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. 

Contesting the Foundation of Digital Public Infrastructure

TECHNOLOGY AND HUMAN RIGHTS

Contesting the Foundation of Digital Public Infrastructure

What Digital ID Litigation Can Tell Us About the Future of Digital Government and Society

Many governments and international organizations have embraced the transformative potential of ‘digital public infrastructure’—a concept that refers to large-scale digital platforms run by or supported by governments, such as digital ID, digital payments, or data exchange platforms. However, many of these platforms remain heavily contested, and recent legal challenges in several countries have vividly demonstrated some of the risks and limitations of existing approaches.

In this short explainer, we discuss four case studies from Uganda, Mexico, Kenya, and Serbia, in which civil society organizations have brought legal challenges to contest initiatives to build digital public infrastructure. What connects the experiences in these countries is that efforts to introduce new national-scale digital platforms have had harmful impacts on the human rights of marginalized groups—impacts that, the litigants argue, were disregarded as governments rolled out these digital infrastructures, and which are wholly disproportionate to the purported benefits that these digital systems are supposed to bring.

These four examples therefore hold important lessons for policymakers, highlighting the urgent need for effective safeguards, mitigations, and remedies as the development and implementation of digital public infrastructure continues to accelerate.

The explainer document builds upon discussions we had during an event we hosted, entitled “Contesting the Foundations of Digital Public Infrastructure: What Digital ID Litigation Can Tell Us About the Future of Digital Government and Society,” where we brought together the civil society actors who have been litigating these four different cases.

August 28, 2023. Katelyn Cioffi, Victoria Adelmant, Danilo Ćurčić, Brian Kiira, Grecia Macías, and Yasah Musa

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.

Carbon Markets, Forests and Rights: An Introductory Series for Indigenous Peoples

CLIMATE AND ENVIRONMENT

Carbon Markets, Forests and Rights

An Introductory Series for Indigenous Peoples

Indigenous peoples are experiencing a rush of interest in their lands and territories from actors involved in carbon markets. Many indigenous communities have expressed that to make informed decisions about how to engage with carbon markets, they need accessible information about what these markets are, and how participating in them may affect their rights.

In response to this demand for information, the Global Justice Clinic and the Forest Peoples Programme have developed a series of introductory materials about carbon markets. The materials were initially developed for GJC partner the South Rupununi District Council in Guyana and have been adapted for a global audience.

The explainer materials can be read in any order:

  • Explainer 1 introduces key concepts that are essential background to understanding carbon markets. It introduces what climate change is, what the carbon cycle and carbon dioxide is, and the link between carbon dioxide, forests and climate change. 
  • Explainer 2 outlines what carbon markets and carbon credits are, and provides a brief introduction to why these markets are developing and how they function
  • Explainer 3 focuses on indigenous peoples’ rights and carbon markets. It highlights some of the particular risks that carbon markets pose to indigenous peoples and communities. It also highlights key questions communities should ask themselves as they consider how to engage with or respond to carbon markets
  • Explainer 4 provides an overview of the key environmental critiques and concerns around carbon markets
  • Explainer 5 provides a short introduction to ART-TREES. ART-TRESS is an institution and standard that is involved in ‘certifying’ carbon credits and that is gaining a lot of attention internationally.

‘Chased Away and Left to Die’: New human rights report finds that Uganda’s national digital ID system leads to mass exclusion

TECHNOLOGY & HUMAN RIGHTS

‘Chased Away and Left to Die’: New human rights report finds that Uganda’s national digital ID system leads to mass exclusion

Uganda’s national digital ID system, a government showpiece that is of major importance for how individuals in Uganda access their social rights, leads to mass exclusion. This is the key finding in a new report titled Chased Away and Left to Die, published today by a collective of human rights organizations. The report is the outcome of 7 months of in-depth interviews with a multitude of victims, health workers, welfare workers, government officials and other experts on the national ID, referred to by Ugandans as Ndaga Muntu.

Report cover featuring an interviewee holding documents and being photographed on a phone.

