Commissioners: James L. Cavallaro, Rosa María Ortiz, Rose-Marie Bell Antoine, Edison Lanza (Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression)
Petitioners: Global Justice Clinic – NY School of Law;Lafontaine Orvild, Independent Journalist; Kolektif Jistis Min; Observatoire Mega-Projets
At the March 17, 2015 hearing, Petitioners before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) claimed that the Haitian government, which was not in attendance, violated Haitians’ rights to access information with regards to mega projects in the tourism and mining sectors.
The Petitioners began discussing the Haitian government’s more open investment policies after the earthquake in 2010. These policies have led to mega projects specifically in the mining and tourism sectors of the economy. Communities whose lands and wellbeing are involved in these mega projects have been denied the right to access information and formally consent to these projects.
The Petitioners’ primary issue dealt with the obstacles in attaining information from the Haitian government. The right to access information is expressed in Article 28 of the Haitian Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, and the right to access information is protected under international law under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. However, according to the Petitioners, the Haitian government has repeatedly denied its citizens the right to access information. Furthermore, the limited times that information regarding these investment projects exists, it is written in French. Under Article 40 of the Haitian Constitution , the State has the obligation to promulgate laws in French and Creole. The majority of Haitians, approximately eighty percent, speak Creole, while twenty percent of the population speaks French. The majority of Haitians whose lives are being affected by these investment projects are those that cannot read the limited information provided by the government. Thus, the language barrier creates a situation that further encroaches on the rights of Haitians to access information.
As evidence, the Petitioners cited several examples of the government’s handling of mega projects and provided a video with witness testimony. For example, a local community was very distressed because it was required to respond to a transnational company’s proposal within a certain period of time. However, the information provided to the community was incomplete, which did not allow the community to be fully knowledgeable about the proposal before signing. If the community had been given complete information, it would not have signed the agreement. Another example is the mega project on the island of île-à-Vache Island. A huge touristic complex is being built on the island, but the government hardly gave any notice to the populations whose land is being used for the project. There have been cases of individuals being arbitrarily arrested and threatened with imprisonment, even though the population only asked to be fully informed and given reasonable notice.
The Petitioners concluded with several recommendations. First, the Petitioners asked for the Haitian government to adopt laws that allow for fast and effective remedies for violations of the right of access to information. The Petitioners also requested that the government make public information on the projects. In addition, the Petitioners asked for the government to abstain from including a confidentiality clause in agreements made with transnational companies. Furthermore, the Petitioners asked the IACHR to investigate their claims on this issue by doing an in loco visit.
The Commissioners’ response began with Commissioner Rose-Marie Bell Antoine, who expressed disappointment in the Haitian government’s absence. In addition, she stated that the Petitioners had presented a broader understanding of the right to language access, She also asked if there was a compensation regime for victims of these human rights violations. Next, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Edison Lanza asked the Petitioners if any of these cases had been filed in court and if there are any proposed bills regarding the right of access to information in Haiti. Lastly, he asked about the current situation regarding the lack of access to information. The Petitioners responded by highlighting that Haitian law requires mining companies to provide the Haitian government with environmental and social impact studies before starting any projects. The Haitian government must also conduct their own studies and give public access to these studies. Furthermore, the Petitioners reported that the government has not provided journalists with enough information to offer the public quality information or reports. Also, none of the demands have been taken to administrative courts yet because they would take several years to be adjudicated.