PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A Haitian partner organization of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), the National Human Rights Defense Network (RNDDH), presented a human rights report on June 17 to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
MCC workers have supported the work of RNDDH since 1998 by helping staff members gather and analyze information on human rights in Haiti's prisons, police stations and judicial system. Pierre Espérance, director of RNDDH, used this data and analysis when he presented his report.
RNDDH was founded in 1982 while Jean-Claude Duvalier was dictator in Haiti and has a long history of monitoring human rights.
Haiti's political freedoms have improved in recent years. After President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was deposed in a coup and U.N. peacekeepers arrived in late 2004, the current president, Rene Preval, was democratically elected in 2006.
Relative stability has led to increased civil and political freedom, enabling national and international human rights organizations to expose corruption with impunity and to demand that the government honor the international human rights conventions to which it has agreed.
Even with these improvements, RNDDH states that "the general human rights situation remains a source of constant preoccupation," as evidenced in Haiti's senatorial elections in April 2009. They were marred by violence, and a number of the candidates were rumored to have been involved in drug trafficking and money laundering. Many Haitians had difficulty obtaining the identification cards necessary to register to vote.
In addition, the RNDDH presentation in Geneva addressed the weakness of state institutions, primarily Haiti’s prison and judicial systems. RNDDH found that 78 percent of Haitian prisoners have not been sentenced and are waiting in inhumane and degrading prison conditions. There are no rehabilitation centers in place for minors.
Haiti also is behind in guaranteeing many of the other rights stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to RNDDH, “hospitals and health centers function in systematic disorder… [and] the right to education is also not protected.”
Michel Forst, the U.N.'s independent expert on human rights in Haiti, also touched on these issues in a report to the council, stating the need to “guarantee to every citizen the full exercise of economic, social and cultural rights… [including] access to education for all, a health-care system, drinking water and sanitation services, adequate and decent housing, [and] employment income and training.”
RNDDH is optimistic that human rights can be fully respected in Haiti. The organization's website states, "We also live in a world filled with seeds of hope and the unyielding belief in the sacredness of humanity."
MCC's Haiti representative, Kurt Hildebrand of Medford, Ore., who had worked with RNDDH, said, “MCC firmly believes that without justice there can be no peace. We're honored to be able to partner with a Haitian organization that is working to defend the rights of all Haitians, regardless of their political or socioeconomic background.”