Wednesday, November 16, 2011
The Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) and their Haitian affiliate the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) filed complaints with the United Nations on behalf of 5,000 Haitian cholera victims. In October 201, a severe cholera epidemic broke out in Haiti killing 7,000 people and sickening another half million. While the UN denied having any involvement in the introduction of the epidemic, Haiti had not seen a case of cholera in more than 50 years and the strain was traced back to South Asia where some of the UN troops resided (see: 1. http://solutionshaiti.blogspot.com/2010/11/cholera-in-haiti-is-united-nations.html 2. http://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2010/r101101.html )
Now the IJDH and BAI are raising money to pursue the case. They are requesting a minimum of USD 100,000 to compensate each victim who died from cholera, plus reasonable attorney’s fees and legal costs and expenses; and a minimum of USD 50,000 to compensate each victim who suffered illness and injury from cholera, plus reasonable attorney’s fees and legal costs and expenses.
Furthermore, without ever approaching the Haitian Government, they have taken it upon themselves to also request, “that the UN enter into an agreement with
the Government of Haiti to establish and fund a countrywide program for clean water, adequate sanitation and appropriate medical treatment, to prevent the further spread of cholera. The funds in this settlement should be furnished by the UN and allocated for measures that will end the cholera epidemic, including measures that improve (i) water quality and access; (ii) sanitation conditions; and (iii) access to medical services.” They also note that, “Such measures will also limit the long-term liability of the UN for claims associated with cholera.”
At best, this seems an attempt to secure compensation for victims. However, at worst, it seems an opportunistic attempt to capitalize on a tragic situation for fund raising purposes. It is also unclear if the IJDH and BAI will collect a portion of the settlement, as is standard practice for tort lawyers or civil cases. If so, there is an awful lot of money at stake.
The reason I am raising these questions is due to the head of IJDH’s track record in Haiti. Mr. Brian Concannon has a long association with former Haitian President Aristide, who retainer Mr. Concannon for US$50.000/month paid for out of the meager coffers of the Haitian Government ( see: http://www.haitipolicy.org/Lobbying7.htm ). His interests have seemed more to align with turning Haiti’s challenges and weak position into economic opportunity for him and his non-profit.
Further, what is equally concerning is Mr. Concannon’s approach to this challenge. Rather than offer the Haitian Government the technical and legal support to file and organize this case, he circumvented the government and pursued this project on his own. This has been exactly the approach that has resulted in the failure of foreign aid in Haiti. Many NGOs prefer to avoid the Haitian Government because it is weak and corrupt. However, avoiding the Government only reinforces Haiti’s challenges. Working to build capacity in the Government and train young Haitian prosecutors on how to file such a case would have actually left a lasting legacy of capacity with the Haitian system, which in turn would have strengthened the Government and its ability to provide for its people. But that approach is very hard, and may not result in a big financial settlement. It is much easier to exploit opportunities for your own organization’s gain. In the end, I just hope that the 5,000 people that they promised justice, will actually see justice and receive some of that compensation