The report argues that the Ugandan government has sacrificed the potential of digital ID for social inclusion and the realization of human rights at the altar of national security. “Ndaga Muntu is primarily a national security weapon built with the help of Uganda’s powerful military and not the ‘unrivaled success’ that the World Bank and others have claimed it is,” said Christiaan van Veen, one of the authors of the report and based at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law.

Obtaining a national digital ID is described as “a nightmare” in the report. Based on official sources, the report estimates that as many as one third (33%) of Uganda’s adult population has not yet received a National Identity Card (NIC), a number that may even be rising. Many others in the country have errors on their card or are unable to replace lost or stolen IDs.

Since Ndaga Muntu is mandatory to access health care, social benefits, to vote, get a bank account, obtain a mobile phone or travel, the national ID has become a critical gateway to access these human rights. As one individual in Nebbi in Northern Uganda, put it succinctly in the report: “Ndaga Muntu is like a key to my door; without it, I can’t enter.” This can literally mean the difference between life and death. A woman in Amudat, in Northern Uganda, described the consequences of not having the national ID for access to health care: “Without an ID […] no treatment. Many people fall sick and stay home and die.”

The report urges the Ugandan government to immediately stop requiring the national digital ID to access social rights. “Government has to go back to the drawing table and rethink the use of Ndaga Muntu,” said Angella Nabwowe of the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights, “especially when it comes to tagging it to service delivery, because many people are being left out.”

Researchers focused their fieldwork in various parts of Uganda on documenting evidence of exclusion of women and older persons from health services and the Senior Citizens’ Grant (SCG) tied to Ndaga Muntu. Since 2019, patients are required to show the national ID to access public health centers. The report details how women, including pregnant women, are ‘chased away’ by health care workers for failure to show their ID. Previously, there was no single, rigid ID requirement to access health care in Uganda.

In March, the Ugandan government also announced its intention to require the national digital ID for access to Covid-19 vaccines. But a lawsuit based on this research by two organizations that co-authored the report, the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights and Unwanted Witness, led to a quick reversal of that policy by the government.

The impact of Ndaga Muntu on the elderly in Uganda is equally heart-wrenching. The report recounts the story of Okye, an 88-year old man from Namayingo in Eastern Uganda whose date of birth was registered incorrectly, ‘making’ him 79-years old instead. The result for Okye is that he is not eligible for the life-saving government cash transfer for persons over 80 (SCG). Okye is not an exception. Senior sources confirmed to the authors of the report that at least 50,000 Ugandans over 80 have similar mistakes on their national ID that make them ineligible for government assistance or do not have a national ID at all. That number is almost certainly an undercount and points to mass exclusion among Uganda’s 200,000 older persons over 80.
The consequences of not having a national ID for older persons can be tragic. Nakaddu, an 87-year old woman in Kayunga district in Central Uganda told researchers that she did not get the cash grant for the elderly: “I don’t get the money, but I don’t know what to do. […] I can no longer dig. My arm is not okay. I cook for myself. Those ones [pointing to the neighbours] give me some food.”

The report blames the struggles and failures of the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) for many of the exclusionary problems with Ndaga Muntu. NIRA has faced criticism for its failure to enroll a larger part of the population, problems with issuing ID cards, high rates of errors, high costs imposed on individuals and allegations of bribery and corruption.
Perhaps NIRA’s biggest failure, however, has been the neglect of its responsibility for registering births. By prioritizing the registration of adults for the national ID over birth registration, the birth registration rate may have plummeted to as low as 13% of children under 1 years old. Meanwhile, the percentage of adults excluded from the national ID may be rising even as NIRA appears unable to keep up with the growing number of young people who turn 18 and become eligible for the national ID card.

“It is quite absurd to invest in registering the adult population for a national ID and forget about the next generation. It is as if NIRA’s left hand does not know, and does not care, what its right hand is doing,” said Dorothy Mukasa, Team leader at Unwanted Witness.
Digital ID systems have been widely hailed by international development organizations and private actors as ways to foster social inclusion and development and promise poor African nations the ability to ‘leapfrog’ towards becoming modern, digital economies. The report by the collective of human rights organizations shows a much darker picture of exclusion, missed opportunities, and significant financial costs.

