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UK Hearings Today On Sex Abuse in the Aid Sector

Following up on my earlier post, the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee held hearings this morning on sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector.

A video link of the 90 minute proceeding is here.

Testimony was provided by Asmita Naik, Independent Consultant with extensive experience within the aid sector and the UN, and Helen Evans, Former Global Head of Safeguarding at Oxfam GB.

More than 40 submissions were received as written evidence.  The full list is here.

Our submission, a collaboration between the DLP, IJDH, and Doughty Street Chambers, is here.  We are calling for an on-the-ground independent review beyond the capacity of the IDC, to investigate how safeguarding policies and procedures are being implemented in the field.  We also emphasize the need for stronger and more transparent Codes of Conduct, safer and more accessible reporting mechanisms, and referrals of criminal/civil violations to authorities in the host country, and other countries with jurisdiction over such matters.

See my twitter feed for a real-time summary of testimony: @disaster_lawyer

 

-Kathleen Bergin

 

UK’s Special Inquiry on Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in the Aid Sector

Following revelations of sexual misconduct by Oxfam personnel in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee initiated a special inquiry into sexual exploitation and abuse in the aid sector.

DLP submitted recommendations in collaboration with The Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, and Doughty Street Chambers.

Hearings at the IDC in London begin today, but procedural rules require that all submissions remain confidential until they are accepted as evidence, which we understand becomes official tomorrow.

Until then, you can find a preview of our recommendations via this link, and pasted below.  

I will post any hearing updates on twitter.

SEXUAL EXPLOITATION AND ABUSE IN THE HUMANITARIAN AID SECTOR REQUIRES INDEPENDENT, SECTOR-WIDE INQUIRY

 

 

A coalition of lawyers from the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), the Disaster Law Project (DLP) and Doughty Street Chambers has submitted a joint submission to the International Development Committee (IDC) inquiry on sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) and related misconduct in the humanitarian aid sector. The submission sets out key changes necessary to establish effective safeguarding processes and strengthen accountability in the sector, and calls for an independent, external sector-wide inquiry.

 

“The IDC’s inquiry is an important first step, but an in-depth independent inquiry is necessary to reveal the scope of the problem, analyse how safeguarding practice are operating on the ground and ensure accountability” said Nicole Phillips, Staff Attorney with IJDH and one of the submission’s authors. “An independent inquiry is an opportunity for the UK to lead globally in ending abuse and impunity in the aid sector and rebuilding public confidence. This goes far beyond Oxfam” she continued.

 

The submission was made following a meeting of the Haiti All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) chaired by Lord Griffiths in March, where Brian Concannon, Executive Director of IJDH and Jennifer Robinson of Doughty Street Chambers, spoke alongside Nick Roseveare, Director of International Programmes at Oxfam. At that meeting, Concannon emphasised that the Oxfam scandal is merely “the visible tip of the iceberg” and that the entire international aid sector is in the same boat with Oxfam over safeguarding, stating “and it’s sinking…If they don’t fix the boat, then it will sink.”

 

Both Concannon and Robinson emphasised the need for an independent sector-wide inquiry at the APPG, a position also welcomed by Oxfam. At least 23 organisations have been reported to have been implicated in SEA in Haiti, the Ivory Coast and Sudan. Robinson said that a sector-wide review would have greater credibility with the public; would better protect Oxfam’s reputation and the reputation of other aid organisations and would be far more cost efficient than if each aid organisation conducted its own internal review. While the Charities Commission investigation into Oxfam is welcomed, Robinson said that “an organisation-specific approach is not going to have the sector-wide impact that it needs to have”.

 

The Haiti All Party Parliamentary Group meeting participants, which included Lord Bates, Minister of State at the Department for International Development, were receptive to the proposals and encouraged a submission to the IDC.

 

In addition to explaining the need for a broader inquiry beyond the IDC and proposing models which DFID could fund, the submission draws the Committee’s attention to key deficiencies in existing safeguarding policies, with a particular focus on organisations’ Codes of Conduct and grievance mechanisms. The submission calls upon IDC to make recommendations to:

 

  • strengthen cooperation between humanitarian actors and local authorities in criminal and civil actions;
  • compel organizations to clearly define and expressly prohibit SEA, violations of domestic law, staff misconduct, and other actionable program concerns in a Code of Conduct; and
  • require grievance mechanisms that are transparent, accessible, secure, and capable of providing victims with an adequate remedy.

