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Medium term help for Haiti’s vulnerable


Joint statement on behalf of Caritas Internationalis, International Catholic Child Bureau, Dominicans for Justice and Peace [Order of Preachers], Franciscans International, Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice, VIDES International, Teresian Association, and OIDEL[1]

At Thirteenth Special Session of the Human Rights Council: Special Session “The Support of the Human Rights Council to the Recovery Process in Haiti after the Earthquake of January 12, 2010: A Human Rights Approach”

As Catholic Church-inspired organizations deeply engaged in humanitarian assistance, development, and defence of human rights programmes in Haiti long before the most recent catastrophe, we express our gratitude to this august Council for its wise attention to the human rights implications of the current emergency. The impact of this disaster is felt most directly by the victims themselves. It also has resulted in an exponential deterioration of structures necessary to deliver effective and efficient aid and to assure enjoyment of human rights by the Haitian people who have suffered injustice, want, and marginalisation for too long a period of time. In this regard, we appeal to this Council to call for a balance between emergency action and a long-term development perspective in response to the crying needs of the Haitian people.

The immediate dimensions of this crisis already have been communicated widely within the international community and to the general public, even if total consequences are yet uncalculated. Thus, we will focus on the human rights concerns that our organizations have seen firsthand in the course of our immediate and widespread emergency relief efforts. These efforts continue to suffer from severe lack of resources and of coordination.[2] These initiatives are supplementary to the efforts of local persons, many of whom are motivated by faith-related values of solidarity, concern for the most vulnerable, and commitment to the common good to share what little food, water, and shelter they have with those less fortunate than themselves. Thus we acknowledge that most effective humanitarian response, that also is respectful of basic human rights, must be located in families and local communities.

We wish to raise a special appeal to prioritize the immediate survival and protection needs of women and children. Both the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child have called attention to the striking vulnerability of these populations even before the present disaster occurred. Thus we call on the Human Rights Council to urge development, by the international community, of special action plans to ensure adequate access to and provision of nutrition, water, shelter, health care and protection against violence for both women and children. We also appeal for attention to emotional as well as physical needs of children in order to promote their future development and resilience. In this regard, education must be included among the first lines of response, especially for children who are separated from their families, so that they can regain a sense of “normalcy” and thus benefit from safe and secure spaces where they can interact positively with caregivers and with each other.

A particular challenge to delivery of immediate aid has been the lack of coordination evident in many sectors of humanitarian response. In a country with little infrastructure or rule of law, the international community must take measures to guarantee basic protection, especially for those who are most vulnerable. Our organizations insist that self-serving actions by countries and organizations engaged in relief efforts must be prevented.[3]

As organizations that will remain on the ground in Haiti long after other international organizations have left, we also wish to raise deep concerns about the possibility of envisioning and implementing long-term development strategies and action in this long-suffering country. As was pointed out by Caritas Internationalis President, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, “We have long warned that the lack of development in Haiti, its dire poverty, and its decaying infrastructure leaves it vulnerable to disasters.[4]” We believe that the time has come for the international community, with strong urging from this distinguished Council, to mobilise “lasting solutions and commitment to alleviate the misery of Haitians and the infrastructural poverty of this beleaguered nation.[5]” In accord with the Catholic Social Teaching principle of subsidiarity, we believe that such solutions cannot be developed without the direct participation and leadership of the Haitian people.

Key to such a long-term development strategy will be strengthening of health, education, agricultural, and overall economic infrastructure in the country. Caution must be taken against aid approaches that will cause further dependency among the Haitian people. For example, Haiti can produce its own rice, beans, and corn that can save the lives of its own children! Equally crucial is the development of a truly democratic system that allows free expression of opinion and the rule of justice and law based on the common good for all Haitian people. A careful balance between assistance and development efforts concentrated in the capital and those undertaken in other parts of the country could facilitate a solution to situations of over-crowding in Port-au-Prince as well as further development of trade and industry on a more equitable basis throughout this nation.

We believe that Mme. Claudette Werleigh, former Prime Minister of Haiti, and present Secretary General of Pax Christi International has aptly described this goal as follows: “Haiti and its institutions must be strong enough to be prepared for the next tragedy that may hit the country. It is not every time that we can rely on international help.”[6]

In conclusion, we recommend that the Human Rights Council request all relevant mandate holders and Special Rapporteurs (the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, the Special Rapporteur on the right to heath, the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children,  the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, the Independent Expert on access to safe drinking water and sanitation, and the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti) to urgently carry out a joint mission to investigate the violations of human rights in Haiti and to submit  their report to the 14th session of  Human Rights Council in June 2010.


[1] The Fondazione Marista per la Solidarietà Internazionale and Centro Poveda align themselves to this statement.

[2] A most recent report on the situation from the Caritas Internationalis team on site in Haiti, with participation from local Caritas Haiti workers as well as specialists from 16 additional countries indicated: “Food assistance does not meet the demand in the neighbourhoods and camps. There is high demand for medical care, but a limited number of specialists and medicines, and minimal facilities for operations. There is a need for more water and for removal of rubble and waste, and roofing and shelter are in short supply.” (“Caritas official: Agencies must gear up to help Haitians in long term, by Barbara J. Fraser, Catholic News Service, 25 January 2010.)

