Haiti Land Grab Violates Women’s Rights and Deepens Climate Crisis, Say Rights Groups

NYU Global Justice Clinic and Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn submission to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women underscores consequences of violent land grab against women in Savane Diane, Haiti

A violent land grab that displaced women farmers in Savane Diane, Haiti, constituted gender-based violence and has aggravated climate vulnerability, NYU’s Global Justice Clinic and Solidarite Fanm Ayisyèn (SOFA) told the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women in a submission lodged late last week. The Savane Diane land grab, which expropriated land used by SOFA to teach women ecologically sustainable farming techniques, is just one of many in recent months. Land grabs in Haiti are on the rise, while the Haitian judiciary has failed to respond.

“We are asking for the Special Rapporteur’s attention because we have been unable to secure justice in Haiti,” said Sharma Aurelien, SOFA’s Executive Director. “This land helped women combat poverty and benefited all of society,” she continued.

In 2020, armed men violently forced SOFA members from land that the Haitian government had granted them exclusive rights to use, severely beating some. SOFA learned that an agro-industry company, Stevia Agro Industries S.A., was claiming title to the area to grow stevia for export. The Haitian government revoked SOFA’s rights to the land, without a court process, and, in early 2021, the late President Jovenel Moïse converted the land into an agro-industrial free trade zone by executive decree.

“The Minister of Agriculture set himself up as a judge, siding with Stevia Industries and allowing it to continue its activities while SOFA was ordered to suspend ours” said Marie Frantz Joachim, SOFA coordinating committee member.

The organizations’ submission underscores the compounding rights violations caused by the land grab. It is deepening poverty and food insecurity in the area, and women who have sought work with Stevia Industries have experienced sexual exploitation and wage theft. The grab also violates residents’ right to water in a context of deepening climate crisis: the land seized includes three State-protected water reservoirs.

“We lost our water reserves because they have now become the [company’s]. Meanwhile, we are experiencing a major water crisis,” said Esther Jolissaint, an affected SOFA member in Savane Diane.

Climate change, land grabbing, and violence against women are interconnected phenomena, say the organizations. Haiti is often named as one of the five countries most affected by the climate crisis. Land grabbing can both result from and contribute to climate vulnerability, as increasingly scarce agricultural land is converted to environmentally degrading monoculture agriculture or other industrial use. Women are particularly vulnerable.

“Rural women’s land rights and access to agricultural resources are essential to securing their human rights and supporting climate resilience,” said Sienna Merope-Synge, Co-Director of GJC’s Caribbean Climate Justice Initiative. “Land grabbing against women should be recognized as a form of gender-based violence,” she continued.

The joint submission emphasizes SOFA’s call for reparations and restitution for women affected by the land grab. It also highlights SOFA and Haitian social movements’ call for greater protections for peasant land rights, as rural communities in Haiti note an uptick in land grabbing. Greater international attention and condemnation is needed, the organizations say.  “We are calling for solidarity from others engaged in the global struggle to ensure respect for human rights,” concluded Aurelien.

[1] Statements of the Global Justice Clinic do not purport to represent the views of NYU or the Center, if any.

[2] Structure, Solidarité des Femmes Haïtiennes (SOFA). The women self-identify as “peasant women” (femmes paysannes) who work in agriculture, and as a way to symbolize their struggle against oppression.

This post was originally published as a press release on April 5, 2022.

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