UN Admits Fault in Haiti’s Cholera Outbreak as Country Faces Prospect of Famine
Haitians continue to endure the aftermath of the forgotten disaster of Hurricane Matthew, says lawyer Brian Concannon
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore. The Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon penned an op-ed that was published this Monday in the Miami Herald titled “Righting the Wrongs in Haiti”. In it, he says, “The United Nations deeply regrets the loss of life and suffering caused by the cholera outbreak in Haiti. We apologize.” That outbreak that he referred to sickened nearly 800,000 people and killed more than 9,000 Haitians, so are apologies enough at this point?
To discuss this, we’re joined by Brian Concannon. He is the Executive Director and the Founder of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. He also co-managed the Bureau des avocats internationaux in Haiti, for eight years, from 1996 to 2004, and he also worked for the United Nations as a Human Rights Officer from 1995 to 1996. Brian, thank you so much for joining us.
BRIAN CONCANNON: Well, thank you for having me, Kim. It’s good to be with you again.
KIM BROWN: Thanks a lot, Brian. Well, as we know, Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, addressed the UN General Assembly with this sort of apology to Haiti regarding the UN’s role in the cholera outbreak. What are your thoughts about Ban Ki-moon’s apology here?
BRIAN CONCANNON: Well, it was certainly a historic step forward, the fact that this was a two-hour event with the entire General Assembly, the fact that a UN Secretary-General for the first time in history made such a public avowal, a recognition that the UN had harmed people, that was really exciting, it was a really good step in the right direction. It does not, of course, mean justice. The Secretary-General did, though, make some very important promises. He promised to invest $200 million to fight cholera, and another $200 million to support the victims. Those two promises would make a huge difference in Haiti, save hundreds of lives and alleviate misery for tens of thousands of families. So, again, a very good step in the right direction.
But those promises are just promises, they’re not yet funded. They’re not executed. And what the UN really needs to do is to step up, make sure that the money is there and that the aid really does reach the people on the ground in Haiti, or that the response reaches the people in Haiti.
KIM BROWN: Brian, talk to us about the testimony that led up to this apology coming from the Secretary-General of the UN, because I do follow you on Twitter — you’re quite active on social media — and I saw you tweeting about these different testimonies from Haitians who had been impacted both directly and indirectly by the cholera outbreak. Do you feel as if these testimonies helped to move the Secretary-General in this direction?
BRIAN CONCANNON: Oh, certainly. This was an unprecedented step by the UN, too, to admit fault and it was only made possible by an unprecedented mobilization. The victims of cholera, they never gave up. They protested, they wrote letters — 4,000 of them wrote letters to the UN Security Council. They had protests outside the UN Log Base. They participated in complaints to the UN in lawsuits in Federal Court, and whenever they could, they made their opinions known in a way that the international community could not ignore, in part because there are many supporters in places like the United States and France and England who echoed and amplified what the victims were saying.
So, this was really a network that arose to insist on justice, and it was this networked approach under the leadership of the victims that made this unprecedented victory happen.
KIM BROWN: There’s been a lot happening in Haiti this year. Obviously, the country was ravaged by Hurricane Matthew, which left a lot of people displaced and a lot of people without access to clean water, and the conditions that were already challenging in Haiti because of long-term poverty and still dealing with the repercussions of the big earthquake there in 2010. How has Haiti been dealing with this most recent natural disaster to impact it?
BRIAN CONCANNON: It’s been tough to deal with. The government actually has done a pretty good job of stepping up and trying to take leadership of the aid efforts, which is something that didn’t happen after the 2010 earthquake, and it is promising. And there has been an international response that has saved lives and reduced misery, but it’s not an adequate response. The UN put out what’s called a Flash Appeal for what it felt it needed for the first three months. It’s received less than half of that, even though we’re two months into the disaster. The World Food Program has half of the budget it thinks it needs for the next six months to respond to this.
So this has really been the world’s forgotten disaster. There are people still sleeping out without even tarps. There is a great concern that there’s going to be a famine because crops were lost and not only did you lose those crops, but farmers don’t have the money to buy seeds to plant the next round of crops, and it’s now planting season and that window for planting is passing by, and unless farmers get aid very quickly, you’re going to have even more famine down the road in the next three months when those crops should’ve been harvested. So there is a need for the world to respond rapidly to Hurricane Matthew.
