which applies to those born after 1929, the court has cut off avenues for redress. Human rights activists, according to various media reports, argue that the court decision has left descendants of Haitian migrants effectively stateless as they do not have any basis on which to claim citizenship on either side of the border.
Former Jamaica Prime Minister PJ Patterson has urged the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom) grouping to "strongly condemn recent developments in the Dominican Republic that could render stateless thousands of persons of Haitian descent.
"No one can be hoodwinked as to the reason and the purpose for this kind of discriminatory legislation. Within the region we have an obligation to speak and we cannot allow such inequities to go without our strongest condemnations," Patterson told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC). He is right.
Mr Patterson could have been thinking about a United Nations report of 2007 in which two UN human rights experts described the Dominican Republic as having a "profound and entrenched problem of racism and discrimination" against blacks in general and Haitians in particular.
Racism has been behind much of the treatment of Haiti for a long time. Ever since black people in Haiti waged a 13-year successful revolutionary war against the colonial might of Europe and declared their independence on January 1, 1804, the Haitian Republic has been met by a pattern of crippling blockades and embargoes, isolation, aggression, invasion and punitive measures by Europe and America.
Haiti was subjected to economic strangulation from the beginning. In 1825, France offered to lift embargoes and recognise the Haitian Republic if the Haitians paid out 150 million gold francs as restitution to France for loss of property in Haiti, including slaves.
Having no choice, Haiti borrowed money at usurious rates from France, and did not finish paying off its debt until 1947, by which time Haiti had become the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
In 2004, at the time of the 200th anniversary of Haiti's independence, the Haitian Government put together a legal brief in support of a formal demand for "restitution" from France. The sum sought was nearly US$22 billion, that is, the original 150-million gold francs, plus interest. France summarily rejected the claim.
Of course, external aggression has been compounded by a string of dictatorships, environmental degradation, natural disasters, and domestic misrule.
Today, both the claim for victims of the cholera in the ongoing court battle in New York and the protests against the ruling by the constitutional court in the Dominican Republic offer a new opportunity for the world to show that conscience is colour-blind. Dare we hope?
kcr@cwjamaica.com
Read more: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/No-conscience-left-for-Haiti_15237400#ixzz2hh7EAfyG

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