Human rights defenders in Haiti risk their lives to protect the basic rights of Haitian citizens. Exile, intimidation, death threats, and assassinations have become part and parcel with human rights work in Haiti. Since January 2014, 15 local human rights defenders have been the targets of physical attacks and death threats that aim to end their critical work.
Despite the substantial risks, Antonal Mortime is committed to defending human rights in his home country. For Antonal, the risks hit particularly close to home. He is the Executive Secretary at POHDH (La Plateforme des Organisations Haïtiennes de Défense des Droits Humains, or Platform of Haitian Human Rights Organizations) which recently lost one of its top leaders in an assassination that claimed the lives of both him and his wife.
Nonetheless, Antonal and his fellow human rights defenders at POHDH forge ahead with their work.
Human rights violations have long been a daily struggle in Haiti, Antonal recently explained during his visit to the Grassroots International office in August. Grassroots has supported POHDH’s vital work since 2004.
Antonal began working in the human rights arena immediately following the military atrocities against civilians during the 1991 military coup that overthrew President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and prompted international condemnation of widespread torture, executions, beatings, and mass arrests inflicted by Haitian military forces.
Although fighting for human rights is a major challenge in Haiti, Antonal observes that the perseverance of organizations like POHDH has achieved irreversible gains to Haitians’ freedom of speech and association, as well as to their freedom from torture and arbitrary detention.
POHDH now focuses on supporting daily struggles for adequate education, housing, and food. Antonal presents staggering numbers: 56 percent of Haitians can neither read nor write, 85 percent of schools are private, and 80 percent of domestic resources are controlled by a mere 15 percent of the population. He also explains that the Haitian government lacks a viable plan for handling the 350,000 internally-displaced people living in unsanitary makeshift camps since the 2010 earthquake.
Since 1991, POHDH has met these challenges by building a human rights culture through education, researching and reporting on human rights conditions, providing legal aid for victims, and carrying out advocacy campaigns.
This year, Grassroots International supported POHDH in its Haiti Human Rights Promotion and Defense project, through which it will strengthen its national network of local human rights monitors, press for judicial reform, increase access to the judicial system, improve international coordination, and develop a broad communications campaign for a national culture of respect for human rights.
“Grassroots International may not be our biggest funder,” Antonal told us, “but we consider Grassroots as our biggest partner in this work.”
Jen B. is an intern at Grassroots International, completing her masters degree in Urban and Environmental Policy.