KIM BROWN: You know, a lot of people were very reluctant — seemingly reluctant — to put up assistance to the sort of traditional international aid agencies – obviously, the Red Cross comes to mind, even the Clinton Foundation comes to mind — because of the tremendous amount of graft and how much money that was donated, how the majority of it did not get into the hands of Haitians after the 2010 earthquake. Did you see the international aid response to Haiti diminished this time around, during Hurricane Matthew, as compared to when previous disasters have struck Haiti?
BRIAN CONCANNON: It certainly diminished, but it’s actually a good thing that people are being critical, and we’re seeing that at the level of governments, we’re seeing it at the level of individuals, who are aware that were problems with aid before, and are working to make sure that their generous donations are put to better use.
Now, we’re not doing frontline hurricane response, but we do have on our website a guide for people who do want to donate, and we give recommendations of organizations that we think are credible, that are working… they’re Haitian-led organizations or international organizations, but that are working very closely with Haitians on the ground, and they are accountable to their donors, but even more importantly to the people that they serve. And so there are opportunities both at the level of governments and at the level of individual donors to make donations that you can be confident they will make a difference.
KIM BROWN: Brian, the latest in Haiti, obviously, is the election results. The election there was November 20th. Haitians seemingly elected a new president, Jovenel Moïse, who came from the same party as Michel Martelly. This caused a number of protests to spread throughout the country, which also resulted in a heavy-handed crackdown from Haitian forces there on the protesters. What is the latest in this election? It’s still being contested by his opponents, is that correct?
BRIAN CONCANNON: It’s still being contested and the results are not official. There are concerns about what happened on election day, especially many people who were not able to find their names on the lists, or even have their names on the list outside the voting center, but when they got inside, they were not allowed to vote. There were concerns about the transport of the ballots. There were some ballots that were found, and some people are saying those were discarded ballots. There are concerns about how the votes were tabulated and three of the nine electoral councilors even refused to sign the final results.
The second, third and fourth-place finishers in the presidential elections have all contested the elections. They filed official papers contesting the elections on Friday, and it’s now up to the electoral council to handle those. There have been a series of protests in the streets from people who are concerned about the elections, and I think it’s absolutely essential that the electoral council review the complaints with transparency and with credibility and makes whatever corrections that the law and the facts require. Because there is a risk that you are going to have an escalating cycle of people doing protests. Most of the protests, the vast majority of the protests, have been legal and peaceful. There have been some in which illegal acts, including some breaking of windows, have happened. The police have responded with force against both the illegal and the legal protests, and that is justifiably angering some of the peaceful protesters that they are being attacked by the police and there is a risk that this could continue to spiral. And there’s also a risk that whatever government comes out of these elections is going to be perceived of as being illegitimate. So it’s absolutely essential that the electoral council do a good job of evaluating the complaints and making the corrections that are justified.
KIM BROWN: Even though the election results are currently being disputed, currently the President-elect is Mr. Moïse — I hope I’m saying his name correctly. What do we know about him in terms of his human rights record, what his thoughts are about the occupation of Haiti by the United Nations and other agencies? He’s a relative political novice. He sort of came out of nowhere. I know him best by his nickname, “The Banana Man”. What are your thoughts about Jovenel Moïse?
BRIAN CONCANNON: Yeah. He’s a young guy. He’s in his 40s. His most recent business activity has been running banana cultivation and export business, and so he has been focusing on agricultural development as part of his campaign. He has not been very precise on his policies across the spectrum including human rights. He comes from the same tradition as Former President Martelly, which is he had a right of center government that was generally very close to the international community and the UN mission. Most observers think that that general policy is going to continue, that it’s going to be mostly pro-business practices in the sense of reducing government intervention. Where Mr. Moïse would do the most, I guess, intervention would probably be in the agricultural sector. He has not said a lot about what he’s going to do to address other urgent needs like healthcare and education, although, again, President Martelly, his approach was a highly private-sector approach where he was working for less state services and more having the private sector take care of those things.
KIM BROWN: Indeed. Still a developing story out of Haiti as the elections are being contested, at least on the presidential side. We’ve been speaking with Brian Concannon. He is the Executive Director and the Founder of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. Brian, we appreciate your time today. Thank you so much.
BRIAN CONCANNON: Well, thank you, Kim.
KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.