The Two Faces of the UN

By Scott Freeman, Visiting Scholar 

“All those Haitians who suffered such abuses have a right to see justice is done.”                                                                                 -UN High Comissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

I’d like to post the two articles related to UN involvement in Haiti that came out a couple weeks ago. Both published on February 21, both regarding ‘justice’ to Haitians.

In one case, the UN has absolved itself of legal responsibility to the families and victims of cholera, a disease that MINUSTAH itself (the UN stabilization force in Haiti) introduced. Read the claim here. In the other, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) made a statement about, and in support of, bringing Jean Claude Duvalier to trial regarding crimes committed during his dictatorship. Read the statement here.

Subsequent articles (The Atlantic) have spoken out about the UN’s involvement in the introduction and spread of cholera. That an institution such as the UN would introduce such a disease and not hold itself accountable is inexcusable. Taken alone, this decision paints a stark picture of the UN’s presence in Haiti. However when paired with the second public statement, released on the same day, the picture becomes perhaps even more jarring. The UN has decided that not only will it not be held accountable for cholera victims, it will do so while attempting to be an international voice for human rights violations.

I agree with the Navi Pillay quote I began with. The trial of Duvalier is important for many reasons. However, the thin line drawn by the UN on human rights issues is becoming increasingly nefarious and self-serving. This line demarcates who can and who cannot commit human rights violations, and when those violations can occur. That line, even the existence of one, is frightening indeed.

Haitians stand outside the Tribunal de Paix building in the town of Grand Boucan in May 2012. UN Photo/Victoria Hazou

Haitians stand outside the Tribunal de Paix building in the town of Grand Boucan in May 2012. UN Photo/Victoria Hazou

Haiti Advocacy Working Group Recent Events: Dialogues between Haitian Institutions and US Aid Groups

By Scott Freeman, Visiting Scholar

This past week, the Haiti Advocacy Working Group put together a gathering of representatives from Haitian NGOs, development aid workers, and a few members of Haitian and American governments. While I wasn’t able to attend the entire three day event, I was able to attend the panel on agriculture in Haiti.

The first presentation (by Kelly Geoghean of Environmental Justice Initiative of Haiti) presented the concept of a scorecard for aid institutions, which Mark Cohen (OXFAM) applied to the heavily criticized USAID  Winner program. Mr. Cohen raised issues presented by USAID’s interventions, how the organization had done little for agrarian reform, and examined the Winner program for both positive aspects and negative aspects of its implementation. While these first two presentations certainly did not provide glowing compliments of agricultural development in Haiti, they attempted to find successful themes within the existing aid paradigms.

These constructive spins on aid implementation were quickly opposed by Doudou Festil (RENHASSA/ Je nan Je), and Ricot Jean Pierre (Plateforme Haitienne de Plaidoyer pour un Développment Alternatif). Mr. Festil returned to the topic of the Winner program, noting that the millions spent supposedly on aid were for actually for bolstering Coca-Cola, and that in fact the Winner project is a threat to Haiti’s food sovereignty. He observed that while many times aid projects say that they will bring positive results, Haitian peasants do not understand it as such. His statements referenced the muted voices of farmers in the discourse of aid implementation. Ricot Jean Pierre followed and continued the criticism of USAID, making the accusation that in fact USAID is guilty of crimes against humanity. These incendiary comments raised eyebrows, and highlighted the ways that the policies of USAID (and aid interventions more broadly) concentrate more on the benefit of aid contractors and American economies than on the radical improvements needed in the Haitian countryside. [For more on critiques of the donor driven policies of agricultural aid in Haiti, see Shamsie, 2012]

Following these fundamental criticisms was Marie Yvette Michaud (MPP/Je nan Je) and finally Gene Philhouer from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Mr. Philhouer seemed shocked as he began his presentation, wondering if he had been doing the right thing as he directed USDA’s assistance programs to Haiti. His bridging comment was that despite disagreements we need to find common ground to work from. The presentation of the USDA’s work in Haiti was presented largely as a summary of the projects completed and in progress.

