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Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Haiti Action Committee


Respect for human rights: The case of the UN cholera in Haiti

On December 15, 2016, UNIFA's Masters Program in Political Science and Law hosted attorney Brian Concannon Jr. to discuss recent developments with regard to the tragic introduction of the deadly disease cholera to Haiti by UN troops.

On December 1, 2016, the UN Secretary-General put an end to 6 years of denial by promising to invest 400 million dollars in the fight against cholera in Haiti and to compensate the victims. This victory was possible thanks to a network of cholera victims, activists, health professionals, academics, journalists, political leaders, scientific filmmakers and even UN insiders, all led by a group of lawyers in Haiti and the United States. Attorney Concannon discussed how this network has been successful and how the lessons learned from the cholera case can be applied to other struggles for social justice.

Lawyer and human rights activist Brian Concannon Jr. heads the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH). This institute helps Haitians to uphold the human rights they so desperately need in order to defy poverty and vulnerability. The IJDH, together with its partner organization in Haiti, the Office of International Lawyers (BAI), aims to challenge these violations before Haitian, US and international courts, train progressive Haitian lawyers, document human rights violations and work with local activists in Haiti, North America and around the world.

Mr. Concannon lived and worked in Haiti for nine years, from 1995 to 2004, first with the United Nations and in 1996 with the BAI. The BAI and IJDH launched several cases of high-impact and innovative human rights violations, including the case of the Raboteau Massacre trial in 2000 and considered one of the most prominent human rights cases in the Americas. More recently, the IJDH/BAI took legal action against the United Nations for introducing cholera in Haiti, and finally the project of responsibility and prevention of rape. See French text at http://unifa-edu.info/contenu/


Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti on October 4, 2016 as a category 4 with winds of 145+ mph. 

Severe damage caused by Category 4 Hurricane Matthew in the first week of October, and then followed by extensive flooding from heavy rains, caused the government of Haiti to postpone elections until November 20, 2016. In recent weeks, Haiti has been hit with cycles of very heavy rains that have caused extensive flooding (Cap Haitian, a major city in the North was under water), and these rains made reaching hurricane victims with disaster relief even more difficult as roads continued to be impossible to use. 

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Hurricane Matthew…resulted in the country’s largest humanitarian emergency since the 2010 earthquake. It caused extensive flooding and mudslides, damage to road infrastructure and buildings, as well as electricity and water shortages.” The hurricane caused serious damages throughout seven of Haiti’s ten departments, but the southern region and northwest areas were most impacted and thousands of families lost everything. Some  reports state that the hurricane hit Haiti as a category 5 in some areas.

Haiti human rights group, National Human Rights Defense Network RNDDH, reported that “two million one hundred thousand (2,100,000) people were affected by the hurricane. Of these, one million four hundred thousand (1,400,000) are in vulnerable situations and in need of humanitarian aid and no less than one hundred seventy-five thousand five hundred and nine (175,509) people are displaced.” See The Passing of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti : RNDDH demands respect for human dignity by the Haitian Government, Political Parties, and Humanitarian Agencies, October 21 2016.

More than 175,000 people were able to stay in 307 temporary shelters but were made to vacate school buildings so schools can reopen and voting polls can be arranged for elections. Many of the voting stations were destroyed by the hurricane.

OCHA Haiti in collaboration with humanitarian partners issued a report for the period of 19-21 October 2016 as follows: 894,057 children are among the 2.1 million affected people, 112,500 children under five are at risk of acute malnutrition, 2,271 cholera cases suspected between 4-19 October alone, 806,000 people need urgent food assistance, 36 health facilities destroyed, 2.1 million affected people, 1.4 million people need humanitarian aid, 175,500 people displaced. Source: UN and [Haitian] Government.

“The situation in Haiti is catastrophic. Every disaster is a human tragedy. It also has a terrible impact on our economy. In the coming months, we will need a lot of support to help affected families get back on their feet, recover their homes and livelihood, rehabilitate roads, bridges, ports and other utilities that have collapsed, as well as rebuild health centers, schools, agricultural and other infrastructures that have been destroyed or damaged, and restore our environment,” said Romain Yves Bastien, Minister of Economy and Finance of Haiti. See World Bank Stands With Haiti and Offers Support Following Hurricane Matthew, October 7, 2016.

Cholera spiked immediately following the hurricane due to the extensive flooding. See below for statistics. See Al Jazeera coverage on cholera since the hurricane  https://youtu.be/LMC9W8n_22E 

Dr. Paul Farmer, of Partners in Health, who serves as the United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti on Health, was asked by NPR radio if he thinks cholera could spread as a result of Hurricane Matthew. “Do you think cholera could spread more widely after the storm as a result of people drinking contaminated water?” Dr. Farmer, who manages two hospitals in Haiti, responded: “I don't want to say I'm terrified, but that'll do. You can die in hours from cholera. It's one of the true infectious disease emergencies.” He added, “There's a very wide spectrum of cholera. Sometimes it's like a bad case of diarrhea. But you can die in hours from severe cholera. You can lose up to 10 liters of fluid a day or more. In a few hours you're completely desiccated. You don't have a lot of time to replenish the fluid and electrolytes that get lost." See Dr. Paul Farmer Is 'Surprised And Upset And Humbled' After Visit To Haiti, National Public Radio, October 21, 2016.

