IIMA Side event on July 4th, 2012 (20th HRC session):”Haiti: two years after the earthquake”

On 4th July 2012, the Istituto Internazionale Maria
Ausiliatrice (IIMA) organized a side event at Palais des Nations, Geneva, with
the support of VIDES International. The event was co-sponsored by the Permanent
Missions of Haïti, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Holy See and the
NGOs Platform on the Right to Education. The event focused on the current situation
in Haïti, with special regards to education, and on results of the humanitarian
intervention in the country after two years from the earthquake. The panel
consisted of representatives of governments, UN and civil society and as such,
the issue was addressed from multiple perspectives. IIMA and VIDES
International, represented by Sr Dieudonne Jean Louis (IIMA) and Beltsie
Abelard (VIDES), both from Haïti, presented and recommended best practices.

The moderator of the side event, Ms. Maria Francisca Ize-Charrin, former Director of the Field
Operations and Technical Cooperation Division (OHCHR), emphasized the
significance of the side event as a follow-up to a previous event on Haïti
organised by IIMA and VIDES. The first one, in 2010, focused on the importance
of ensuring educational continuity to children during humanitarian crisis. Ms.
Ize-Charrin said that, two years after this disaster, it is important to assess
the effectiveness of the adopted strategies.  

The first speaker was the UN Independent Expert on the situation of
Human Rights in Haiti, Mr. Michel Forst,
who thanked IIMA
and VIDES for the event and congratulate Salesian Sisters for their excellent work
in Haïti. He had met them during a visit of the country
and was “exceptionally impressed by the quality of the human relationship and
the effectiveness of their educational work”. The Independent Expert explained
that Haïti is now experiencing a “positive dynamic of change” and he described the
progress made since 2010 in both infrastructural reconstruction and reforms
aimed at re-establishing the rule of law and strengthening institutions. Mr.
Forst recognized that the democratically elected President, M. Michel Joseph
Martelly, prioritizes human rights and emphasised that rule of law does not only include civil and political rights, but
also social, economical and cultural rights such as the right to education. He
stated that these are of the utmost importance for the development.
Mr. Jean Bony Alexandre,
representative of the Permanent Mission of Haïti, underlined the serious commitment
of President Martelly’s government to education, which is one of the priority
issues, together with employment, environment and rule of law. In particular,
the government committed itself to ensuring free and compulsory education;
guaranteeing the construction of new primary schools; promoting quality
education; providing school buses for disadvantaged children; and assuring
access to basic social services. Moreover, it established a fund uniquely
devoted to education. Mr. Alexandre also illustrated the efforts of the government
to improve social services with a focus on children. He noted that although
change is occurring, more time is needed. Haïti lacks the necessary resources
and still depends on international aids. Mr. Alexandre concluded by thanking
Mr. Forst and by drawing attention to the fundamental role played by Salesian Sisters
and other religious congregations in the field of education and development.  

Ms. Dieudonne Jean Louis,
representative of IIMA, shared good practices of quality education carried out
in Haïti, where IIMA promotes the right to education for all children,
especially those living in poor areas of the country. Ms. Dieudonne explained
that immediately after the earthquake (January 12th 2010), that
caused the destruction of 4000 schools in Haïti, Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco were
able to ensure an educational continuity by organizing psychosocial activities to
help children to recover from trauma. Two months later, they started academic
activities in tents. Then, in the following months, IIMA carried out projects
aimed at: infrastructural reconstruction and rehabilitation of schools;
improvement of the Haitian educational system towards a quality education
through training of teachers and improving vocational training; support to
students’ families through microcredit activities and through adequate shelters;
promotion of the right to health for all children through nutritional support
in schools; promotion of students’ cultural identity and civil responsibility
in order to encourage youth to remain in Haïti and contribute to the
reconstruction of their country as responsible citizens. In conclusion, Ms.
Dieudonne thanked the Haitian government for the support provided and
encouraged it to ensure not only the right to education for all children but
also the right to quality education and vocational training.

Next to speak was Ms. Maria Clara
, Chief of the Americas Section, OHCHR, who first thanked Salesian
Sisters of Don Bosco for their commitment around the world to ensure education for
all children, especially the most vulnerable. Ms. Martin remarked on the
importance of the right to education as a fundamental right required to enjoy all
human rights and to escape poverty and social exclusion. She also underlined
that, in order to achieve these goals, education must meet the criteria of
equality and equity. As regards Haïti, she noted that due to the deficiencies
of Haitian educational system even before the earthquake, it is difficult to
distinguish contexts of chronic emergency and those related to development. Ms.
Martin commended Haïti’s commitment to education but drew attention to the
challenge presented by the effective implementation of national programs and
plans. She finally described the MINUSTAH initiative (UN Stabilization Mission
in Haiti) in the north-east of the country aimed at ensuring the right to
education for all. In particular, a monitoring programme of public policies –
especially focused on educational policies – was established by MINUSTAH’s
Human Rights Section, whose human rights-based approach was highlighted by Ms.
Martin. She concluded by confirming OHCHR’s commitment to Haïti.

The following panellist, Ms. Estela
Queirolo de Tealdi
, counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Uruguay, illustrated
the contribution of Uruguay and other South America states in the humanitarian
response in Haiti, both immediately after the earthquake and in reconstruction
activities. She particularly emphasised the necessity for all stakeholders
involved in a humanitarian crisis to remain committed to mainstreaming a human
rights perspective in both humanitarian aid and reconstruction efforts, and to
deliver adequate and timely assistance. 

Next to speak was Mr. Kishore
, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, who listed the
current challenges faced by education: quality education, especially in public
schools; equal access to education of boy and girls, in urban and rural or
isolated areas; adequate vocational training; equal access to University.  Special attention was given to quality education which is – in Mr.
Singh’s view – a crucial aspect in providing education for all. Mr. Singh
encouraged all States to ensure free primary education for all children and to
provide financial support for ensuring secondary education in disadvantaged areas.
The Special Rapporteur stated that mass education is the only way to allow
development. He also stated that strengthening the institution of school and
promoting education as a common good are actions that contribute to the
eradication of poverty. 

Ms. Hélène Bonvalot, representative of Caritas France, which
is member of Caritas Internationalis, described their intervention after the
earthquake which mainly focused on marginalized urban areas and isolated rural
areas and was largely aimed at the reconstruction of educational and social

Mr. Alfred Fernandez, representative of the NGOs Platform on
the Right to Education, emphasized the importance of education, by defining “poverty
as lack of education” and highlighted that education is the main instrument for
human rights’ enjoyment. For this reason, the right to education must be always
ensured, even during emergency situations. Mr. Fernandez noted that, though
access to education depends on political will, civil society should promote education
as a right. He concluded by affirming that it is useless to guarantees
education if it is not quality education.

The final panellist, Ms. Beltsie Abelard, a young Haitian representative of VIDES, closed
the event with an account of how Salesian Sisters of Don Bosco contributed to
ensuring educational continuity after the earthquake and to brought back hope
to Haitian children and young people, encouraging them to remain in Haiti and engage
in the process of reconstruction.

contribution of these distinguished speakers was invaluable, as was their emphasis
on the need to invest in quality education as the foundation of all human
rights and sustainable development. Each hailed the side event as a great