Byen Konte, Mal Kalkile? Human Rights and Environmental Risks of Gold Mining in Haiti

Until now, most discussions about mining have occurred behind closed doors among government officials, company stakeholders, and international financial institutions. There is a dearth of information in the public domain about what gold mining entails, what challenges it poses, what opportunities it presents, and what it may mean for communities and the country as a whole. The purpose of this report is to help fill that gap.

Haiti stands at a crossroads: The prospect of gold mining glitters on the horizon, while the reality of an uncertain political future, weak institutions, and widespread impoverishment glares in the foreground. Celebrated as the only nation in the world born of a successful slave revolution, but known today as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti is a fragile, if resilient, place. Rights are precarious, and basic resources are scarce. As of 2014, only 62 percent of all households in Haiti had access to safe drinking water, while less than 50 percent enjoyed such access in rural areas. The cholera epidemic that erupted in 2010, which has taken more than 9,000 lives to date, has revealed the vulnerability of the Haitian population amid inadequate water, sanitation, and health infrastructure. But it has also highlighted the power of popular protest. Haiti has a longstanding tradition of peasant movements, in which ordinary Haitians have mobilized to challenge and overcome injustice. It is in this context—against the backdrop of the country’s complex history with foreign intervention and investment—that efforts to develop a mining industry in Haiti must be understood.

Minerals can be exploited only once. The current moment, before mining has begun, presents a unique opportunity for the Haitian people to engage in a robust public debate about the risks and benefits of mining and for the Haitian State to implement preventive measures to avoid future human rights abuses and environmental harms. Such a debate requires transparency, public education, and active engagement of Haitian communities.

Report Objectives and Approach

Recognizing the important decisions that Haiti faces, the Global Justice Clinic at New York University School of Law (GJC) and the University of California Hastings College of the Law have prepared this Report concerning the risks and realities of modern gold mining and its implications for human rights and the environment in Haiti. The Report is the fruit of collaboration between environmental law experts and human rights lawyers, informed by the Justice in Mining Collective, a platform of Haitian organizations and individuals committed to promoting the interests of Haiti’s rural, northern communities and prompting a national dialogue about the future of Haiti’s mineral resources. Consistent with best practice in the field of international human rights, this Report is based on intensive documentary research and review of primary and secondary materials on gold mining in Haiti; interviews with community members, Haitian government officials, and representatives of mining companies and international organizations operating in Haiti; field investigation; and discussions with members of communities in areas where companies hold permits for activities related to gold mining. The Report is a product of more than 100 days of interviews and participant observation in more than fifty meetings held in communities affected by mining-related activities in Haiti (see infra). 

All Report-related research in Haiti was undertaken using a human rights-based approach, which supports the power and capacity of people and communities to change their own lives, both independently and through institutions that represent or affect them.  This approach takes respect for human rights as its starting point and end objective, emphasizes the informed engagement of rights-holders in both the analysis of factors affecting their own lives and the design of solutions, and stresses accountability, by including evaluation of both the process and outcomes of the research.

The Report addresses four main issues: 

  • the process of modern gold mining, through an examination of its mechanics around the world and a history of extractive activity in Haiti; 
  • the experiences and concerns of communities in Haiti that have hosted mineral exploration in the past ten years, including community members’ allegations that mining companies have failed to respect human rights and the communities’ fear of future human rights violations; 
  • the environmental and social risks of mining gold in Haiti; 
  • the institutional, legal, and regulatory frameworks that will shape the economic, social, and environmental consequences of mining in Haiti.