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HAITI: Experts Urge Sea Change in “Culture of Aid”

William Fisher

NEW YORK, Mar 5 2010 (IPS) - A delegation of human rights experts is preparing to visit Haiti to assess the human rights and aid situation in the earthquake-crippled nation and to urge the international community to follow a series of guidelines they have prepared to help donors’ to “overcome the mistakes of the past.”

The team will be conducting its assessments through interviews and onsite visits both inside and outside of Port-au-Prince, focusing on towns that have received a high volume of internally displaced persons since the earthquake.

The trip, scheduled for Mar. 9-12, comes in advance of the Mar. 23 hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, where members of the delegation will provide testimony aimed at encouraging the commission to formally investigate the human rights impacts of post-earthquake aid on behalf of the Organisation of American States.

It also precedes the much-anticipated Mar. 31 Haiti Donors’ Conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York, where future aid to Haiti will be discussed. The groups recently issued a list of recommendations outlining a rights-based approach to aid delivery in advance of that conference, and have a long history of working on aid and human rights issues in Haiti.

The delegation will consist of representatives from prominent human rights organisations – the Centre for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at NYU School of Law and the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights (RFK Center) – and Haitian experts from the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) and Zanmi Lasante/Partners in Health.

The groups plan to conduct what they describe as the first of a series of assessments that will span the coming year.

One member of the delegation, Monika Kalra Varma, executive director of the RFK Centre, told IPS, “We are encouraged by the new tone evident in the rhetoric coming from Secretary of State (Hillary) Clinton and others.”

“But rhetoric and goodwill go only so far. Forging a real partnership with the Haitian people will require a total change in the culture of delivering aid to Haiti. Yet if that kind of partnership is not achieved, we will have more of the failures we have seen for decades,” Varma added.

Noting that this is a requirement not only for country donors but also for the large number of international NGOs operating in Haiti, she said the Haitian people “must have an active voice” in what is being planned for their country.

“This is not simply a Port-au-Prince problem,” she stressed. “A million people have fled the capital for safer locations elsewhere, usually with family members. Those people too must be included in the new partnership.”

The groups are recommending “a rights-based approach… Donor states should act with full transparency and accountability, making information about their plans and programmes available to all, and should work with the Haitian government to set up public monitoring and reporting mechanisms.”

They called for the creation of a multi-donor fund that includes Haitian officials, civil society and community-based organisations as voting members on the governing committee, and urged that donors build the capacity of the Haitian government to manage its own aid programmes.

“This requires donors to work directly with the government of Haiti to identify needs and to develop, implement, and monitor programmes to provide basic public services, including education and public health, water, and sanitation services,” the groups declared.

The capacity of the Haitian government to budget, disburse funds, and implement projects in a transparent way should be a high priority, the groups say. They are also recommending the creation of a “public web-based database to report and track donor pledges, disbursed funds, recipients, sector areas, and expected outcomes under the aegis of the Multi-Donor Fund.”

They must “Prioritize programmes benefiting vulnerable groups, including women and children, the disabled, the elderly, and internally displaced persons.” Accountability plays a major role in the series of recommendations. The groups propose the establishment and funding of a mechanism “to measure and monitor the outcomes of assistance projects at the community level. All findings should be made public. This mechanism should be administered by the Government of Haiti in partnership with civil society and community-based groups and should include a mechanism for Haitians to register complaints about problems with implementation of projects.”

International aid to Haiti has been problematic for decades before the magnitude 7.5 earthquake flattened the country’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, on Jan. 12, leaving a million homeless and killing an estimated 200,000.

Aid to Haiti has been marked by frequent interruptions, particularly in assistance from the U.S., for political and ideological reasons. Within Haiti, massive and continuing government and private corruption has siphoned off large chunks of funding and misdirected money to people who didn’t need help.

Development experts say aid to Haiti has been aid to the light-skinned elites of Haiti.

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