The work of IDC and any subsequent independent inquiry to “must consider misconduct towards both staff and beneficiaries, hear directly from affected communities and address not only sexual abuse but other misconduct like physical violence and corruption” said Phillips. “All abuse in the aid sector is unacceptable.”

 

Reports from the Haiti APPG can be found here and here.

 

Contacts:

 

Jennifer Robinson, Barrister, Doughty Street Chambers, j.robinson@doughtystreet.co.uk, +442074041313 (London, UK)

 

Nicole Phillips, Staff Attorney, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, nicole@ijdh.org, +509-4645-2888 (Port-au-Prince, Haiti)

 

Kathleen Bergin, Director, Disaster Law Project, kathleen.bergin@gmail.com, +1 857-222-6176 (Ithaca, USA)

 

Will TPS For Haiti Be Renewed: Three Things To Know


Image result for save tps haiti images
Seven days. 

The Department of Homeland Security will decide by November 23 whether 59,000 Haitians who benefit from Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, will be allowed to stay in the United States, or will be forced to return to a country that is incapable of taking them back.

Haiti was initially granted TPS in 2010, following a catastrophic earthquake that, according to government figures, killed up to 300,000 people and displaced more than a million.  TPS was reauthorize several times after that, following a record breaking Hurricane and cholera epidemic introduced by UN peacekeepers.  Hurricanes Irma and Maria compounded the damage from all of this.  

Conventional wisdom says that TPS for Haiti won’t be renewed past its expiration on January 22. Here’s why:

Last week DHS declined to extend TPS for Nicaragua, which, like Haiti, is perpetually hammered by natural disasters. In October, the State Department called for an end to TPS in Haiti and several Central American countries.  And last May, then DHS Secretary John Kelly reluctantly granted Haiti a 6 month extension, warning Haitian immigrants to use that time to “handle their affairs,” and arrange departures from the U.S.

A handful of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who support TPS see where this is headed.  They’ve pressed DHS for an extension, and introduced bills to provide TPS beneficiaries with Permanent Residency and a path to citizenship.  But they’re up against a Trump Administration bent on banning most immigrants from entering the country, and expelling those who are already here.      

I understand it looks bad.  However, none of these factors, definitively at least, closes the door on TPS for Haiti.  To keep things in perspective, here are three things you should know.

1.  Nicaragua Didn’t Comply With The TPS Statute, But Haiti Did

Under the governing statute, TPS is permitted when conditions in an immigrant’s home country make it too dangerous to return.  But in cases that involve an environmental disaster, DHS cannot authorize TPS unless the nation at issue requests it.

Continue reading “Will TPS For Haiti Be Renewed: Three Things To Know”

TPS for Caribbean Immigrants After the Hurricanes

Under US immigration law, Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, allows undocumented immigrants to remain in the country for a period of time without being deported.  It applies when conditions in a receiving country are too dangerous to justify deportation on account of natural disaster, armed conflict, or other comparable circumstance.

There are lots of reasons why the US should consider TPS for Caribbean countries, based on humanitarian considerations alone.  I outline many of then in a Florida Sun-Sentinel oped, linked here.

But if you’re not convinced that TPS is morally justified, consider the practical benefit. Allowing Caribbean immigrants to stay in the US will actually speed up recovery, and help bring an end to catastrophic conditions on the affected islands.  As I explained in the oped:

TPS helps reverse the very conditions that make deportation so dangerous. Immigrants from TPS countries are permitted to work, and large sums of what they earn are sent back as remittances to their home country. Liberia received upwards of $340 million annually, a full 25 percent of the country’s GDP, before TPS was terminated earlier this year. Remittances to Sierra Leone and Guinea also helped move those countries towards stability, and off the TPS list.

TPS is no easy sell in the current environment.  Haiti is up for TPS renewal this month, following a designation and series of extensions it received after the 2010 earthquake.  The Department of Homeland Security will have the final say, but an influential assessment released last week by the State Department recommended against an additional extension.  If DHS adopts those findings, TPS for Haiti will expire in January 2018.

