The Brazilian state of Acre has asked the government to temporarily close the Brazil-Peru border to control Haitian migration. Acre’s secretary of justice and human rights, Nilson Mourão, said the levels of Haitian migration into the region are unsustainable and have strained the capacity of social services in the area.
Since the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, more than 15,000 Haitians have migrated into the Amazon region of Brazil through Brazil’s border with Peru in order to look for jobs.
Acre’s local government says it is not equipped to receive the new migrants, who have overcrowded shelters as they await documentation. This month alone, the arrivals have tripled to between 70 and 80 a day, prompting Mourão’s request to temporarily close the border between the Peruvian town of Iñapari and the town of Assis in Brazil.
This is not the first crackdown on Haitian immigrants in Brazil. In 2012, Brazil restricted Haitian immigration after 4,000 Haitians crossed into the country through the Amazon. After granting 1,600 visas to incoming Haitians fleeing the devastation of the 2010 earthquake, the Brazilian government declared it would only grant 100 temporary work visas and 2,400 humanitarian visas to recent migrants. Hundreds of Haitians were stranded in Peru after the changes were implemented.
Four years after the earthquake in Haiti—which killed 220,000 people and left more than 1.5 million homeless—817,000 Haitians are still in need of humanitarian assistance and 172,000 still live in displacement camps.
Government officials from the Dominican Republic and Haiti will meet next month to discuss a controversial court decision that would take citizenship away from thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent, Haiti’s foreign minister Pierre Richard Casimir said on Thursday. A commission made up of five officials from both countries will meet in Ouanaminthe, a town on the Haitian border, on January 7.
Earlier this week, Dominican President Danilo Medina and Haitian President Michel Martelly, met during a summit of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) and Petrocaribe. The two leaders agreed to create a commission to discuss the court ruling, which could retroactively render approximately 200,000 individuals stateless. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who chaired the meeting, announced the creation of the joint commission, which will have Venezuela, the UN, the European Union and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) as observers.
The ruling has become source of international debate, as advocates of those affected by the decision accuse the Dominican Republic of discriminating agaimst Dominicans of Haitian descent and violating their human rights. Some Haitian diaspora leaders have even called for an international boycott of the Dominican tourism industry.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) has urged the Dominican Republic to restore nationality to those affected by the court decision. Critics of the court decision also published an open letter to Dominican president Medina condemning the decision.
Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe plans to do a tour of Silicon Valley companies and universities today in an attempt to attract investment to the Caribbean nation. Lamothe has meetings scheduled with Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, as well as executives from Google, Apple and other top executives about opportunities for technological innovation in Haiti.
A mere .02 percent of Haitians have regular access to the Internet, and limited infrastructure and frequent blackouts have hampered efforts to increase connectivity. The 2010 earthquake exacerbated these conditions, though part of the millions of dollars in recovery aid has been spent trying to get the long impoverished country wired, including a $3.9 million program launched this fall to deploy 65 miles of optical fiber in the country's southern region.
At a tech conference in San Francisco yesterday, Lamothe said the Haitian government’s top priority is lifting people out of extreme poverty, and “the best way to do it is through technology.” He went on to say that the country could overcome its infrastructural challenges by storing data in digital clouds, and that the government could partner with business on the effort. Lamothe’s trip to California comes only two days after violent anti-government demonstrations erupted Haiti, where protesters opposed corruption and the high cost of living and demanded that President Michele Martelly step down.
Uruguayan President José Mujica announced at the Council of Ministers on Monday his decision to withdraw Uruguayan troops from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). The Mission was installed by the UN Security Council in 2004 following the coup d’état against former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and was reinforced in early 2010 when a devastating earthquake resulted in more than 220,000 deaths, according to government figures.
The UN has encouraged a progressive reduction of MINUSTAH’s troops as the peacekeeping mission’s mandate is coming to an end in June 2014. The latest Security Council resolution established that troops must be reduced to 5,021 soldiers and 2,601 police agents—down from the 8,690 officials who are currently on the island.
According to Uruguayan Defense Minister Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro, Mujica ordered the early withdrawal of the Uruguayan troops, which must be done in coordination with the Security Council and other countries from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). The president stated that the process should not be postponed any further, since other countries like Brazil have already decided to leave.
With 950 officials in Haiti, Uruguay is second only to Brazil as the country that provides the greatest number of military officials to MINUSTAH. Besides Uruguay, other nations with peacekeeping troops in Haiti include Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Guatemala, El Salvador and Peru.
The presence of peacekeepers has been the target of popular protests and a source of controversy in Haiti because of the peacekeepers’ role in re-introducing cholera to the country, numerous cases of sexual exploitation and abuse involving MINUSTAH personnel—including the sexual assault of a young Haitian man by Uruguayan troops—and other abuses.
