BURDENED as they may be with their respective domestic, social, economic and political challenges, it is becoming increasingly evident that the 15-member Caribbean Community (Caricom) has a moral obligation to ensure more focused attention by the international community on the widening problems and challenges facing the people of Haiti.
The mind-blowing earthquake tragedy of January 2010 that so deeply devastated the economy of what remains the poorest nation in this hemisphere was soon to be followed by an unprecedented cholera epidemic that killed more than 6,000 Haitians and sickened at least another 2,000.
A checklist is urgently required to appropriately assess how significant is the level of default by the international community — among them the USA and France (Haiti's former coloniser) — in honouring pledges made at a post-earthquake international aid donors' conference under the auspices of the United Nations.
Of more immediate relevance, however, Caricom needs to speak up and engage in practical initiatives to help shame the United Nations for failing — indeed refusing – to honour its moral obligation, if not legal as well, to the thousands of Haitian cholera victims.
Instead, unless I missed it, I cannot recall any head of government of Caricom making any reference while addressing the current session of the United Nations General Assembly in support of Haiti's dire need for compensation to its cholera victims.
Caricom and UN
This tragedy is known to be linked to a callous negligence in 2010 on the part of a then Nepalese contingent of the UN's peacekeeping force in Haiti.
Sadly, as if too overwhelmed by recurring domestic disasters, President Michel Martelly ended his six-month tenure as Caricom chairman at last July's annual Summit of Heads of Government in Port-of-Spain without a public condemnation of the UN's refusal to offer compensation for the Haitian cholera victims.
He has been mysteriously missing in action when it came to taking a public stand on the UN's obligation, despite rising calls from human rights and other civil society organisations at home and abroad for compensation.
Surprisingly, the public call for the UN to honour its "moral responsibility" to the victims of the cholera outbreak came last week from Haiti's Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, when he addressed the UN General Assembly on September 27.
Lamothe also proposed the creation of a 'joint commission' to consider "ways and means of finding and definitively eradicating this (cholera) illness in Haiti altogether..."
Prime Minister Lamothe should appreciate that an official response in favour of compensation to the families of the dead cholera victims and the survivors still suffering from the dread disease should precede any initiative for establishment of the proposed commission.
Stout stand by Patterson
The former long-serving Prime Minister of Jamaica P J Patterson, a consultant to Caricom on Haiti, had earlier distinguished himself, in an interview I had with him, by his unequivocal denunciation of the UN's "callous" attitude towards this Haitian tragedy. He made clear that the Caribbean should not shy away from effective involvement in the interest of justice for the Haitian people.
"It is simply appalling, a most reprehensive behaviour," lamented Patterson, also a lawyer, for the UN to invoke legal immunity in this case for compensation. "The more so," he contended "when scientific evidence substantiates that the cholera epidemic was originally introduced by peacekeeping soldiers under UN command..."
The time is clearly overdue for practical action on behalf of the Haitian people by Caricom, hopefully with support from allies within the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group. The more so now when, in the face of displayed arrogance by UN decision-makers, another crisis has developed across Haiti's border in the Dominican Republic that could render a virtual generation of Haitians stateless.
As reported out of Geneva by the UN Human Rights Office, the Dominican Republic's Constitutional Court has now ruled that the children of "undocumented migrants" who have been in the Dominican Republic and registered as Dominicans as far back as 1929, cannot have Dominican nationality as their parents are considered to be "in transit..."
This new and quite challenging problem for Haitians is not one just for Haiti or Caricom but for the wider CARIFORUM Group of countries dealing with the European Union.
Of particular significance is that up to 2010, as noted by the UN Human Rights Office, the Dominican Republic had followed the principle of "automatically bestowing citizenship to anyone born on its soil..."
Now has come this new crisis. As this column was being written, the foreign minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Winston Dookeran, was urging Caricom to use its "goodwill" to bring about a resolution to the controversy that has erupted between Haiti and the Dominican Republic as a direct consequence of the Constitutional Court's ruling that will have a negative impact on the children of undocumented Haitians.
Well, it so happens that Mr Dookeran's prime minister is the current chairperson of Caricom. We must therefore await the outcome of diplomatic initiatives between Port-of-Spain and the Caricom Secretariat in Georgetown.
Hopefully, such initiatives could also jolt Caricom into action to help, in co-operation with the ACP, in pressuring the UN to honour its obligation to the Haitian cholera victims.