Clinics call on the U.S. government to take urgent steps to address insecurity and gang violence in Haiti

HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT

Clinics call on the U.S. government to take urgent steps to address insecurity and gang violence in Haiti

The NYU Global Justice Clinic, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, and the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School call on the U.S. government to take urgent steps to address insecurity and gang violence in Haiti.  The clinics are deeply concerned that the U.S. government continues to support de facto Prime Minister Ariel Henry, despite strong evidence of his government’s involvement in broadening violence.  The Clinics are alarmed about recent and serious threats against human rights defenders, particularly concerning staff of the Réseau National de Défense des Droits Humains (RNDDH). The status quo puts human rights defenders—and all Haitian people—at risk.  The clinics are in close contact with Haitian civil society, and stress that recent U.S. legislation, the Haiti Development, Accountability, and Institutional Transparency Act and the Global Fragility Act, recognizes the right of Haitian people to self-determination. Together, the clinics urge the U.S. government to:

  1. Support Haitian-led investigation of and accountability for human rights abuses
  2. Ensure transparency in the U.S. investigation of the murder of former President Jovenel Moïse
  3. Take concrete, effective steps to enforce U.S. laws on arms trafficking
  4. Shift support from Dr. Henry towards an inclusive and Haitian-led political process.

June 27, 2022. Statements of the Global Justice Clinic do not purport to represent the views of NYU or the Center, if any.

GJC Issues Statement on Haiti’s Constitutional Referendum

HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT

GJC Issues Statement on Haiti’s Constitutional Referendum

The Global Justice Clinic, the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, and the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School issued a statement on June 8, 2021, calling on the U.S. government to join civil society’s demand that the government of Haiti cancel the planned constitutional referendum in Haiti. The referendum, which will ask Haitian people to vote “yes” or “no” on a new Constitution, is illegal. It is the most recent, bold effort by President Jovenel Moïse to consolidate power and comes on the heels of dozens of presidential decrees that undermine checks on the executive. Haitian civil society has widely denounced the referendum, noting its illegality and emphasizing the impossibility of holding a vote under the current administration. International actors are increasingly recognizing the illegitimacy of the referendum, and the danger to democracy that it poses. However, continued technical support and provision of aid to the government of Haiti to hold elections means that international actors, including the United States government, are tacitly supporting the unconstitutional vote. With long experience working in solidarity with Haitian civil society, and building off our February statement, the clinics urge the U.S. government to urgently and publicly call to cancel the referendum.

June 8, 2021. Statements of the Global Justice Clinic do not purport to represent the views of NYU or the Center, if any.

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

HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT

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.

Leer el comunicado de prensa en español.
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NYU Clinics File Lawsuit Seeking Disclosure of Trump Policy Behind Termination of TPS for Haitians

HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT

NYU Clinics File Lawsuit Seeking Disclosure of Trump Policy Behind Termination of TPS for Haitians

On Thursday January 25, 2018, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers’ Guild and Margaret Satterthwaite, NYU School of Law professor and director of the Global Justice Clinic (GJC), filed a Freedom of Information lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Department of State, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to obtain records documenting the reasons behind the U.S. government’s decision to terminate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haitians. NYU School of Law’s Immigrant Rights Clinic provided legal counsel.

On November 20, 2017, the Trump Administration terminated TPS for Haiti, stating that the conditions caused by the earthquake no longer exist.  Many reports, including Extraordinary Conditions:  A Statutory Analysis of Haiti’s Qualification for TPS, published by the GJC in October, show that families in Haiti continue to face displacement, homelessness, one of the worst cholera epidemics in the world, hunger, and other challenges that make Haiti unsafe for return. The termination will affect the estimated 58,000 Haitian TPS holders and their families. TPS is set to terminate in July of 2019.

President Trump’s recent racist statements towards certain foreign nations, including Haiti, make the public’s right to access information that influenced the decision to terminate TPS that much more urgent.

January 25, 2018. 

Communications from NYU clinics do not represent the institutional views of NYU School of Law or the Center, if any.