Thirty million people live in modern slave-like conditions according to a report published by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation yesterday, titled the Global Slavery Index. An estimated 3.73 percent of the 29.6 millions of people in modern slavery—defined as those exposed to a range of practices, including forced and bonded labor, human trafficking, forced marriages, and the use of children in the military—are in the Americas.
Of the 162 countries ranked in the index, Haiti scored second with 210,000 slaves out of a population of 10.1 million. The report estimates that one in 10 Haitian children are trapped in an exploitative system of child labor, known as restavek, and that the number increased after the 2010 earthquake devastated the already poor Caribbean nation. Mauritania came in first with 151 thousand slaves out of a total population of 3.8 million. In the Americas, Peru was ranked 65 with 82,000 slaves out of a total population of 30 million, followed by Uruguay at 72 and Colombia at 73.
In absolute terms, India, China, Pakistan and Nigeria have the highest numbers of people enslaved. The Walk Free Foundation report was supported by global leaders such as former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft. Clinton said, "I urge leaders around the world to view this index as a call to action, and to stay focused on the work of responding to this crime."
Human rights activists filed a lawsuit in New York yesterday against the United Nations, demanding compensation and public responsibility for the cholera epidemic that has affected thousands of people in Haiti since the 2010 earthquake. Numerous independent reports, including one produced by an expert panel commissioned by the UN, have concluded that the epidemic was most likely introduced by UN peacekeeping forces who were carrying a strain of the disease from Nepal, and that they did not take sufficient precautions to prevent its spread.
Cholera infections had not been reported for nearly a century in Haiti prior to the 2010 epidemic. The Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti—the group representing the families and individuals seeking compensation in the trial—estimates that 685,000 Haitians have been affected by the disease since 2010. So far, 8,400 Haitians have died from cholera and the disease is expected to claim an additional 1,000 lives each year. Expert reports found that the disease was spread from a UN camp with “documented sanitation deficiencies,” and then carried by sewage channels into the island’s Artibonite River, used by many Haitians for bathing and drinking water.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced in February that UN would not provide compensation to victims of the outbreak, citing provisions of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, which grants the UN immunity from domestic laws. International law experts agree, saying it is unlikely the case will be considered by the federal court where it was introduced, provided that the UN has enjoyed legal immunity from domestic laws since World War II. Haitian President Michel Martelly spoke on the issue last week in his address to the UN General Assembly, saying the entity has “a moral responsibility” to compensate victims.
The Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic ruled on Thursday that anyone born in the country after 1929 to undocumented immigrant parents would lose their citizenship.
Formerly, the Dominican Republic granted citizenship to anyone born on its soil. But starting in 2007, electoral authorities began denying identity documents to Dominicans of Haitian descent. Three years later, the government approved a new constitution stating that citizenship will be granted only to those born in the country to at least one parent of Dominican blood or whose foreign parents are legal residents.
Citing the 2010 constitution, Thursday’s ruling deemed that any Haitian migrants that came to work in the Dominican sugarcane fields since 1929 were seasonal workers “in transit,” and that their children were not entitled to automatic citizenship.
The Court said officials are studying birth certificates of more than 16,000 people, and gave the Electoral Commission one year to produce a list of people to be excluded from citizenship. The ruling overwhelming affects the estimated 1 million individuals of Haitian descent, throwing them into legal limbo.
Reed Brody, a spokesperson for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that the ruling “cuts against the rights of thousands of people born in the Dominican Republic, and could immediately undermine their access to education and health services.” Some activists have said that they will contest the ruling before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
The decision will likely exacerbate already sour relations between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, who share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola and have a long history of conflict, including a massacre of 20,000 Haitians that was orchestrated by former Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1937. Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe did not issue a statement in response to the ruling.
Likely top stories this week: demonstrators protest in Peru; a Chilean lawyer investigates the death of Michelle Bachelet’s father; FARC–Colombian government peace talks resume; a new report faults the UN for Haiti’s cholera outbreak; and assailants kill a Mexican vice-admiral.
Protesters and Police Clash in Peru: Thousands of demonstrators clashed with hundreds of riot police and plainclothes officers in Lima, Peru, on Saturday as protesters marched toward Congress on the eve of Peruvian Independence Day. In the midst of a national doctors' and nurses' strike, the demonstrators are protesting proposed education reforms, the continued poverty of many Peruvians, and the political appointment of 10 public officials (which the government eventually revoked last week following public outcry). Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, who completed his second year in office this weekend, is registering a 33 percent approval rating—his lowest since taking office. He addressed Peruvians on Sunday, defending his government’s economic policies and commitment to social programs.
Bachelet and Matthei Face Questions Over Fathers' Pasts: A Chilean lawyer is seeking to charge General Fernando Matthei, presidential candidate Evelyn Matthei’s father, with the death of General Alberto Bachelet, the father of former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. Matthei and Bachelet are both candidates in the November 17 presidential election. Human rights lawyers Eduardo Contreras says that Gen. Matthei knew that Gen. Bachelet was being held at the Air War Academy, where he was tortured in 1974 during Chile's military dictatorship. Gen. Bachelet eventually died in prison of his wounds. Gen. Matthei, who is 88, has not spoken in public about the case, but his daughter claims that the two generals were friends and that the charges against her father are politically motivated. Former President Bachelet said that she has not asked Contreras to represent her in the investigation of her father's death.