Not only does the report estimate that the Ugandan government has already spent more than USD 200 million on its digital ID system in the past decade, comparable to the total budget of its Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development in that same period. But international organizations and bilateral donors have also poured many millions into Uganda’s health and social protection programs that are now risking to exclude millions from their reach because of Ndaga Muntu’s dysfunction. In an ironic twist, some of those same development partners, like the World Bank, are among the foremost champions of digital ID systems in Africa and have also funded NIRA.

Equally tragic is the fact that many of the benefits of digitalization are missed in this digital ID system. While NIRA maintains air-conditioned servers to house its National Identity Register in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, health care workers still register patients’ national identity information in paper booklets provided by NIRA. And the promised benefits of biometric verification are missed because many remote areas do not have fingerprint scanners or the internet and electricity to make them usable. And when modern biometric equipment worked, many older Ugandans, whose fingerprints have been worn away after many years of manual labor, were, as victims told us, “refused by those machines.”

The report recounts one macabre result of these missed digital opportunities, when an old and sick man was forced by officials to personally travel to a cash transfer distribution point to verify his fingerprints and receive his social benefit. The man set out on a boda boda motorcycle taxi and died on his way there. The last payment due to a deceased beneficiary will customarily be given to family members. Therefore, officials proceeded to take the dead man’s fingerprints.

A short documentary on the impact of Ndaga Muntu on women and older persons can be found here.

This post was initially published as a press release on June 8, 2021.

‘Chased Away and Left to Die’

TECHNOLOGY & HUMAN RIGHTS

Chased Away and Left to Die

How a National Security Approach to Uganda’s National ID Has Led to Wholesale Exclusion of Women and Older Persons

The Ugandan government launched a new national digital ID system in 2014, promising to issue all Ugandans with a national ID number and national ID card, while also building a large central database of identity information, including personal biographic information and digitized biometric information such as fingerprints and facial photographs. This 2020 report documents the continuing wholesale exclusion of large swaths of the Ugandan population from this national digital ID system, known as Ndaga Muntu. Based on 7 months of research together with our Ugandan partners the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER) and Unwanted Witness, the report takes an in-depth look at the implications of this exclusion for pregnant women and older persons attempting to access their rights to health and social protection.

The report begins with a thoroughly researched overview of the origins and design of the national digital ID system, which was originally described by a prominent government Minister as a “national security weapon.” Although it was strongly linked to national security priorities of the government, the national ID system was also intended to serve a wide variety of uses, including identification and authentication for access to social services and healthcare. However, the implementation of this ambitious system has been filled with challenges—with the result that up to one-third of the adult population remains excluded. Despite robust political support and several waves of mass registration, progress in increasing coverage in the system continues to be frustrated by implementation challenges including budget shortfalls, as well as physical, financial, technological, and administrative barriers to access. All of these challenges have been exacerbated by an environment marked by inequality and discrimination. 

This has led to severe human rights consequences, especially for vulnerable groups such as older persons and women, who have been denied access to lifesaving social services. The report describes how Ndaga Muntu has now become a mandatory requirement to access both government and private services. This includes access to health care and social pensions, as well as the ability to vote, get a bank account, and obtain a mobile phone. In short, exclusion from the national digital ID has become a life and death matter for many people in Uganda. The report draws on focus group conversations and individual interviews with affected persons, as well as discussions with numerous government administrators and scholars, to share deeply contextualized personal accounts of how this mandatory requirement has had an impact on individual lives. 

Based on these extremely concerning accounts of exclusion, discrimination, and violations of economic and social rights, the report concludes with a series of actionable recommendations to mitigate the most pressing human rights concerns. This includes the need to ensure that the mandatory national ID requirement does not continue to lead to exclusion from fundamental rights and services, for instance by allowing for the use of alternative forms of ID. It also emphasizes the need to re-examine whether a national ID system designed to be a national security tool is fit for the purposes of inclusion and human rights. 

