As oversight bodies call for restraint amid ongoing protests in Haiti, the United Nations is ending its 15-year peacekeeping mission in the country. [IACHR Press Release; UN News: Protests] On October 16, 2019, a special political mission, the United Nations Integrated Office in Haiti (BINUH), replaced the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH), shifting the UN’s focus from law enforcement to governance. [UN News: Security Council] The UN Secretary General appointed Helen Meagher La Lime, a citizen of the United States, as the Special Representative for Haiti to head the BINUH, which is charged with promoting and strengthening political stability and peaceful relations, good governance, and human rights. [UN Press Release] The MINUJUSTH and its predecessor, the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), leave behind a mixed legacy, marred with controversies ranging from sexual abuse to a cholera epidemic. The new special political mission will begin its work in the midst of an economic crisis, fuel and food shortages, and ongoing violent protests against President Jovenel Moïse that have resulted in at least 30 deaths since September 2019. [Washington Post; UN News: Security Council]
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In the wake of a new cholera outbreak in Haiti following Hurricane Matthew, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced a plan to raise 400 million dollars to treat and eradicate this disease and to provide financial assistance to affected communities and individuals, including victims of the 2010 outbreak that killed over 9,500 people and infected 800,000 others. [NY Times; UN Radio; Partners in Health] The announcement, and acceptance of “moral responsibility,” comes six years after UN peacekeepers caused the contamination and amid heightened criticisms of the UN response. The UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Phillip Alston, among others, has called on the UN to accept legal responsibility, ensure its own accountability to victims, and avoid further damaging the integrity of the UN system. [NY Times; NPR]
Although members of the international community, civil society, and the media welcome the effort to improve the United Nations response in Haiti, criticisms of the plan center around the lack of acknowledgement of responsibility in creating the epidemic and the absence of a public apology. [OHCHR Press Release: Lawyers; IJDH Press Release] Read more
In the Case of Dominican and Haitian People Expelled v. the Dominican Republic, IACtHR Finds Multitude of Human Rights Violations
Last week, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights released its opinion in Case of Dominican and Haitian People Expelled v. the Dominican Republic, where it held that the State’s discrimination, detention, and mass expulsion of individuals of Haitian descent violated the rights to: juridical personality, nationality, a name, personal liberty, privacy, fair trial, judicial protection, equal protection before the law, freedom of movement and residence, rights of the family, rights of the child, and the guarantee of non-discrimination, as set forth in the American Convention on Human Rights. See I/A Court H.R., Case of Dominican and Haitian People Expelled v. the Dominican Republic. Preliminary Objections, Merits, Reparations and Costs. Judgment of August 28, 2014. Series C No. 282, para. 512 (Spanish only).
The Inter-American Court has previously condemned the Dominican Republic’s treatment of persons of Haitian descent and its counterpart, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, has urged the State to modify its immigration laws and practices to comply with regional human rights standards, including by averting the implementation of a 2013 Constitutional Court judgment that directed authorities to strip possibly thousands of their citizenship. [IACHR Press Release] Now, in a binding judgment, the Inter-American Court has echoed these findings and directed the State to take specific action. Read more
In Landmark Ruling, Haitian Court Opens Investigation into Jean-Claude Duvalier for Crimes against Humanity
On February 20, 2014, a historic Haitian appellate court ruling opened the door to the possible prosecution of former Haitian President Jean-Claude Duvalier (“Baby Doc”) for crimes against humanity. Survivors of the Duvalier regime’s abuses and human rights activists see the decision as an important victory in their quest for justice and accountability. [UN Radio; Reuters]
UN Compensates Zimbabwe Staffer, but Haitian Victims' Struggle for Justice Continues in Cholera Outbreaks Attributed to UN
At the end of February, the United Nations (UN) issued two decisions concerning its role is the spread of cholera in Haiti and Zimbabwe. In Haiti, victims of cholera and their advocates claim that UN peacekeepers from Nepal introduced cholera to the country, but the UN has stated it will not hear their complaint. [UN] In Zimbabwe, a UN official claims that he was fired from his post after warning senior officials about a possible cholera outbreak, and a UN tribunal has awarded him compensation. [Al Jazeera]
The latest report by the United Nations Victims’ Rights Advocate (VRA) reviews the progress made in 2019 to address sexual exploitation and abuse by United Nations personnel, and calls on the international community to dedicate additional resources to supporting and protecting victims and ensuring accountability. [UN News] Jane Connors, the first-ever UN Victims’ Rights Advocate is responsible for strengthening the institutional responses to sexual violence and abuse by peacekeepers and other personnel, and her latest report identifies many developments while calling on the international community to “address the root causes of sexual exploitation and abuse, including gender inequality and the deep power imbalance between [UN] personnel and those whom we are mandated to protect and aid.” See Special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse – Report of the Secretary-General, 17 February 2020, para. 4. Connors mentions particular challenges, including high turnover within the UN, resolving paternity claims, protecting victims’ confidentiality while promoting accountability, providing material assistance to victims, and identifying and addressing sexual exploitation and abuse in the many countries without dedicated UN victims’ rights advocates in the field. See id.
