The Disaster Law Project

Disasters ● Displacement ● Human Rights

Predatory Peacekeepers: The UN’s Failed Response to Rape and Sexual Exploitation in CAR

In March, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2272 in response to ongoing revelations that French and west-African peacekeepers raped and sexually exploited civilians they were deployed to protect in the Central African Republic.  The Resolution endorses a proposal by the Secretary General to return home the peacekeeping contingent of a country whose peacekeepers sexually abuse civilians.

Hold your applause.

The problem of predatory peacekeepers is decades old, having plagued operations in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Cambodia, Haiti, the DRC, and Liberia – to name just a few countries.  More than a thousand accusations have surfaced since 2007 alone.  It’s easy then, to shrug off the Resolution as a last-minute attempt to restore the UN’s damaged reputation – at least until it delivers concrete results.

And whether that will happen, is doubtful. The Secretary General is in the process of formulating the procedures that would trigger repatriation, but the individuals he chose to lead that effort are the same high-ranking UN officials, as described by the Code Blue campaign, whose “negligence, indifference and subsequent cover-ups compounded the horrors” in CAR.

The Code Blue campaign is a special project of Aids-Free World, the advocacy group that uncovered the scandal in CAR.  The group derides the current proposal as “the fox guarding the hen house,” and calls for an independent oversight board that reports directly to member states and operates entirely separate from the UN.  Nothing in the current proposal, they say, “suggests the kind of change that needs to happen, to extirpate peacekeeping sexual abuse, once and for all.”

The potential for corruption and mismanagement may be the most problematic concern with Resolution 2272, but it’s not the only one.  Let’s take a look at some additional problems, Continue reading “Predatory Peacekeepers: The UN’s Failed Response to Rape and Sexual Exploitation in CAR”

Lead and Legionnaires’: Involuntary Manslaughter on the Table in Flint

If you want to know more about “involuntary manslaughter” charges that investigators are discussing in Flint, then read on.  This post doesn’t present all of the evidence that could support criminal charges, or try to prove someone guilty of a crime.  But it does tell you what involuntary manslaughter actually means, and highlights some important findings from a recent Task Force report.  It also identifies a few things standing in the way of criminal charges.

The attorney investigating the water crisis in Flint announced in February that he would consider involuntary manslaughter charges against anyone who was grossly negligent in handling an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that sickened 87 people over a 17 month period, and has so far killed 11.

Legionnaires’ causes flu-like symptoms, and can be deadly to people with suppressed immune symptoms. Continue reading “Lead and Legionnaires’: Involuntary Manslaughter on the Table in Flint”

Flint: Why It’s Not A “Federal” Disaster

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has asked the federal government to declare Flint a major disaster on account of the city’s lead water crisis. That would make $96 million in sorely needed federal aid available to clean the water, fix the broken infrastructure, and provide health care to people who will suffer the life-long consequences of lead poisoning.  But the Obama Administration said no, prompting an appeal from state and local lawmakers who are desperate for extra cash.

So what gives?

Federal disaster declarations are governed by the Stafford Act, which limits when the President, through executive agencies, can declare a disaster.  The law provides for two types of declarations: an “Emergency” or a “Major Disaster.”  Some federal aid is allocated in an Emergency, but much more is allocated in a Major Disaster.

An “Emergency” is defined as “any occasion or instance” that requires federal assistance to supplement state and local efforts and capacities to save lives, protect property, or avert a catastrophe. Continue reading “Flint: Why It’s Not A “Federal” Disaster”

Flint Water Crisis: A Human Rights Failure

The US Human Rights Network’s National Human Rights To Water and Sanitation Coalition calls attention to the Flint water crisis as a human rights violation that disproportionately impacts people in marginalized communities. From the press release:

[A]ccess to safe, affordable, and clean water is an internationally recognized universal human right. Just this past October, members of our coalition testified at an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hearing on the Human Right to Water in the Americas. In Flint and across the country, the water crisis in the U.S. is also a crisis of economic class and racially-based discrimination that disproportionately impacts poor people, communities of color, Indigenous Peoples, migrants, women, people with disabilities, elders, children, the chronically ill, and other groups that have historically faced discrimination. Continue reading “Flint Water Crisis: A Human Rights Failure”

Nepal: What if Saving My Boys Means We Don’t Save Yours?

Everest RescueLet me be clear: if my boys are caught on Everest when the avalanche hits, I want the full thrust of the world’s resources put toward their rescue.