Wrong Prescription: The Impact of Privatizing Healthcare in Kenya

INEQUALITIES

Wrong Prescription: The Impact of Privatizing Healthcare in Kenya

A collaboration between The Economic and Social Rights Centre-Hakijamii and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University School of Law.

The 49-page report draws from more than 180 interviews with healthcare users and providers, government officials, and experts, and finds that the government-backed expansion of the private healthcare sector in Kenya is leading to exclusion and setting back the country’s goal of universal health coverage. 

The report documents how policies designed to increase private sector participation in health, in combination with chronic underinvestment in the public healthcare system, have led to a rapid increase in the role of for-profit private actors and undermined the right to health. Privatizing healthcare has proven costly for individuals and the government, and pushed Kenyans into poverty and crushing debt. While the wealthy may be able to access high-quality private care, for many, particularly in lower-income areas, the private sector offers low-quality services that may be inadequate or unsafe. The report concludes with a call to prioritize the public healthcare system.

The Time is Now: Mexico Must Grant Haitians Refugee Protections under the Cartagena Declaration

HUMAN RIGHTS MOVEMENT

The Time is Now: Mexico Must Grant Haitians Refugee Protections under the Cartagena

This report published by Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Matías de Córdova A.C. and the Global Justice Clinic shows why Mexico–and, by extension, all countries that have signed the Cartagena Declaration on Refugees–must grant Haitians refugee status. 

Haitians living outside of Haiti often lack access to basic human rights, face anti-Black discrimination, and in many countries, live under the threat of being sent back to Haiti. Pathways to legal status in other countries are essential for Haitians seeking safety, but governments rarely grant legal status to Haitians and, when they do, protections are often temporary.

Mexico is one of the many countries that Haitian people have migrated to in the past decade. Tens of thousands of Haitians enter Mexico every year. Mexico has incorporated the Cartagena Declaration–which provides a broader definition of “refugee” than the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1966 Protocol–into its domestic law, legally binding it to grant refugee status to people who, based on an objective analysis of the circumstances in their country of origin, meet the elements of the declaration. This report establishes how three of the Declaration’s elements–generalized violence, massive violations of human rights, and other circumstances that seriously disturb public order–are pervasive in Haiti.

  • The Global Justice Clinic and Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Matías de Córdova A.C. launched the report in Mexico City in late April 2024, and met with representatives of Mexican government agencies, including the Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a Refugiados (Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance) and the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores (Secretariat of Foreign Affairs) to urge them to apply the Cartagena Declaration to Haitian nationals.

Public Transport, Private Profit: The Human Cost of Privatizing Buses in the United Kingdom

INEQUALITIES

Public Transport, Private Profit: The Human Cost of Privatizing Buses in the United Kingdom

The Human Rights and Privatization Project launched a report on the deregulation of local buses in the United Kingdom in July 2021. 

The report finds that the government’s 1985 decision to privatize and deregulate the bus sector in England (outside London), Scotland, and Wales has failed passengers and undermined their rights. Taxpayers are subsidizing corporate profits, while private operators are providing a service that is expensive, unreliable, and often dysfunctional. Fares have skyrocketed while ridership has plummeted, undermining efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions. This approach has also significantly impacted individual’s lives and rights. We found that people have lost jobs and benefits, faced barriers to healthcare, been forced to give up on education, sacrificed food and utilities, and been cut off from friends and family. The government’s new strategy for England leaves this deregulated system in place, and does not address its structural shortcomings. 

The report finds that running a bus service premised on profit and market competition, rather than on the well-being of the public, leads to violations of people’s rights and is incompatible with human rights law. It calls for public control of bus transport as the default approach, which would be more cost-effective and allow for reinvestment of profits, integrated networks, more efficient coverage, simpler fares, consistency with climate goals, and public accountability. Given the importance of public transport on access to essential services and rights, it also calls for a statutory minimum level of service frequency.