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Haiti's reconstruction must proceed with respect for the population's rights

Lisa Haugaard [Executive Director, Latin America Working Group]: "The United States and the international community's response to the Haitian earthquake must not only be generous, long-term and sustainable. It must also respect and promote rights.

To "rebuild with rights," a starting place might be considering these principles.

  • Recovery should be Haitian-led. It should be designed and implemented with the leadership of the Haitian government and the active participation of Haitian civil society organizations. Reconstruction aid should be transparent.
  • Reconstruction should be equitable and strengthen rights. It should be conducted in an equitable manner, respect internationally recognized labor rights, not prioritize wealthier areas, and rebuild a more equitable society. Reconstruction should promote more accountable government and strengthen existing human rights protections.
  • Relief and reconstruction efforts should protect vulnerable populations. The UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement [PDF file] must be used as the framework for assistance to the displaced, with special attention to the needs of women and children.
  • Orphans and all children should be protected. Family reunification in-country should be prioritized, and measures taken to prevent human trafficking.
  • Donors must not take with one hand while providing with the other. Debt cancellation should be provided and aid should come not as loans, but as grants.
  • Military roles in relief and reconstruction must be kept to a minimum. While there is an important role for the military in the immediate aftermath of a disaster of this scale, civilian authorities must take leadership, and military involvement should be phased out as soon as is practical.
  • A long-term vision must drive reconstruction. Reconstruction should be focused on restoring sustainable livelihoods, creating a more decentralized, balanced development, and mitigating risks from future disasters.

In the United States, Partners in Health/Lanmi Lasante and five other human rights and humanitarian groups urged a rights-based approach to relief and recovery efforts, including "Empowering all strata of the Haitian population to participate in decision making at each level of the aid and development process, from the initial needs assessment to project planning, implementation, and evaluation." Twelve US humanitarian and human rights organizations called [PDF file] on the Obama Administration to provide generous assistance that builds on existing plans, promotes sustainable development, and protects vulnerable populations. UN High Commission for Human Rights Navy Pillay called for "re-constructing and strengthening the national human rights protection systems through an effective and independent judiciary and a law enforcement apparatus respectful of human rights."

Carrying out such a rights-based approach is never easy, and will be extremely difficult in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, but the international community, working in partnership with the Haitian government and civil society, must aim high."

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.

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