Human rights advocate calls for Haiti protections
Brian Concannon Jr. talks with students near anniversary of earthquakeIn a talk with Brandeis students and local community members, Brian Concannon Jr., director and founder of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), advocated for the incorporation of human rights protections into the reconstruction of Haiti.
Concannon described the wide array of problems that beset Haitian citizens: lack of access to proper housing and sanitation, shortage of educational and employment opportunities for low-income people, and the diversion of millions of dollars intended for earthquake survivors into ineffective programs or, worse, into the pockets of corrupt officials.
Though Concannon’s Dec. 2 visit to campus came nearly a year after the devastating January 2010 earthquake that killed more than 200,000 Haitians, he noted thousands of people remain in displaced persons camps, vulnerable to a cholera epidemic that has already claimed more than 1,000 lives, as well as to sexual violence and other dangers.
Further compounding the dire situation, Haiti’s recent presidential election had been considered by many observers and candidates to be tainted by fraud. Violence broke out when it was announced that the incumbent President René Préval, supported by the U.S. and other Western countries, won.
Concannon suggested viewing Haitians’ dilemma through a human rights lens helps observers evaluate the needs of the population and the responses of Haitian authorities and the international community.
Haitians should not be seen merely as recipients of charity and international aid, he said. They are entitled to decent living conditions and the provision of certain services by their government and aid agencies. Standards such as those enumerated in the International Convenant on Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child can set the bar for Haiti as it rebuilds.
The discussion that followed Concannon’s presentation touched on how donors can ensure their reconstruction contributions are properly used; the difficulty of demanding certain economic, social, and cultural rights as legal rights; and the important role of women in advancing Haiti’s economic development.
The talk was organized by the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life and the Brandeis Haiti Initiative.
IJDH and its Haiti-based affiliate, le Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, have established a growing group of human rights lawyers who work to educate Haitian citizens about the power of constitutional justice and legal human rights protections. Their main objectives are to advocate for these protections with grassroots organizations, to record and track human rights abuses, and to provide legal assistance for victims.
Concannon worked in Haiti for the United Nations in 1995-96, and was a co-manager of le Bureau des Avocats Internationaux from 1996-2004. He helped prepare the prosecution of the Raboteau Massacre trial in 2000, one of the most significant human rights cases in the Western Hemisphere, and has represented Haitian plaintiffs before both the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.