[3] Military contingents mandated through unilateral decisions taken by individual countries may not represent the most balanced or efficient responses to such crisis situations. A more vigorous response by the international community, through joint action taken in the context of the United Nations system, should be considered. Another important contribution to emergency response planning and action may be sought from regional structure of CARICOM and the Caribbean countries that constitute themselves as geographical neighbours to Haiti.

[4] http://blog.caritas.org/2010/01/14/caritas-president-calls-for-international-support-to-haiti/

[5] Ibid.

[6] “The only way to help is to have the Haitian people themselves involved in the rescue operation,” The Tablet, 23 January 2010.

Smooth a Highway


The Scriptures of Advent invite us to repair, straighten, restore a way for Christ to come again into our world. The images are powerful.  It is in our hands to smooth the coming of God’s reign of justice and peace.  It is left to us to prepare a way for God’s people to move beyond whatever holds them captive or oppressed to reach a place of peace and plenty.   Advent calls us into the mystery of our deeper lives in Christ.  It reminds us that Christ comes into our world today through us: we are the hands, the eyes, the  compassion of Christ reaching out to touch our world.   We are the healers, the liberators, the presence and action of God here among us.

There is a saying that when a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon, weather patterns in the Atlantic Ocean are affected.   The saying has many variations and I am not sure whether it is true or not.  What I do know is that today, more than ever before, we are discovering the mystery of our interrelatedness with all humanity, our earth and the whole of the cosmos.  Our horizons are forced wider and wider, as is the embrace of our compassion, and the scope of our vision.

Today we are more aware of the way our actions affect other persons, other species and the fragile environment.  We are more aware of the shadows that encircle our world.  Millions of men, women and children walk the rough and twisted pathways of deprivation, exploitation, suffering, powerlessness, and violence.  Placed on a road and stretched single file their number would surely wrap around our globe many times.  Today we recognize that the problems of the world, like its peoples, are interrelated.  We understand that where there is extreme poverty, or chronic conflict, the rights of the most vulnerable are most often violated, and their suffering further amplified.

Extreme poverty [having less than $US 1.00  a day for all ones needs]  is the primary catalyst for conflict,  the spread of diseases like TB and HIVAIDS, and the forced migration of tens of millions in search of a better life.  It is the driving force behind the trafficking of 3 million women and children annually.  It is poverty that propels the majority of these victims into the commercial sex trade.  Poverty is the seed that produces the bad fruit of contemporary slavery.

Extreme poverty holds an estimated 1 billion people captive in hunger, exploitation, sickness, fear and violence. One prediction adds an additional 89 million people to this number by 2010.  One third of deaths, nearly 18 million a year,  are due to poverty-related causes.  Every year more than 10 million children die of hunger and preventable diseases: over 30,000 per day.  Since 1990, 270 million people have died, mostly women and children, roughly equal to the population of the US. (Bread for the World / UNICEF].

Caught on a Highway to Hell

Joalo is seven.  He was born in Cambodia.  After his parents were killed in political conflict he was sold by his uncle for just three hundred US dollars. The money was needed to buy food.  He was handed over to a young woman and smuggled over the border into Thailand where he was forced into the sex tourism industry.  Young boys are popular.

Since there is no monitoring of his working conditions, his “employers” are able to leave him locked in a windowless room for most of the day, with water but little food.  It is very likely that he will not reach his tenth birthday as the HIVAIDS virus is a constant risk.

Thousands of boys like Joalo work in the sex trade in cities throughout the Asia Pacific, including Australia.   Women and girls too are trafficked globally for the sole purpose of sexual exploitation.  They are usually from impoverished and therefore vulnerable situations.  One of the fastest growing sex trade ‘hubs’ is in the Asia Pacific region embracing all the countries surrounding the Mekong River, including Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and southern China.  The many marginalised people of the region are at risk because of lack of access to education, poverty, lack of appropriate information in indigenous languages, cultural and social degeneration within traditional communities, non-traditional drug use, and increasing involvement in the sex trade which leads to high rates of HIV/AIDS infection and transmission,  and  increased vulnerability to this disease.

Many of the trafficked persons are physically abducted, or lured with half truths or hopes of employment, marriage and the promise of a better life.  Once enslaved,  sex-trafficked victims are subjected to sexual, physical, and psychological abuse from traffickers, pimps and customers.  Many discover that they have incurred a debt which they are bonded to pay off in sexual labour. These debts can last a lifetime, enduring even after a person is repatriated.

The trafficking of persons is a hidden crime, and therefore hard to quantify.  Frighteningly, one United Nations Agency suggests that 2.44 million persons are trafficked annually:  43% for sexual exploitation, 32% for labour exploitation; and 25% a mixture of both.  It is believed that 80 percent are female and 50 percent are children, and that the majority of these victims are forced into the commercial sex trade.  It is known that the trade is growing.  There is no doubt that sex trafficking is a lucrative, and therefore booming business. Because the sex trade is normally secretive, locating sex traffickers and sex tourists to justice is immensely difficult.

Franciscans across the Asia Pacific and beyond reach out and rescue the most vulnerable.

They provide programs of immediate aid and empowerment, providing pathways to a better life.  The numbers  of the afflicted are great and their needs many.   Something more is needed to bring about lasting change.  Franciscans International participates actively in United Nations efforts to eradicate the conditions of extreme poverty that leave children and women open to sexual exploitation and enslavement.

Can you help us to smooth the pathways of those who walk the rocky roads? Your gift to Franciscans International will help us to do this. Please add a donation to your subscription form or send your donation direct to Australian Treasurer Geoff Jordan tssf.

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