Domestic and Sexual Violence in Haiti: Insufficient Remedies, Inadequate Response

A woman in the Petionville Camp at the edge of Port au Prince, Haiti, is interviewed by police officials after lodging a domestic violence complaint against her husband. Copyright: Paul Jeffrey

A woman in the Petionville Camp at the edge of Port au Prince, Haiti, is interviewed by police officials after lodging a domestic violence complaint against her husband.
Copyright: Paul Jeffrey

By Josh Doherty, Visiting Focus Blogger

Like many countries across the world, Haiti suffers from an epidemic of domestic and sexual violence. Although some efforts have been undertaken to reduce vulnerabilities within the IDP camps, and a number of initiatives have been proposed for the country as a whole, intimate partner violence continues to affect a significant proportion of the population.  This post will briefly summarize the current understanding of the scope of the problem of domestic and sexual violence in Haiti, lay out the legal framework currently in place in Haiti to address domestic violence, and highlight a number of key areas that have been identified for improvement. 

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Responsibility and Accountability: The Haitian Epidemic and the United Nations

Photo credit: Ben Depp

Photo credit: Ben Depp

By Adam Houston, Jerry Stenquist, Beatrice Lindstrom, Katharina Rall, and Alok Pokharel, Visiting Focus Bloggers 

This piece is the second in a series on the cholera epidemic sweeping Haiti. This perspective was written by staff and legal fellows at the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH).

The Haitian cholera epidemic is the most serious of the 21st century, with over 600,000 cases and 8000 deaths since October 2010.  As affirmed repeatedly, including by the UN-mandated independent panel of experts tasked with investigating the source of the epidemic, the scientific evidence indicates that the epidemic originated from a UN base situated on a tributary of the Artibonite River in Mirebalais.

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Cholera: The Epidemic Power of Vibrio cholerae

By Jeremy Akers, Danny Mays, Marc Siegel, MD, Visiting Focus Bloggers 

Cholera patients in Haiti. Source: Rapadoo Observateur

Cholera patients in Haiti. Source: Rapadoo Observateur

This is the first in a series of posts on cholera and its impact on Haiti. The first post is a discussion of the disease itself, and serves as an examination of medical and epidemiological factors that enabled cholera to be carried by Nepalese UN peacekeepers and spread throughout Haiti with deadly force.

Haiti’s cholera epidemic began in October of 2010. Since then, researchers have been investigating the origin of the infection, as it had not been seen on the island of Hispaniola in over a century. Scientists have performed biochemical tests and genetic analysis on the bacteria in Haiti, tracing the current outbreak to a strain of Vibrio cholerae that is widespread in cholera-endemic southern Asia. The CDC found evidence that human waste from a UN peacekeeping base staffed by Nepalese officers was contaminating tributaries of the Artibonite River that flowed through many of the tent cities housing displaced Haitians after the earthquake. Journalists and the public put two and two together, and outrage has ensued, and legal action is being taken against the UN on behalf of affected Haitians.

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Audits as Usual?



By Scott Freeman, Visiting Scholar

A GAO report on the activities of USAID Haiti was released last week, and those who are engaged in the topics of aid in Haiti are undoubtedly already aware of the report and for many, the report is not surprising. Commissioned through requests made by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the report points out that only 31% of funding allocated to  aid targeted to Haiti has been disbursed, and that the projected number of houses to be built has dropped from 15,000 to 2,649.

These issues of housing and aid disbursement have been previously raised by journalists and academics alike (notably Mark Schuller, and Deborah Sontag on aid, and the USAID Caracol project). The GAO report adds perhaps a slightly different light to these criticisms, but continues in a critical glance at the aid apparatus in Haiti.

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On the Role of History and Social Science in Policy

Kiran picture new

By Kiran Jayaram, Visiting Focus Blogger 

Five days after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, I smuggled myself onto a bus chartered by the Dominican government, and for the next two weeks, I assisted the relief efforts in Haiti by working with the Cruz Roja Dominicana (CRD).  Indeed, the Dominican government and non-state actors in the Dominican Republic played important roles in the immediate aftermath, as I will discuss below, but some of the good intentions were undermined by existing social dynamics.  Policy initiatives, especially during disasters, should be based upon solid understandings of history (lest we be doomed to repeat it) and of people’s experiences gained though social science.  Rather than depict angels and demons, I offer a sober sketch of the pre and post-earthquake dynamics of the island of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, after which I mention a few details from my time as a relief worker.

Both in the past and presently, Haitians and Dominicans have co-existed amicably.  Slavery in the Dominican Republic was abolished while the country was under Haitian rule.  Though certain Dominican groups resented the so-called Haitian unification of the island from 1822-1844, others supported it due to potential trade benefits.  After the 2010 earthquake, President Fernández opened the border between the two countries to facilitate relief efforts.  The Dominican Red Cross was one of the first international groups operating after the earthquake, which I will discuss shortly.  In the contemporary era, Haiti represents the largest foreign market for Dominicans, accounting for at least 25% of all exports.  Additionally, Haitian students represent the largest group of foreign students in the Dominican Republic.  Furthermore, there have been festivals with both Haitian and Dominican musicians, sometimes in the same band.  Finally, there are countless children across the island who have a Haitian and a Dominican parent.  Yet despite this amity, animosity also exists.

