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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Professor Fran Quigley assesses the role of human rights in rebuilding Haiti

un2.jpgOn October 22, the Twin Cities community and the University of Minnesota students, faculty, and staff spent the afternoon listening to Fran Quigley, a clinical professor of law at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, and a specialist in human rights advocacy. Using his book, How Human Rights Can Build Haiti: The Lawyers, the Activists, and the Grassroots Movement, as a framework for discussion, Quigley educated and engaged his audience on the Haitian cholera epidemic and its implications with respect to human rights.



Briefly outlining the context of the recent human rights violation, Professor Quigley explained that after Hurricane Tomas struck Haiti in November of 2010, the United Nations sent Nepalese troops to assist in providing disaster relief. However, the UN failed to screen the troops for disease, thus allowing soldiers infected with cholera to inhabit the country. As a result of poor infrastructure and negligent human waste disposal practices at the UN base, cholera bacteria infected the water of the Artibonite River, contaminating a major source of water for many Haitians. He explained how the United Nations, regarded as the universal protector of human rights, largely perpetuated the violation of those rights in Haiti in 2010, and is yet to claim responsibility. To date, over 700,000 Haitians have been infected with cholera, and the disease has taken nearly 8,600 lives. In his discussion, Quigley also touched on additional human rights violations affecting Haiti such the prevalence of sexual assaults and the lack of adequate shelter, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Tomas.

After providing several personal anecdotes and a basic understanding of the epidemic, Quigley stated that Haiti is in desperate need of individually enforceable rights and rule of law. By developing government transparency, responsibility, and accountability, as well as by creating and enforcing building codes, emergency response programs, and public safety systems, Quigley believes Haiti will come closer to prosperity. Actors such as the United States Congress, Parlement Haitien, UN member states, scientists, Partners in Health, media outlets, grassroots organizations, and over 30,000 combined petition signers are working diligently to hold the United Nations accountable for the outbreak of cholera in Haiti.

Bringing the issue closer to home, Quigley outlined the role that the United States can play in providing justice to Haitians and helping to rebuild Haiti. As a large world power and the primary financial contributor to the United Nations, the U.S. has the capacity to support the passionate grassroots activists of Haiti by amplifying their voices on a global scale. While stating that it is necessary for corrupt governments to be challenged and punished, Quigley also explained why it is imperative that Americans exhibit utmost humility and "take the passenger seat" to Haitians, allowing them to determine their country's priorities. He encouraged all in attendance to write to congressional representatives and join Minneapolis' own Haiti Justice Alliance to raise awareness and enact change for the people of Haiti. At the very least, he stressed the importance of becoming educated and educating others on the cholera epidemic and other issues that currently plague Haiti. As Professor Fran Quigley fervently expressed, charity does not create human rights; governmental and systemic change does, and we can all be part of the solution.

The event was organized by undergraduate senior Natalie Miller, leader of the Cholera Accountability Project and member of the Haiti Justice Alliance. The event was presented by the Haiti Justice Alliance in partnership with the University of Minnesota Human Rights Program.
-written by Monica Delgado