Monday, April 09, 2007

BHRN Holds Candlelight Vigil for Lost Haitians

Here is the official press release from this past weekend's candlelight vigil, which Estela and I both had the opportunity to attend. In the next day or two, I will try to do a post outlining the BHRN's anticipated work in the area of Haitian rights.
9 April 2007

Bahamas Human Rights Network Holds Candlelight Vigil for Lost Haitians

The Bahamas Human Rights Network (BHRN) held a candlelight vigil in Rawson Square Saturday evening to remember the ten Haitians who drowned near Exuma last month, as well as the five who died this past week at Eight Mile Rock.

"For years our Haitian brothers and sisters have braved treacherous seas in an attempt to find a better way of life for themselves and their friends and relatives who remain in the Republic of Haiti," said Elsworth Johnson, acting president for BHRN. "This gathering tonight symbolizes two things, one of which is to remember those individuals who have perished over the years and secondly to make a national and international call for a more humane response to the plight of our Haitian brothers and sisters."

Last month, ten Haitian migrants drowned off the shores of Exuma when they were forced to jump off the boat that had brought them to the Bahamas and swim to shore. Last week, the bodies of five more Haitians were recovered near Eight Mile Rock, Grand Bahama following an ill-fated attempt to smuggle a group of illegal migrants from the Bahamas to the United States.

"BHRN therefore extends its sympathy to the families of those who perished and our commitment to continue to work for the betterment of our Haitian brothers and sisters," emphasized Johnson.

The candlelight vigil took place following recent public comments by U.S. Ambassador John Rood’s expressing disbelief at the lack of public outrage over the Exuma drownings. "I can’t believe that ten Haitians were basically thrown out of a boat and drowned and there hasn’t been outrage," said Rood. "Can you imagine if ten Americans were pushed off a boat and drowned, what the response would be?"

"We call on all governments and international institutions to stop their discriminating policies toward Haiti," said Johnson.

Last week, BHRN issued a statement calling upon the Bahamian government to exercise its international influence on the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and other lenders to immediately and completely cancel Haiti’s debts to their respective institutions.

The IMF gave debt relief to Haiti in 2006 by approving it for participation in its Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC) that would apply to its debt with both the IMF and the World Bank. The HIPC is a process contingent upon Haiti’s compliance with specific conditions that would take until 2009 to come to fruition. Last month, the Board of Governors of the IDB approved 100% debt relief for Haiti, which also hangs upon Haiti’s compliance with the HIPC.

While acknowledging that such efforts are a step in the right direction, BHRN has repeatedly expressed concern that the process is moving too slowly. "Haiti’s continued economic distress over the next two or more years will have dire consequences for the Haitian people as they wait for the process . . . to reach completion to become eligible for 100% cancellation. Meanwhile, Haiti will continue to pay $60 million per year to service its debt, money that would be better spent tackling Haiti’s dire health and education problems."

"I'd say that debt relief is very important for Haiti because the Haitian people are in dire need of basic infrastructure and security so that they can begin down the road to a stable and sustaining economic model," explained Tamico Gilbert, a BHRN member who participated in the vigil. "It is a basic human right to have a fair chance at receiving an education, healthcare and a life that is free from the fear of everyday violence that is rooted in economic and political strife."

BHRN pointed out that failure to address this problem of Haitian debt "will result in the continued flight of Haitian migrants to neighboring countries such as the Dominican Republic, Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas, and the United States."

BHRN also emphasized the importance of the Haitian’s residing outside of Haiti, in resolving Haiti’s current economic and political problems.

Speaking in Haitian Creole, Lucien Emmanuel, a former law student attending the vigil exhorted the Haitian community "to put local pressure on international powers to relieve Haitian debt. Taking this step to improve the situation in Haiti would diminish the need for our people to migrate to the Bahamas. Haitians need to engage in unity and put aside their differences, regardless where they are in the diaspora for a better Haiti."

The Bahamas Human Rights Network (BHRN) is a non-government organization (NGO) that seeks to secure the fundamental rights and freedoms for all persons within the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, as defined by The Bahamas Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

BHRN’s next public meeting will be at 6:30pm on Thursday April 12 at New Providence Community Center on Blake Road. For more information about BHRN, contact 327-1660.

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