IntLawGrrl Benedetta Faedi Duramy‘s book, Gender and Violence in Haiti: Women’s Path from Victims to Agents, offers a rich and nuanced description of the complex forces that entangle impoverished Haitian women in cycles of violence, both as subjects and as perpetrators. Her clear and powerful writing explains in detail the historical evolution of this violence, situating it within a climate of deep gender inequality and desperate poverty. It is a worthwhile read for that history alone, but goes on to describe in depth the complexities of contemporary Haitian society and the situation of women within it. Prof. Faedi Duramy catalogues the relevant human rights law and offers practical suggestions as to how it might be applied to ameliorate the condition of Haitian women. I’ve posted on SSRN a full review of her book, forthcoming next spring in Human Rights Quarterly. But don’t stop there — the book itself is an engaging and informative though deeply troubling read.
I am delighted to announce that Rutgers University Press has just published my book Gender and Violence in Haiti: Women’s Path from Victims to Agents. Jaya Ramji-Nogales will be reviewing the book for Human Rights Quarterly and will post a review soon. In the meantime, here is the publisher’s description:
“Women in Haiti are frequent victims of sexual violence and armed assault. Yet an astonishing proportion of these victims also act as perpetrators of violent crime, often as part of armed groups. Award-winning legal scholar Benedetta Faedi Duramy visited Haiti to discover what causes these women to act in such destructive ways and what might be done to stop this tragic cycle of violence.
Gender and Violence in Haiti is the product of more than a year of extensive firsthand observations and interviews with the women who have been caught up in the widespread violence plaguing Haiti. Drawing from the experiences of a diverse group of Haitian women, Faedi Duramy finds that both the victims and perpetrators of violence share a common sense of anger and desperation. Untangling the many factors that cause these women to commit violence, from self-defense to revenge, she identifies concrete measures that can lead them to feel vindicated and protected by their communities.
Faedi Duramy vividly conveys the horrifying conditions pervading Haiti, even before the 2010 earthquake. But Gender and Violence in Haiti also carries a message of hope—and shows what local authorities and international relief agencies can do to help the women of Haiti.”
On Monday, the United Nations formally declined to award compensation to individuals in Haiti who were affected by a cholera outbreak that began in October 2010. The UN failed to screen its peacekeepers for the disease prior to them entering into Haiti. Nepalese troops brought the disease into Haiti, a country that had not been affected by cholera for over 50 years. Poor waste management at the UN peacekeepers’ camp resulted in infected human faeces being deposited in a tributary that feeds into Haiti’s main river. Within the first 30 days, Haitian authorities recorded almost 2,000 deaths from cholera. In July 2011, the epidemic infected at a pace of one person every minute. The impact of the cholera outbreak has been devastating. Almost three years on from the outbreak, the country is still struggling to rid itself of the disease.
The UN does not dispute that its peacekeepers brought cholera into Haiti. Nor does it seek to absolve itself of blame for the conditions within the peacekeepers’ camp. The UN is seeking to avoid compensating victims of the cholera outbreak. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has once again pointed to the Organisation’s absolute immunity from jurisdiction as a bar to individuals bringing claims against the UN. In the formal letter setting out the UN’s position, Ban Ki-Moon repeatedly points to the UN’s actions in Haiti since the outbreak. Rather than focusing on the fact that the UN is responsible for the cholera, he praises the Organisation’s efforts to contain and eradicate the disease. He makes clear, however, that compensation for individuals is not part of the clean-up package.
Lawyers acting on behalf of 5,000 victims called the UN’s response an ‘outrage’.
Throughout these victims’ struggle to seek justice, the UN has relied upon its absolute immunity from jurisdiction. That immunity traditionally is based on Article 105(1) of the Charter of the United Nations and on Section 2 of the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations (CPIUN). However, such immunity violates the fundamental rights of individuals to access a court and to seek a remedy. As such, a counter-balance exists through the UN being required to provide alternative mechanisms for resolving disputes. Section 29 of the CPIUN and the Model Status of Forces Agreement both mandate that the UN set up local claims boards within any peacekeeping operation. Those claims boards are designed for individuals involved in a dispute with the UN or its staff. They allow such individuals to realise their rights to access a court and to seek a remedy despite the UN’s absolute immunity.