Unfortunately, the dialogue that I had hoped for did not occur. Time was up, and there was no room for questions. Two sides seemed to form, one trying to build on the positive aspects of aid, and the other, objecting fundamentally to the direction of aid in Haiti. Notably, the latter perspective was that of the Haitian invitees, and the former, that of American aid workers. Though the panel offered an opportunity for voices to be raised that otherwise do not make it to the US Capital, challenges to the perspectives of foreign aid and US government interventions seemed to hang in the air unresolved.

Haiti Advocacy Working Group & Haitian & Diaspora Partners meeting with Haiti Program Heads for USAID, US State Dept & CDC. Source: HAWG

Haiti Advocacy Working Group & Haitian & Diaspora Partners meeting with Haiti Program Heads for USAID, US State Dept & CDC. Source: HAWG

UNDP’s Questionable Claims of Progress

By Scott Freeman, Visiting Scholar

Heraldo Muñoz, the Chilean Assistant Secretary-General and Assistant Administrator Director of the Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, UNDP, recently published an article in Foreign Policy regarding the ‘real’ recovery of Haiti. It was seemingly a response to recent books on the topic of reconstruction and development (for example, here) and New York Times pieces (here and here). In it, he argues that the critics are wrong, that Haitians are thriving, and that ‘development’ is flourishing.

I’ve been pleased as of late to see that headlines are critically examining, and not forgetting, the unfolding events regarding the aid sector in Haiti. Yet I am concerned by the article by Dr. Muñoz as it relates to the work of this blog: to think more critically about aid in Haiti. To cite that “among Haitians, the sense of progress is unmistakable” seems quite a statement in the face of much writing to the contrary. I’d like to draw attention in particular to the sources he cites.

Gallup poll is cited with conviction, yet the results seem confusing at best. The poll found more Haitians thriving after the earthquake, and also found that in 2010, the very year of the earthquake, fewer Haitians were suffering than in previous years. While ‘suffering’ has supposedly decreased, the poll also notes that the numbers who are struggling has risen steadily. As a social scientist working on the island of Hispaniola (home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti), I have found the types of questions used by the Gallup poll (based on a sliding ladder scale of self-evaluation) incredibly problematic to translate cross culturally. These types of questions generate ample confusion and minimally accurate results. In effect, the results of the poll may represent more about how the poll was carried out than about the perceptions and opinions of Haitians themselves. The Gallup website itself responsibly introduces this doubt into its data: “In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls” (Gallup).

This brings me to a discussion of the glorification of project ‘evaluation’. While a longer treatment of ‘evaluation’ is necessary (and will be attempted in the future in this blog space), a couple of key points are raised by this sort of publication and promotion. First, there seems to be a divorce between the evaluations/reports that Muñoz cites and the writings and research of Mark Schuller, Jonathan Katz,  and many other scholars and reporters. Second, a key difference is that while authors critical of the results of aid (and perhaps the larger development apparatus in general) base their writings off of firsthand accounts in Haiti, Muñoz uses his own UNDP projects and polls to make his statements.

My third concern, and perhaps the most disconcerting, is that this article seems to be an account not of how Haitians are faring, but rather, the ‘successes’ of UNDP projects. In a country that has largely become defined by an endless string of aid projects, turning to project evaluations is an almost ubiquitous phenomenon. Yet there is a very distinct difference between the success of a project and the well-being of individuals. A citation of numbers served by a particular UNDP initiative does not indicate the success of development in Haiti.

Most Haitians I spoke with while conducting fieldwork in 2012 felt that international aid had done little but to provide jobs for foreigners. The phrase yo ap manje kob (they eat up money) came up again and again when discussing NGOs and development institutions.

I fear for the types of decisions that are made when high level aid administrators cultivate an ‘informed opinion’ by simply examining organizationally produced reports and questionable quantitative measures. Perhaps these perspectives would be broadened by more direct conversations with Haitians themselves.

Haitian Recovery? Source: Foreign Policy

Haitian Recovery? Source: Foreign Policy