Saturday, December 10, 2011

Human Rights Day

Today, folks all over the world are celebrating the 63rd anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.

This week also heralds the 20th anniversary of several Haitian human rights organizations, including the 7-member Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations (POHDH) and the Action Group for Repatriates and Refugees (GARR). The timing is no coincidence. A military coup d'etat took out democratically-elected president Jean Bertrand Aristide in September 1991 and the period following the coup marked a time of mass popular resistance against the civil and political repression of an illegimitate military regime backed by the United States.
 POHDH: 20 years of struggle for the respect of Human Rights

Yesterday I attended a commemorative event at POHDH. Although members of POHDH's executive committee talked about the pressing human rights needs in Haiti today, lack of government accountability and the structural and ideological barriers to economic & social rights, they also emphasized that huge gains have been made in the last twenty years.

Human rights discourse has seeped into politics, entertainment and even general conversation in a big way as Haitians are in general more aware of their rights. Many more media outlets exist, demonstrating increased liberty of expression, and popular organizing is commonplace in all sectors (small farmers, factory workers, displaced people, women, youth...).

And, as evidenced yesterday, more protests are taking place. In St. Marc, cholera victims demonstrated in front of the MINUSTAH (the UN peacekeeping mission) base, asking that their claims for reparations be acknowledged and responded to by the UN. The event was organized by the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI). BAI and their stateside partner, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) have recently filed a landmark case against the UN on behalf of over 5,000 cholera victims.

Yesterday, too, the Commission of Women Victims for Victims (KOFAVIV) a women's rights group supporting victims of rape and gender-based violence, hosted a sit-in in front of the Haitian Parliament during which they delivered an open letter on women's protection to the President of the Senate. Meanwhile, GARR hosted a packed-out day of remembrance for renowned Haitian-Dominican activist Sonia Pierre who passed away last week. 

Towards the end of the event yesterday, Antonal Mortimé, POHDH's Executive Secretary, pointed out that increased awareness, free media and popular protests are quantitative versus qualitative in terms of impacting people's access to very necessary social and economic rights like education, food, water, healthcare and liveable housing. Still, he said, they are important steps towards a society in which human rights and dignity are respected.

Here's to twenty years of struggle towards that vision.

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