Book Brief – How Human Rights Can Build Haiti: Activists, Lawyers, and the Grassroots Campaign

How Human Rights Can Build Haiti: Activists, Lawyers, and the Grassroots Campaign
Fran Quigley
Vanderbilt University Press (forthcoming September 2014)
ISBN: 978-0-8265-4993-1 (cloth $35.00)
240 pages

By Health and Human Rights editorial intern Laura Faas

How Human Rights Can Build Haiti: Activists, Lawyers, and the Grassroots Campaign presents the legal and grassroots battles in Haiti as human rights-based strategies that are both practical and attainable in the fight for social justice. One of this text’s accomplishments is its demonstration of how a new, bottom-up approach to transforming Haiti is “creating a template for a new and more effective human rights-focused strategy to turn around failed states and end global poverty.”

While poverty and suffering have silently overrun Haiti for centuries, the January 2010 earthquake thrust the nation’s challenges to the center of the world’s stage. In How Human Rights Can Build Haiti, author Fran Quigley explains that although the donations pledged for Haiti immediately after the disaster were on an unprecedented scale, only half of these funds were actually delivered in the first three years following the earthquake. And of the money that has been delivered to Haiti, little has been used to ameliorate the suffering of the Haitian people. Quigley writes:

The United Nations estimates that less than 1 percent of the funding has been delivered through the Haitian government, where the money could help build the state’s long-term capacity to provide services. Instead, most of the funds have been delivered to a disjointed and inefficient jumble of non-Haitian non-governmental organizations, too many of which have wasted the money meant to help those in need (3).

Quigley describes the natural and man-made disasters, corruption, and neglect that have plagued Haiti throughout its 200-year history. He lays out experts’ widely held assertions that the vast and enduring after-effects of the 2010 earthquake could have been prevented if the country had a true legal system in place. He credits Haitian lawyer Mario Joseph and American lawyer Brian Concannon of the Boston-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, with significant contributions to Haiti’s legal system since the early 2000s, maintaining that without their ongoing efforts, the impacts of the earthquake would have been even more profound. He devotes a full chapter to a landmark human rights case that Concannon and Joseph won in 2000, which resulted in the conviction of 53 soldiers for human rights abuses in connection with a 1994 massacre, a case that cemented the lawyers’ reputation as advocates for Haiti’s poor and disenfranchised.

This major legal win laid the groundwork for Joseph and Concannon’s current effort: a multi-billion-dollar class action lawsuit against the UN on behalf of Haiti’s cholera victims. In the book’s first chapter, “Kolera and the United Nations,” Quigley demonstrates the historic significance of this lawsuit, which sought reparations after the UN’s introduction of cholera to Haiti following the earthquake.

Quigley also details other efforts to hold the international community accountable for the neglect and mistakes made in Haiti pre-and post-earthquake. For example, in looking at the lack of infrastructure rebuilding since the quake, Quigley concludes that investors have no incentive to “finance construction on land in a country where it is next to impossible to prove legal title.” This is central to his argument that a legitimate system of governance would fundamentally improve Haiti.

How Human Rights Can Build Haiti is a cohesive and comprehensive text that deconstructs Haiti’s socioeconomic and political background. In doing so, it illustrates how current efforts of lawyers and activists in Haiti constitute a groundbreaking, bottom-up movement that offers real potential to “bring justice to the poor and reverse the legacy of lawlessness and suffering in Haiti.”

Related link: In Their Court: Litigation Against the United Nations as a Last Resort for Haitian Cholera Victims