Centering Haitians in Haitian Relief Efforts

Many Haitian people and relief organizations on the ground in Haiti have critiqued the way relief efforts are being handled in Haiti. Among their criticisms are:

  1. the militarization of relief efforts
  2. lack of communication or distribution of goods based on criminalization of earthquake survivors or Haitians in general
  3. the forced closing of emergency relief clinics or food and water runs due to unsubstantiated fears about Haitian refugees or Haiti
  4. the exportation of racism by militarized relief workers and others
  5. the continued exploitation of families and children
  6. lack of competence around queer issues (including and in some cases especially with trans survivors)
  7. the potential for forcing open markets and marker strongholds by multi-national companies using relief as an entry point

Essentially, the complaints stem from the continued colonial interests of some of the major players involved in Haitian relief which depend on the criminalization of survivors, the militarization of Haitian society, and the exclusion of Haitian people from their own survival in order to make economic and political inroads that have been largely shunned in the past. This includes former President Clinton’s economic relief plan that is based in neo-liberal economics and lending practices that benefit Western multi-national corporations over indigenous industries and labor.

As a result of neo-colonial practices and examples of failed relief efforts at multiple points during the crisis, 500 organizations will meet to pledge decolonized relief efforts that center the sovereignty of Haiti and the needs of the Haitian people. The meeting was called by Haitians working on Haiti relief alongside international organizations who have been working in solidarity with Haitian organizations and organizers since before the crisis.

Please find Madre’s statement about the effort to decolonize relief efforts below:

In advance of a crucial donors’ conference on Haiti, 300 organizations today joined together and submitted a two-page letter of principles to participating states.  MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization, participated in this effort to ensure that human rights principles are embedded in the international community’s response to January’s devastating earthquake in Haiti.

Donor countries will meet at the United Nations (UN) in New York on March 31, in a gathering to be chaired by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Yesterday, the Haitian government released a needs assessment that estimated $11.5 billion would be required for the country to rebuild and expand its infrastructure, social programs and more.

MADRE Policy and Communications Director Yifat Susskind said today, “Rebuilding Haiti on a more sustainable, equitable and disaster-resilient foundation will require using human rights standards to guide the recovery process. The women of Haiti must play meaningful roles in this process along with other sectors of Haitian civil society. Their priorities and perspectives, and not the financial interests of corporations, should be the starting point for discussion among donors.”

The letter of principles submitted today underscores that assistance must be accountable to all Haitian people and must respect their human rights.  Assistance projects must be driven by Haitian leadership and must invest in building long-term capacity.  The letter emphasizes the role of the government of Haiti as a key partner for the international community and for non-profit organizations.

Furthermore, the letter recommends specific mechanisms to ensure that information is provided transparently to the Haitian people and to allow for feedback from the community level.

The Letter

March 18, 2010

Your Excellency,

On the occasion of the Donors’ Conference on Haiti, we, organizations from around the world, call on your government to make human rights the guiding principle of international assistance to Haiti.

We applaud the generosity and commitment of the international community to provide assistance to the Haitian people in their greatest time of need.  Care, however, must be taken to ensure that assistance respects the human rights and dignity of all Haitians.

Too often, in Haiti and around the world, recipients of assistance have been treated as victims deserving of charity, rather than individuals entitled to human rights.  They have been excluded from decisions affecting their basic rights to food, medical assistance, water, and housing.  Assistance has often responded to donor priorities, instead of the needs of the recipient government and people.

At the Donors’ Conference, we urge the international community to overcome the mistakes of the past and to adopt a human rights-based approach—which requires empowering the Haitian people, strengthening the capacity of the government to sustainably guarantee human rights, and making assistance accountable and transparent to the Haitian people—for all assistance to Haiti.

Empower the Haitian People to Build a Stronger Haiti

The international community should focus on empowering the people of Haiti as rights-holders.  It should require a high degree of active, free, and meaningful participation, in project development, implementation, and monitoring, from the entire spectrum of Haitian society, including local communities, civil society and community-based organizations, rural populations, internally displaced people, and women.  Participation will enable Haitians to directly engage in the rebuilding and development of their country and ensure assistance responds to their needs.

The Donor Conference should guarantee that assistance projects will:

  • Be Haitian-led and community-based at every stage of the process, including through the United Nations clusters.  The bulk of the work—and salaries—should go to Haitians.
  • Prioritize the rights of the poorest and most vulnerable groups, including women, children, the disabled, the elderly, and internally displaced persons.
  • Provide, where non-Haitian leadership is absolutely necessary, positions for Haitians and invest in training to develop national capacity to perform those functions.


Strengthen the Haitian Government’s Capacity to Guarantee Human Rights

All international actors should focus on strengthening Haiti with a government that has the resources it needs to guarantee human rights to all Haitian people.  Donor states, NGOs, and the United Nations should partner with Haitian government ministries to fortify and expand a public infrastructure that ultimately belongs to the Haitian people.  At every stage of assistance, donor efforts should be coordinated by and with the government of Haiti.

At the conference, the international community should commit to:

  • Work directly with the Government of Haiti to identify needs and to develop, implement, and monitor programs to sustainably provide basic public services, including education and public health, water, and sanitation services.
  • Provide, to the fullest possible extent, assistance in the form of budgetary support to the Government of Haiti.
  • Encourage all non-governmental organizations operating in Haiti to coordinate with the Government of Haiti and other agencies.


Make Assistance Accountable and Transparent to the People of Haiti

To ensure accountability to the Haitian people, the international community should commit to transparency at the international and local levels and to redress for problems with assistance.  Information on all phases of developing and implementing a rescue, recovery, and rebuilding strategy should be made accessible to Haitians from all sectors of society.  Progress and obstacles alike should be made public.  A complaints system should be put in place to ensure that when things go wrong or human rights are violated, redress is available, no matter the identity of the perpetrator.

With this in mind, the donors at the Conference should commit to:

  • Fund a mechanism, established together with the Government of Haiti, to: (1) deliver information about assistance projects to the Haitian people; (2) measure, monitor, and make public the outcomes of assistance projects at the community level; (3) provide a mechanism for Haitians to register complaints about problems with project implementation.  This mechanism should be administered by the Government of Haiti in partnership with civil society and community-based groups.
  • Comply with the International Aid Transparency Initiative and Paris and Accra principles for all assistance to Haiti.
  • Coordinate all assistance through a Multi-Donor Fund that incorporates the Government of Haiti and representatives of Haitian civil society and community-based organizations as voting members of the governing committee.
  • Create a public web-based database, through a Multi-Donor Fund, to report and track donor pledges, disbursed funds, recipients, sector areas, expected outcomes, and project status.
  • Report publicly and regularly on disbursement of funds and progress and problems with project implementation in a manner accessible to the Haitian people.


Ultimately, all international assistance should aim to provide concrete, durable improvements in the lives of the Haitian people and for human rights in Haiti.  Donors should take this opportunity to implement aid in a rights-based way to substantially better the human rights situation in Haiti.  International donors should ensure their partner non-profit organizations also follow this framework, incorporating human rights principles into projects and coordinating assistance efforts.

For a list of attendees and signatures please click here.

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