GJC’s Ellie Happel Expert Witness in Case Blocking Trump Administration from Terminating TPS For Haiti

HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT

GJC’s Ellie Happel Expert Witness in Case Blocking Trump Administration from Terminating TPS For Haiti

On Thursday, April 11, 2019 Judge Kuntz of the Eastern District of New York issued a nationwide Preliminary Injunction that blocks the Trump Administration from terminating TPS for Haiti.  Global Justice Clinic Haiti Project Director Ellie Happel was the first witness called by the plaintiffs in the case.  Ellie’s expert testimony was based both on her experience living in Haiti during the time under consideration (2010–2017), and on the facts presented in the Global Justice Clinic report, Extraordinary Conditions: A Statutory Analysis of Haiti’s Qualification for TPS

The Trump Administration ended TPS for Haiti in November, 2017.  Judge Kuntz ruled that the decision by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to terminate TPS for Haiti was improperly influenced by the White House.  The decision was “reverse engineered” to “get to no,” ruled Judge Kuntz, finding that the Plaintiffs were likely to succeed on claims they brought under both the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  The judge found that there was significant evidence that the decision to terminate was a “preordained outcome,” including evidence that suggesting that, in fewer than 30 minutes, a DHS employee reworked a memo that favored extending TPS for Haiti to one that supported termination.  The Court found that the plaintiffs’ Equal Protection claim raises “serious concerns.”  “Based on the facts on this record, and under the [relevant legal framework], there is both direct and circumstantial evidence [that] a discriminatory purpose of removing non-white immigrants from the United States was a motivating factor behind the decision to terminate TPS for Haiti.”  Judge Kuntz concluded that “absent injunctive relief, Plaintiffs, as well as 50,000 to 60,000 Haitian TPS beneficiaries and their 30,000 U.S. Citizen children stand to suffer serious harm.”

In addition to Ellie’s role as an expert witness in this case, the Global Justice Clinic was involved in a FOIA lawsuit that divulged relevant records from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the State Department.  These records were integral to this case and others challenging the Trump Administration’s termination of TPS for Haiti.  Professor Margaret Satterthwaite served as a plaintiff in the FOIA lawsuit.

April 16, 2019.

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

CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENT

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. 

Why We Must Stand with Haiti’s Democracy Activists

HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT

Why We Must Stand with Haiti’s Democracy Activists

When tens of thousands of people are on the streets decrying dictatorial actions, they’re cheered on as pro-democracy protestors. Yet when similar protests occur in Haiti, they are diminished and overlooked. Being on the right side of history requires that we listen to the voices of Haitian civil society.

In the days leading up to February 7, 2021, the U.S. State Department announced its support for the continued rule of President Jovenel Moïse in Haiti. This position was in direct opposition to much of Haitian civil society, including its vibrant human rights community, which condemned Moïse’s occupation of the presidency as an unconstitutional prolongation of his mandate, which they understand to have ended on February 7. This interpretation of Haiti’s Constitution is shared by Haitian legal experts, including its judicial oversight body, religious leaders and activists. Haitian civil society has been sounding the alarm about Moïse’s abuse of power for years, documenting links to a series of massacres, corruption, and the proliferation of gangs. There has never been a more critical juncture for those based outside of Haiti to listen to Haitian voices.

To emphasize this imperative, the Global Justice Clinic issued a joint statement on February 13 calling for the U.S. government to address the human rights concerns of Haitian civil society and hosted a panel discussion with NYU’s Hemispheric Institute on March 24 to hear directly from Haitian human rights defenders and civil society leaders about the current situation in Haiti.