Nonetheless, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is urging the Trump Administration to grant TPS to Caribbean nations facing a long recovery.  If they succeed, upwards of 500,000 Caribbean immigrants could potentially benefit, as would the islands themselves.

– Kathleen Bergin

Related: Will TPS for Haiti Be Renewed

Cholera in Haiti: UN Accountability Under The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement

Uncontrolled vomiting hits first, along with profuse, watery diarrhea.  Within minutes, your body begins to dehydrate, your muscles will clench and cripple.  Your kidneys will fail next.  Then your brain goes into a coma, and your body goes into shock.  You’ll come out of it though, eventually, if you find treatment right away.  But if you can’t find treatment, you could die.  If treatment comes too late, you could die.  If the symptoms strike so fast that you have no idea what hit, it’s likely you will die.cholera - 5

This is cholera, a disease that has infected close to a million people in Haiti, and depending on which numbers you credit, has killed between 10,000 and 30,000.  Though easily prevented and treated, its onset is sometimes so sudden and severe that victims can die of systemic shock within an hour of the first stomach cramp.
Not a trace of cholera in Haiti had been reported in more than a century worth of health data.  But it exploded upon arrival in October, 2010.  One hospital near the epicenter of the outbreak admitted more than 400 cholera patients in a single day – just three days after the first reported fatality.  Forty-four of those patients were dead by nightfall.

It took only a few weeks for cholera to reach every corner of the country.  It seeped into neighboring Dominican Republic almost as fast, and eventually sickened people in the US, Mexico, Venezuela, Cuba, and a long list of other countries across the Caribbean.  Haiti has become ground zero for the world’s deadliest cholera outbreak.

cholera - 3How did this happen?  Continue reading “Cholera in Haiti: UN Accountability Under The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement”

How To Topple A Building

How to topple a building: mix extra sand into the concrete so the cinder blocks are more filler than stone, and skip the rebar all together.

That’s how buildings were constructed in Kathmandu, Port au Prince, Izmir, and any of a dozen cities like them, and why earthquakes there were so deadly.

It’s not for lack of knowledge or building codes. These places had both. What they didn’t have was political or social stability, which made it easy to ignore the lives of poor people whenever money could be made.

Greedy contractors and corrupt public officials are certainly to blame. But look deeper and the fault lines start to blur. Maybe the building inspector took a bribe because he didn’t earn enough money to feed his own family. Or the migrant who came looking for work entered the lease even after hearing that the building next door collapsed a few nights before seemingly out of no-where. But really, what choice is there when all the buildings are the same? When this is all you can afford because the little money you make goes back to the family you left behind in the village stricken by drought.  “Structural defects” describe more than the buildings in some of these places.

So, when the earthquake hits, the buildings fall down. Hard and fast. And lots of people die. In a moment.

————————-

This is what I fell asleep thinking about last night. So you can imagine my surprise when the boys and I happened upon an “earthquake exhibit” at the Science Center this morning. No kidding! The exhibit lets you construct a building out of little blocks on top of a platform that shakes when you turn it on. So here’s a clip of the two buildings we made. We used plastic spokes as rebar in the building on the left, and no rebar in the one on the right. See if you can count how long the one without rebar remained standing after we turned the machine on at the 4 second mark.
-Kathy Bergin

What is a Disaster Lawyer, Anyway?

I get this question a lot.  For me, it’s someone who uses the law to empower people whose rights are overlooked or outright violated in a disaster.  We advocate for people who were socially vulnerable and politically marginalized even before the disaster, and therefore especially susceptible to human rights abuse after a disaster.

Hurricane Katrina was my first direct experience with a mega-disaster, and it’s important to be clear about what happened. The strength of the storm and where it landed are accepted as reasons so many people died, or struggled to stay afloat in the drawn-out aftermath. But life was fated for people across the Gulf Coast long before Katrina, by government policies that determined who lived where; whether and when they could escape; and if those who made it out were encouraged to return home.  I saw the same thing play out in Haiti, and witnessed it from a distance in the Philippines, Nepal, and virtually everywhere else an earthquake hit, a hurricane struck, or a drought crept in.  The most important thing I learned from Katrina and these other events is that disasters do the most damage along political fault-lines that already exist.

I also learned something else from Katrina.  Continue reading “What is a Disaster Lawyer, Anyway?”

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