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Beyond Bébé Doc: Haitian human rights lawyer challenges Canada's role in Caribbean country's ongoing political crisis

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Mario Joseph, Haitian human rights lawyer. Credit: BBC WorldService (CC)
Mario Joseph, Haitian human rights lawyer. Credit: BBC WorldService (CC)

[UPDATE BELOW]

When Bébé Doc Duvalier returned to Haiti last week, all eyes turned to him, and to how the Haitian government would react. And for good reason - a dictator accused of robbing his country of millions of dollars and overseeing the deaths of thousands of Haitians at the hands of the Tontons Macoutes militia, his return from self imposed exile in France means there is finally a chance for justice.

But Duvalier's return is simply one part of a larger political, social and economic crisis in Haiti. Last week Montrealers had the chance to hear from one of the more insightful commentators and critics of the current situation in the Caribbean nation. Mario Joseph, lauded as Haiti's foremost human rights lawyer, held a press conference on Friday to kick off a visit to Montreal. He's here to meet with the Haitian community and others to talk about the difficult task of re-building Haiti one year after the massive earhquake that killed 300,000 and November elections that many have called fraudulent.

But if people didn't have a chance to see him in person at his Friday press conference, they wouldn't have gotten the full gist of his message - and his criticism of Canada's role in Haiti's crisis. Nearly all media outlets focussed solely on his call for members of the Haitian diaspora to come forward and testify against Duvalier. But his message about Canada's role in what he called Haiti's recent 'sham elections' was just as powerful, and is arguably more important in Haiti's long term future as the prosecution of Duvalier. Only Montreal's Le Devoir picked up on this though, in their piece, Le Canada n'est pas l'ami d'Haïti.

According to Joseph, despite Canada's talk of humanitarian goodwill, our government has helped aggravate the ongoing politicla turmoil in the country. The Canadian government backed the elections held in Novermber 28, 2010, despite important concerns that the electoral rolls had not been properly updated since the earthquake and the fact that 12 political parties were banned from participating.

“Canada understands democratic values, but why would it support a government that does not respect the constitution?” asked Joseph.

It's an important question, and one that speaks heavily to Canada's role in Haiti for at least the past seven years. It was in 2004 that the Canadian, French and US government's facilitated elected president Jean Bertrand Artistide's removal from power. While government officials describe the 2004 events as a "popular uprising," many others have called what happened a coup, and one that would not have been possible without outside interference.

Joseph will be speaking again tonight, along with Réa Dol, a longtime Haitian woman's rights and grassroots community activist who has been lauded for her role in relief work following the January 2010 earthquake. If you're interested in Canada's foreign policy, and particularly it's impact in Haiti, it's an event not to miss.

UPDATE (noon): One more reason to come out tonight: a new report from Human Rights Watch is warning that the rates of rape and sexual agression in Haiti is at an all time high. Reported cases of sexual assault jumped by over 30 per cent in 2010 as compared to 2009. NUmbers like this only make Réa Dol's perspective on this ongoing tragedy, and the role of international relief organisations in Haiti since the earthquake, all the more important.

Cyberpresse has an article about today's report here. The Human Rights Watch numbers can be found in their larger report on human rights abuses globally in 2010, here. And Amnesty International issued a similar report earlier this month; the BBC, Yahoo News and UPI all reported on it at the time.

Réa Dol & Mario Jospeh, tonight, January 24th, at 7pm, at the Centre St-Pierre, 1212 Panet, room 100. More details here.


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