On November 12, 2016,  a 4.4 earthquake occurred in the Southern region of Haiti but felt widely, causing more fear and homelessness, and then followed by more heavy rains.

Food scarcity is of great concern throughout Haiti. 

Despite these disaster conditions (60,000 earthquake victims still living in tent camps prior to Hurricane Matthew, and the new humanitaan conditions and crisis following the hurricane and several rounds of heavy rains causing massive flooding and increased homelessness and starvation) the U.S. government has restarted deporting people to Haiti after a very brief suspension following the hurricane. See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-deportations-homeland-security-haiti-hurricane-matthew-flights-immigrants-a7408426.html 


Haiti: Hurricane Matthew - Situation Report No. 22 (16 November 2016)  

The most recent UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report summarizes the immediate impact of Hurricane Matthew:

Main Points
  • The delivery of humanitarian assistance is expected to slow down significantly over the next seven to ten days in anticipation of the electoral process and limited availability of transport and security assets.
  • The percentage of extremely food-insecure people who have received food assistance increased to 65 per cent, as 520,000 people of the targeted 806,000 have now been reached.
  • Health partners have expressed concern over growing evidence of a spike in cases of severe acute malnutrition in hard-to-reach areas in the Sud region. 
  • Cholera response partners are optimistic that the vaccination campaign of 8 to 15 November will contribute to reducing transmission in Sud and Grand’Anse and the risk of a future outbreak (Source: UNICEF)

Situation Overview 
During the reporting period, pressure has increased on humanitarian organizations to scale up delivery of aid ahead of the anticipated interruption of programmes due to nationwide polls scheduled for 20 November. MINUSTAH will suspend flights for partners from 15 to 24 November and security escorts from 19 to 21 as it increases support to the elections. Forces from the Haitian National Police (PNH) will also be reassigned mostly to secure polling stations. Meanwhile, national personnel from aid agencies are being released, when necessary, to travel to cast their votes. These factors will significantly reduce the scope and reach of humanitarian activities over the next week. For example, large food distributions will be put on hold on 16 November and resume on 24 November in all affected regions. UNHAS helicopters will continue to operate and deliver smaller food stocks to remote areas.
Once escorts resume, a new set of instructive guidelines issued by MINUSTAH will be implemented.
They aim to improve the organization, scheduling and procedures for future humanitarian convoys by road under its security from Port-au-Prince to Jérémie and Les Cayes. This will allow requesters and providers to better coordinate and streamline the use of available resources.
In response to continued tensions around the presence of displaced families in an estimated 86 schools across affected areas, a multi sectoral task force on return of people in collective shelters was established on 14 November. It comprises representatives of the Centre d’Opérations d’urgence Départementales (COUD) and from the sectors of protection, shelter, food, WASH, and education. There is consensus among humanitarian partners and Government officials on the need for a coordinated approach to emptying schools that respects the rights and dignity of the displaced families amid limited resources and the pressure of time. The approach will be piloted in three schools that are earmarked for eviction and which pose particular security concerns to the authorities. Lessons learnt from this initial return will then be applied before the evacuations are rolled out more widely in Sud.
As reported earlier, some people in those collective shelters are extremely vulnerable. Protection considerations will guide the work of the task force. This is contingent on the rapid mobilisation of operational partners that have links with the communities. Service providers from the authorities in child protection, women’s issues and those working with the handicapped are being approached to support the initiative.
Humanitarian organizations in Grand’Anse are reporting a growing number of suspected cases of severe acute malnutrition in remote, mountainous areas, which were already prone to malnutrition before Hurricane Matthew. Further systematic screenings will be conducted in coming days. An estimated 112,500 children under the age of five are at risk of acute malnutrition, according to UNICEF.
Regarding cholera, UNICEF has stated that the national number of suspected cholera cases increased from the reported 2,236 cases during the four-week period prior to the hurricane to 5,100 cases within the four-week period after the hurricane. Over half (52 per cent) of the new cases were recorded between October 9 and November 5 in the departments of Grand’Anse and Sud. From 4 October to 7 November, an estimated 5,802 suspected cases of cholera have been reported, according to WHO/PAHO.
Partners supporting the Ministry of Health for the treatment of cases and those involved in rapid response in communities, however, remain optimistic as the fear of a nationwide severe outbreak of cholera in the weeks following Matthew did not happen at the expected scale so far. The Oral Cholera Vaccine (OCV) is also expected to contribute to further reduce transmission in Sud and Grand’Anse and the risk of a future national outbreak. The additional resources put recently to reinforce the response must remain in place to completely reverse the current trend, according to UNICEF.
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit http://unocha.org/.