But what if saving my boys means to a mother down below that we won’t save hers?

This is why talk about “how to allocate resources” in the search and rescue phase of an emergency is so frustrating.  The discussion is so administrative, so technical, so mundane.  In reality, however, resource allocation decisions result in gut-wrenching consequences that need to be acknowledged and debated front and center.  We can sanitize it all we want, but the people who decide where the money goes (both before and after a disaster) also decide who lives and who dies.

Ben Wisner raised some thoughtful points on this issue in an exchange on the Gender and Disaster Online list-serve.  His comments are posted below, with permission: Continue reading “Nepal: What if Saving My Boys Means We Don’t Save Yours?”

Vanuatu: Does the “Cash For Work” Program Work for You?

Cash For Work - UNDP YolandaThe UNDP has implemented a “cash for work” program in Vanuatu.  In disaster speak, these programs are part of what are called “livelihood” initiatives aimed at restoring personal and social stability.  Despite some drawbacks, the obvious benefit is cash for necessary things like food, cooking fuel and building materials.  Residual benefits flow to business owners and market vendors who sell these things, and the (hopefully) local suppliers who produce them.  These programs also give survivors a measure of ownership and control over the reconstruction process – an important factor in psychological healing.

When done right, these programs provide work opportunities to both women and men.  They provide opportunities for the elderly, those with limited mobility, and those who live far away from established work sites.  Well-designed programs focus on work projects that directly benefit these groups, and involve representatives from these groups in their selection and administration. Continue reading “Vanuatu: Does the “Cash For Work” Program Work for You?”

If You’re in Vanuatu and Survived Cyclone Pam, Read This Now:

Read This NowYou have a right to life with dignity.

You have a right to adequate shelter, to food, to safe drinking water, and to sanitary hygiene facilities.  You have a right to health care, to remain with your family, to privacy.  You have a right to access humanitarian aid.

You have a right to be safe.

Your government owes you these and other rights.  They also owe you a remedy for the harm that’s caused when these rights are violated.

You also have a right to control your destiny.  A disaster response system has been put in place that may or may not have been designed with your input.  But the right to “consultation,” as lawyers call it, means that decisions about camps and shelters (and every other aspect of the response and resettlement) – whether made by the government of Vanuatu, the UN, an NGO, or other international actors – must reflect YOUR priorities, not theirs.  If you don’t have a seat at the table, if your voice is not being heard, then you are not being consulted.  And that is a human rights violation.

Have you heard that the recovery is slow because of logistics, or money, or the scale of devastation?  That certainly may be true.  Or it may not.  Continue reading “If You’re in Vanuatu and Survived Cyclone Pam, Read This Now:”

Sheltering Vulnerable Populations in Vanuatu – Lessons Unlearned

Cyclone Pam - Lessons UnlearnedA team of experts from ActionAid Australia recently visited evacuation shelters in Port Vila, Vanuatu to report on conditions facing women who have been displaced by Cyclone Pam.  Here’s what they describe:

Pregnant women are sleeping on thin mats on the ground.  Men and women share sleeping spaces.  The evacuation centers are barely lit at night, if lit at all.  At night time, women have to find their way in the dark to the toilets that are shared with the men.  There is nowhere to wash, except in the rivers.  Adequate sanitary items haven’t been distributed, and women are using toilet paper – if they have access to it.

There is a growing awareness that mega-disasters disproportionately affect women and other vulnerable populations, and that these groups have different needs than men following displacement.  And yet, vulnerable groups are routinely denied the measure of protection they deserve – protection they are entitled to under law – disaster after disaster after disaster.

Consider the 2011 Fukushima, Japan nuclear disaster that displaced more than 300,000 people.  Officials at multiple government-run shelters denied requests from evacuees to put up dividers, which meant that women were housed alongside men they didn’t know, and publicly exposed when changing clothes or nursing an infant.  Continue reading “Sheltering Vulnerable Populations in Vanuatu – Lessons Unlearned”

Reflections on The Sendai Framework

Sendai Framework - kidsSome meaningful critiques:

Human Rights Law Fellowship with IJDH

Want to be a human rights lawyer?  The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti has fellowships – 2 of them.  Two year fellowship is linked here.  One year fellowship is linked here.

I partnered with IJDH on housing related advocacy after the earthquake in 2010, so can tell you that this is a great opportunity with an amazing organization doing much-needed work.  They’re suing the UN, for goodness sake!

Seriously, you can’t get better than this.  Good luck!!

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