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The Invisible Walls of Aid

By Scott Freeman, Visiting Scholar

In order to prepare students for the aid industry, graduate and undergraduate institutions have designed degrees and concentrations in international development. Focusing on thinking critically about policy and procedure, students are ostensibly prepared so that previous errors will not be repeated again. But once one is ‘in’ the industry, is knowledge about ‘good policy’ enough?

Conducting research on international development aid most often involves examining a project or initiative, looking at both the implementer and recipient perspective, and using data to critically analyze the situation. Without going into a large literature review, suffice it to say this trail has been walked more than once.

A number of authors (Fechter and Hindman 2011, Lewis 2011), have followed aid workers themselves in an attempt to understand their realities, rather than basing criticism only on the bookends of written proposals and completed projects.

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Images and “Saving”

By Scott FreemanVisiting Scholar

As an anthropologist, and one that focuses on Haiti, it is imperative to think and reflect on representation: how we represent those we work with, and to what end. These representations are not some sort of post-modern exercise in self absorption (though in academia, anything can become an exercise of self absorption). The ways in which objects, places, and people are represented has a profound effect materially. In the case of Haiti, it legitimizes extractive occupations and the continual presence of international powers using Haiti for markets and labor. It also legitimizes the short term mission trips that populate many of the flights to Haiti.

I recently gave a guest lecture at Montgomery College in Maryland. During that lecture and the following discussion, we thought through some of the work of Mary Renda (“Taking Haiti: Military Occupation and the Culture of US Imperialism, 1915-1940” (2000)), in which she discusses the occupation of Haiti by US marine forces. Peppered through are the words of the US marines, led by Smedley Butler. He referred to the Haitian soldiers as “my little chocolate fellows.” Using this phrase, we turned to the ideas of paternalism. Within those four words, we uncovered the pejorative and racialized account of Haitians that legitimized an occupation. Writing back to the Senate, the Marines expressed that they had encountered “a huge estate that belonged to minors.” This language fostered a moral superiority that legitimized an invasion.

During that lecture, the students and I discussed not only how this language dehumanizes and diminishes, but also how there are material consequences of those actions. Private industry (bankers, railroad owners) pressured the US occupation of Haiti, and the private gains that were at stake motivated Woodrow Wilson’s administration to enter and formally begin the occupation. But only, of course, with the moral superiority that permeated those paternalistic statements.

Our discussion then turned to the earthquake of 2010, and how this discourse continues through the present day. I asked students to look through the winning photographs from the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography in 2011. The photographs are startling, so advance with caution. Certainly, they depict the death and sorrow that permeated the earthquake. But there is a startling and dehumanizing of representation that runs through these photos. Images of violence, the grotesque, and a type of neo-colonial salvation are side by side, and in the collection, the narrative of primitivism and violence are kept alive and well.

Looting and pillaging are depicted repeatedly throughout the collection, giving a sense of widespread social disorder. Yet other authors and scholars have repeatedly contested this, arguing that following the earthquake, “there was no violence or ‘a day without rule.’ In the midst of near disaster, people were trying to go on” (Katz, 2012).

Alongside violence, the series of photographs highlights the elderly and defines Haiti through an odd lens of helplessness. Looking down from above, we see the elderly given a bath on open toilet seats. There are no faces, just bodies. In that moment, an unclothed elder is juxtaposed with open toilet seats as he is bathed by an attendant. There is a mixing and molding of profane (toilets, waste) and helpless immobility (elderly, wheelchairs). With these images we are urged to think about Haiti and the earthquake in terms of helplessness, a helplessness that exists in a space of ‘contaminated mortality.’

But perhaps the most significant images are those of the foreign relief worker saving a Haitian baby. Or the foreign doctor hugging a child. In these moments of caring, of power and compassion, the foreign, white, aid worker is comes to the salvation of children. Juxtaposed with the previous photographs, that salvation becomes defined against a contaminated helplessness and violence, proposing the foreigner as savior for the catastrophe.

Gina Athena Ulysse, the talented performer and anthropologist, does a far better job than I at deconstructing these representations of Haitians. She writes how Haitians have often been portrayed historically as fractures and fragments, bodies without minds, heads without bodies, or simply roving spirits (see Tectonic Shifts, 2012). In these photos, these fragments are spread in a very particular narrative of disaster. Fragments of bodies. Helplessness. Not the Haiti of solidarity, the cooperative, the neighbor lending hand to neighbor. Rather, Haiti the odd, the irregular, the ‘exceptional’ (as Troulliot might have us say). In the midst of all of this, the cure presented is the white savior.

Writing from a school of international affairs, one must think about the effects that these images continue to have on conversations of politics and policy. Do these types of images play roles in justifying international meddling in Haiti’s affairs, the removal and appointment of Presidents? Do they serve to further legitimize the interventions of the supposed “10,000 NGOs,”?

It is not only the writings we must write against, but also the narrative images that propel the “saving” of Haiti. Images may pull at our heart strings, and compel some sort of continued engagement, but perhaps one of the roles of this post (and perhaps this blog), is to ask for a moment to think, a moment to understand the way that other people are being spoken about and represented, and how historically these representations have occurred. If we commit to learning from the past, then we should realize that the these narratives and images of dehumanization coupled with salvation have many times before been a first step towards control and violence.