The U.S. government is not alone in giving short shrift to Haitian civil society. Media coverage has failed to adequately convey the widespread outcry against this administration. Nor has it captured the energy and hope that buoys Haitian human rights activists in this moment. Emmanuela Douyon is an economist and anti-corruption activist with “Nou Pap Domi,” a collective of young Haitians committed to fighting corruption, impunity, and social injustice. She’s inspired by the continued involvement of civil society, especially as “a climate of fear has settled in” the country over the last few months due to insecurity, political violence, and kidnappings: “When I see people who fought against dictatorships – who were victims and suffered a lot – and they come back out here to stand up and to fight, that gives me a lot of strength. When I see people from my generation and younger who say they’re going to keep standing and defending their values, the rule of law, democracy – that gives me hope that we can do more.” [1] Rosy Auguste Ducena, a human rights attorney and Program Director for Haiti’s National Network for the Defense of Human Rights (RNDDH), describes how the continued broad-based engagement motivates her: “What enables civil society to continue playing its role… is that the people have shown they have the will to not give up in this battle – there is a will to see change… That’s the biggest message of hope we have. We’ve reached a moment where we, as civil society, are one with the people. When we see they’re taking their claims and demands into their own hands as their own, we don’t need to work for them; we’re working together and that’s the best hope we have in this current situation.”

Haitian advocates forcefully condemn the pressure by the international community to hold presidential elections this year and to facilitate a referendum to alter the constitutional structure of Haiti’s government. Woodkend Eugene, a human rights attorney from the Human Rights Office in Haiti (BDHH), acknowledges that while it can be “difficult for everyone to agree on a solution, what is certain is that what is happening right now is not the solution.” He stresses that the Haitian Constitution states clearly that there can be no amendments to the Constitution via referendum, that “we cannot go into an election with an electoral council that is not legitimate,” referring to the unconstitutional appointment of its members by Moïse, and in a context of “generalized insecurity where multiple people in power have been connected to armed gangs” (the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions against three such individuals in 2020).  Ms. Auguste also pointed out the potential consequences of pushing for elections now: “The international community might be pushing for it, but the Haitian people have said there are things they will not accept or tolerate, and that’s going into elections with this administration. The people won’t accept this referendum, and if this continues to be pushed, we risk falling into a post-electoral crisis… a bigger crisis than [what] we have now.”

Regarding the appropriate role of the international community and the U.S. government in Haiti’s affairs, Ms. Auguste made her message clear: “Firstly, we are not children…Let the Haitian people choose their own future, choose when elections are right for them and choose how their country will be led.”

Ms. Douyon urged the U.S. government to “avoid repeating history, as they did with Duvalier” and to be “on the right side of history” this time by “act[ing] to stand with the people.” U.S. support for the Duvalier dictatorship and its tragic consequences are well-documented.

The clarity and consistency in Haitian advocates’ analysis and recommendations is striking, particularly because Haiti is often painted by the media and foreign actors as a “problem-state”—a never-ending and uncontrollable locus of crisis where it is impossible to discern root causes. Each of the panelists demonstrated that these tropes should be rejected and that Haitian experts should be recognized for what they are—those best placed to assess what their country needs the most. If their recommendations were adopted, rapidly held elections would not be portrayed as the only viable path forward. Instead, the power grab of a man accused of collusion in grave human rights violations would be plainly unveiled.

When tens of thousands of people are on the streets decrying dictatorial actions, they are often cheered on as pro-democracy protestors. Yet when similar protests occur in Haiti, as they have over the last several weeks, these protests are diminished and overlooked. Being on the right side of history requires that we listen to the voices of Haitian civil society.

2021. Gabrielle Apollon

Gabrielle Apollon, Director of Haitian Immigrant Rights Project at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law.

[1] All of the quotes from the panel discussion have been translated from Haitian Creole into English.

GJC Among Organizations Demanding Halt to Deportations of Haitian Migrants Amidst Worsening Crisis in Haiti

HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT

GJC Among Organizations Demanding Halt to Deportations of Haitian Migrants Amidst Worsening Crisis in Haiti

The Global Justice Clinic, in collaboration with several human rights and migrant rights organizations, jointly issued a factsheet analyzing the ongoing crisis of U.S. deportations and expulsions to Haiti in the midst of an ever-worsening political and humanitarian crisis. It shows the numerous ways the U.S. has violated its legal obligations to Haitian migrants.