FARC and Colombian Government Resume Peace Talks: The Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) reopened peace talks in Havana on Sunday, just over a week after 19 Colombian soldiers were killed in two separate attacks reportedly carried out by FARC guerrillas. Government peace negotiator Humberto de la Calle said that the government would hold the guerrillas accountable for the latest violence, and added that the Colombian government would continue military operations against the FARC until a peace agreement is reached.
Haitian Cholera Victims' Charges Bolstered by Report: A new report released by an international group of scientists found that UN peacekeepers from Nepal are responsible for causing a 2010 cholera outbreak in Haiti that has killed over 8,000 people. Citing new microbiological evidence, the report concludes "that personnel associated with the [...] MINUSTAH facility were the most likely source of introduction of cholera into Haiti.” The scientists first produced a report in 2011 that found no specific cause for the cholera outbreak, leading the UN to reject a 2011 compensation claim by cholera victims' families. With the new evidence, the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti is preparing to file more lawsuits against the UN in U.S. and Haitian courts.
Gunmen Murder Mexican Vice-Admiral: Assailants attacked and murdered Vice Adm. Carlos Miguel Salazar and Ricardo Fernández Hernández, an officer accompanying the admiral as a bodyguard, on Sunday in the Mexican state of Michoacán. Salazar was one of Mexico's highest-ranking naval officials, and the highest-ranking officer killed by gunmen since Mexico's government offensive against cartels began in 2006. He and Fernández were shot as they took a detour on a dirt road near the town of Churintzio. Worsening drug war violence in Michoacán caused Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to send thousands of federal troops and police to the area two months ago to improve security.
Former Haitian Dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier’s trial continued Thursday, as another alleged victim testified about human rights abuses during his 15-year regime. Dr. Nicole Magloire said in court that she was unjustly arrested by the Tonton Macoutes, Duvalier’s infamous private police, and was imprisoned for five days. When asked by Defense Attorney Fritzo Canton if she could have been arrested by mistake, Magloire replied, “If I was arrested by mistake, I was imprisoned by mistake and forced into exile by mistake.”
Magloire was the third person this month to testify in appellate court against the former president-for-life, who inherited power from his father, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier at age 19. Now 61, the younger Duvalier was charged with human rights abuses and embezzlement in 2011 when he ended his 25-year exile and returned to Haiti. Though a lower Haitian court dismissed both charges, the appellate court is considering reinstituting the rights abuse charge.
Duvalier failed to make his first three court dates, and finally made a surprise appearance on February 28 in a room packed with those who claim they were tortured or imprisoned by his regime. The prosecutors aim to prove that violence perpetrated by Haitian officers under Duvalier’s command were not occasional or rogue acts, but part of a widespread and systematic campaign to terrorize Haitians, constituting “crimes against humanity.”
Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier snubbed a judge's order to attend a court hearing yesterday to determine if he will be indicted on human rights violations committed under his ruthless 15-year regime.
Reynold Georges, Duvalier's defense attorney and former senator, claimed that he filed an appeal of the judge's order and asserted that he was confident that the Supreme Court would overturn the decision to force Duvalier to appear in court as well as put a stop to accusations brought forth by countless victims of Duvalier's rule. Georges boasted, "We're waiting for the Supreme Court decision and we're going to win, I don't lose. I'm Haiti's Johnnie Cochran."
The victims' attorneys urged the judge to arrest the former leader for not being present in court. Judge Jean Joseph Lebrun of Haiti's Court of Appeals responded that Duvalier had no grounds to appeal to the Supreme Court at this juncture and demanded that the prosecutor bring the former leader to court "without delay." It was not clear whether there would be any consequences for not adhering to court orders.
Duvalier inherited power from his father, François "Papa Doc" Duvalier in 1971 and ruled Haiti until he was overthrown in 1986. Thousands of people were murdered or tortured in prison during this time. Duvalier made an unexpected return to his earthquake-stricken homeland in January 2011 after nearly 25 years in exile in France, opening himself up to possible prosecution. Duvalier was also charged with embezzling between $300 million and $800 million of assets during his presidency however a court dismissed the embezzlement charge, which would carry a maximum of five years in prison.
The human rights community is in an uproar. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay declared in Geneva that "the State has an obligation to ensure that there is no impunity for serious violations of human rights which occurred in the past."Pillay stressed that there are no statute of limitations of any kind in international law for grave violations of human rights which include murder, torture, extrajudicial executions, and enforced disappearances, among others.
This is not the first time Duvalier has skipped his court hearing. He has done so twice this year and continues to travel the country freely despite a court ruling placing him under house arrest.