In March, universal and regional human rights bodies and experts will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports and country visits. Five United Nations treaty bodies and two pre-sessional working groups will be in session to assess States’ progress regarding economic, social and cultural rights; children’s rights; civil and political rights; the rights of persons with disabilities; and, migrants’ rights. The Human Rights Council will continue to hold its first of three regular sessions in 2020. Seven UN special procedures will conduct country visits in March. Additionally, two UN Working Groups will hold sessions in Geneva, Switzerland. Regionally, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will hold public sessions. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will also hold a Grand Chamber hearing.
The UN treaty body sessions, the ECtHR’s Grand Chamber hearing, and the public hearings of the IACtHR and the IACHR may be watched via UN Web TV, the ECtHR’s website, and the IACtHR’s Vimeo page and the IACHR’s YouTube page, respectively. Civil society members wishing to attend sessions should monitor updates related to the spread of the COVID-19 (Corona) virus, which may result in cancelled sessions or meetings and/or additional health checks.
In the month of September, several universal and regional bodies will be in session to assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, and the review of individual complaints. Five United Nations treaty bodies will meet in September to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to the rights of persons with disabilities; the rights of migrant workers; children’s rights; and economic, social, and cultural rights. The UN Human Rights Council will be in session to review communications as well as thematic and country-specific reports. Seven UN special procedures will conduct country visits focusing on States’ international financial obligations, the rights of persons with albinism, the right to food, the independence of judges and lawyers, adequate housing, cultural rights, and LGBTI issues, respectively. Additionally, the UN working group focused on forced disappearances will be in session.
Regionally, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), and the European Committee of Social Rights (ESCR) will all be in session. Finally, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights will hear one case related to the prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens and the right to an effective remedy.
The UN treaty body sessions, the public hearings of the European Court, and the public hearings of the IACtHR, may be watched via UN Web TV, the European Court’s website, and the Inter-American Commission’s website or Vimeo, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
In the month of August, various universal and regional bodies will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through interactive dialogues, the consideration of State and civil society reports, and the review of individual complaints. Three United Nations treaty bodies will meet in August to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to the prevention of torture, the elimination of racial discrimination, and the end of discrimination against persons with disabilities. Further, civil society can register this month to participate in the sessions of four treaty bodies that will meet in September to engage with States regarding their obligations related to the rights of migrant workers; children’s rights; economic, social, and cultural rights; and the rights of persons with disabilities, respectively. The Human Rights Council’s Advisory Committee and the Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Communications will also be in session to review thematic human rights issues and individual complaints. Additionally, two UN working groups will hold sessions on issues of involuntary disappearances and arbitrary detention, respectively.
The UN treaty body sessions and the hearings of the Inter-American Court may be watched via UN Web TV and the Inter-American Court’s website or Vimeo, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
Civil society and other stakeholders warned of consequences to human rights defenders and victims of rights abuses when the United States formally announced last month its decision to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council. [HRW: Blame; HRW: Oppose; OHCHR Press Release: Dialogue] The decision – effective June 19, 2018, over a year before the end of the State’s term, which would have expired on December 31, 2019 – marks the first time a State has voluntarily left the Human Rights Council before serving its full term. It is the second time, though, a State has failed to complete its full term on the Human Rights Council; Libya was removed from the Council in 2011. [UN General Assembly Press Release] See U.S. Department of State, Remarks on the UN Human Rights Council.
The primary reasons listed by the United States for its departure include the Council’s alleged anti-Israel bias; the membership on the Council of States that commit human rights abuses, including Cuba, Venezuela, China, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and a failure of the Human Rights Council to reform itself, including in the election process. See U.S. Department of State, Remarks on the UN Human Rights Council. Additionally, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, asserted that key human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were also responsible for the U.S.’s departure. [HRW: Blame; HRW: Oppose] Civil society organizations have rejected the Ambassador’s claims, and have spoken out against the move, expressing concern that countries like China and Russia will take advantage of the absence of the U.S. to weaken human rights protections and programs, among other consequences. [HRW: Blame; HRW: Oppose] The United States has made other withdrawals from international commitments since the start of 2017, including its departures from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Iran nuclear deal, and Paris Agreement. [IJRC: Paris Agreement; NYT: Iran Nuclear Deal; Washington Post: TPP] Read more