Recommendations include an immediate end to deportations to Haiti, the restoration of access to asylum, and an end to the U.S. government’s discriminatory treatment of Haitian migrants. The signatories of the statement include Haitian organizations Groupe d’Appui aux Rapatriés et Réfugiés (Support Group for Repatriated People and Refugees, GARR), Rezo Fwontalye Jano Siksè (Jano Siksè Border Network, RFJS), and Service Jésuite aux Migrants-Haiti (Jesuit Service for Migrants-Haiti, SJM).

Additional signatories include Amnesty International, the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies, Haitian Bridge Alliance, and Refugees International.

This post was originally published as a press release on December 16, 2021.

Law Clinics Condemn U.S. Government Support for Haiti’s Regime as Country Faces Human Rights and Humanitarian Catastrophe

HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT

Law Clinics Condemn U.S. Government Support for Haiti’s Regime as Country Faces Human Rights and Humanitarian Catastrophe

To mark the second anniversary of the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, the Global Justice Clinic and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School submitted a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Assistant Secretary Brian Nichols calling on the U.S. government to cease to support the de facto Ariel Henry administration. Progress on human rights and security and a return to constitutional order will only be possible if Haitian people have the opportunity to change their government.

In the wake of Moïse’s murder and at the urging of the United States, Dr. Henry assumed leadership as de facto prime minister. The past two years, Dr. Henry has presided over a humanitarian and human rights catastrophe. He has consolidated power in what remains of Haiti’s institutions, and has proposed to amend the Constitution in an unlawful manner. Further, there is evidence that ties Dr. Henry to the assassination of President Moïse. Despite the monumental failure of Dr. Henry’s government, the United States continues to support this illegitimate and unpopular regime.

The letter declares that any transitional government must be evaluated against Haiti’s Constitution and established human rights principles. Proposals such as Dr. Henry’s that violate the spirit of the Constitution and further state capture cannot be a path to democracy.

This post was originally published as a press release on July 10, 2023 by the Global Justice Clinic at NYU School of Law, and the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School. 

Recommendations to Funders to Improve Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Human Rights Field

HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT

Recommendations to Funders to Improve Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Human Rights Field 

Improving and maintaining well-being is essential to individual health, to organizational functioning, and to the sustainability and effectiveness of the human rights field as a whole. There are many concrete, immediately actionable reforms that are achievable in the near-term and which address a variety of causes of distress, or which can support efforts to transform the field over the long term. Such steps should be taken while the human rights field works toward deep transformation. 

Human rights advocacy can be a source of significant joy, purpose, political agency, belonging, and community. Yet advocates can also experience harms, and trauma in their efforts to advance justice and equality, including those caused by heavy workloads, time pressures, discrimination and bullying in the workplace, vicarious exposure to trauma and human rights abuse, and direct experience of threats and attacks. Advocates can experience suffering, sometimes very severe, as a result, including demotivation, alienation, anxiety, fear, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. How advocates experience their work and any resulting harms can vary widely, and may be highly contextual and culturally specific.

Improving and maintaining well-being is essential to individual health, to organizational functioning, and to the sustainability and effectiveness of the human rights field as a whole. 

Positively transforming mental health and well-being in the human rights field will require significant reforms and both structural changes and close attention to the contextually-specific needs of individual advocates and organizations. The causes and dynamics at play are complex, and there are no quick fixes that can address the cultural shifts required. As efforts are taken to improve well-being, it is important that the field avoids tick-the-box or commodified approaches. Improving the wellbeing of human rights advocates requires a holistic response and a movement-wide prioritization of well-being, with careful attention to context, culture, and the diverse needs of advocates and organizations.  

Recognition of the deeply-rooted problems requiring radical change or of the complexities of the issues and the difficulty of defining a clear set of recommendations applicable across the board should not operate as an excuse to take no action now to improve well-being. There are many concrete, immediately actionable reforms that are achievable in the near-term and which address a variety of causes of distress, or which can support efforts to transform the field over the long term. Such steps should be taken while the human rights field works toward deep transformation. Some of these steps include the following recommended actions, which are drawn from our research with advocates around the world.