Alternative mechanisms for resolving disputes have not helped the 5,000 individuals affected by the cholera outbreak in Haiti. The UN insists that the cases issued on those victims’ behalf are not ‘receivable’ because they address ‘political’ or ‘policy’ matters rather than being private law claims. Therefore, the individuals concerned are denied an alternative dispute resolution mechanism that is supposed to counterbalance the UN’s immunity. Essentially, they are being denied their fundamental rights to access a court and to seek a remedy.
This simply is not good enough. Two months ago, lawyers for the victims issued an ultimatum demanding that the UN provide compensation to the victims within 60 days. Otherwise, the lawyers promised, they would bring a human rights-based challenge to the UN’s absolute immunity. Yesterday’s announcement by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon sets the scene for that challenge to be made.
National courts have long-understood the United Nations to have absolute immunity from their jurisdiction. State immunity has evolved over recent decades, allowing restrictive immunity that distinguishes between acts jure imperii and those jure gestionis. A question remains about whether that doctrine applies to international organisations. Case law from various courts and jurisdictions shows that the UN’s absolute immunity has been challenged, albeit unsuccessfully on the facts of each case. The basis for those challenges have been that the bar to jurisdiction violates claimants’ rights to access a court and to a remedy. In all of the cases so far, the individuals’ ability to access alternative mechanisms for dispute resolution has been used to demonstrate that their rights have been realised. The difference for the 5,000 individuals from Haiti is that there is no alternative mechanism for resolving their dispute. This leaves those individuals with their fundamental rights being violated.
By invoking absolute immunity, the UN has either ignored or missed the point that all individuals have rights to access a court and a remedy. Those rights are being denied by the UN’s absolute immunity coupled together with its refusal to hear those claims within its own tribunals. The Organisation that created the modern system of international human rights law, and that is tasked with protecting and promoting those rights, is denying fundamental rights to these 5,000 individuals from Haiti. By failing to provide compensation to the victims of cholera in Haiti, the door has been opened for a successful human rights-based challenge to the UN’s absolute immunity – one that may have far-reaching implications and one that is long overdue.
I had the great pleasure of launching our research series on safe shelter from sexual and gender-based violence in forced displacement contexts today at the UNHCR NGO Consultation in Geneva. This was the study I introduced in an IntLawGrrls post last June, as we were starting our data analysis.
IntLawGrrls might recall that the study was aimed at filling the gap between limited international guidance on safe shelter provision in forced displacement contexts and knowledge about what is and is not working on the ground. We had 3 main objectives:
- Identify and describe shelter models available to refugees, the internally displaced, and other migrants fleeing sexual and gender-based violence.
- Identify challenges experienced by staff and residents in these settings and document strategies used to respond to these challenges.
- Explore protection needs and options for particularly marginalized victim groups, such as male survivors, sexual minorities, and people with disabilities.
To learn more about the above, we interviewed safe shelter residents, safe shelter staff, and key informants in Colombia, Haiti, Kenya, and Thailand in the first half of 2012. The case-study research culminated in five reports: four country reports and one comparative report. All are available here on the Human Rights Center website.
One of our key findings was the great diversity of existing safe shelter mechanisms – even beyond traditional safe houses. Other data concerned the tremendous work being done under shockingly constrained resources. Of course, we also documented recurrent challenges related to resource limitations, security and emotional support needs of shelter STAFF as well as residents, limited transition options, the need for community buy-in, and the lack of coordination among shelter programs – especially between mainstream safe shelters and those serving refugees or IDPs.
In addition, we noted some of the ethical and political challenges that can arise in the provision of focused protection of a few, while in the midst of general deprivation.
Finally, we marked critical protection gaps – particularly around LGBT persons, male survivors, and persons with serious health conditions.
Protection solutions must be context-specific. For this reason, our recommendations are circumspect; we tried not to overstep the bounds of our data. Hopefully, our exploratory study in four very distinct countries will nonetheless shed light on what is and what is not working well in those contexts, and what strategies might be helpful in similar circumstances.
So far, the heads of UNHCR’s Policy Development and Evaluation Service and the Division of International Protection have welcomed the research and say it will directly impact their thinking and programming on protection from sexual and gender-based violence. We hope so. We also hope for similar openness as we bring our research back to providers and policymakers in each case study country this month – we’ll then share their grassroots-level updates, feedback, and additional recommendations with UNHCR headquarters again in July when we’re done.