Wiped hands and Haiti

The news story about George W Bush, seemingly wiping his hand on someone’s shirt, after having shaken hands with a Haitian earthquake survivor, caught my eye today. It was interesting because that ‘someone’ was none other than Bill Clinton, and interesting because it seams uncanny that one of the former-most-powerful-men-in-the-world, wiping his hands on another of the former-most-powerful-men-in-the-world, serves as a muted metaphor for the world having wiped its hands of the Haitians more generally.

An Amnesty International delegation returned from Haiti this week, after an intensive period of investigation on the ground. They have today published a report on their findings. One of the most alarming concerns the delegation raised about the relief effort, is the lack of adequate protection mechanisms afforded to women and girls in the make-shift camps.

They found a huge incidence of rape and sexual violence in the camps against girls as young as eight, and a reluctance of the victims in reporting the crimes, for fear that there might be recriminations.  One girl was raped at night, when she had to leave the camp in order to urinate as there were no toilets within, another because her mother had to leave her alone in their tent, in order to earn money to support them.

The report also makes reference to the inadequate judicial system in Haiti. There is a huge backlog of criminal cases generally, and many of the case files were lost or burnt in the earthquake. To compound this problem, all of the prisoners being held at the National Penitentiary, near Port-au-Prince escaped, when the door of the prison was left open during the disaster.

This all makes for a perfect storm of vulnerable women and children, a breakdown in societal norms and checks, convicted criminals at large and the absence of the fear of reprisals.

After the immediate global interest in the plight of the victims, though, interest has waned. As is so often the case, the public has only so much appetite for contemplating such an epic tragedy. Yet the Amnesty delegation is keen to reignite concern for the Haitians. They may no longer be in the headlines, but it is far from over for the residents of the camps. Among the recommendations made in the report, is the proposed increased police presence. A presence which it is hoped will be monitored and supported on an International scale. The report implores the UN to intervene on behalf of the vulnerable immediately. Though accusations may abound about the hand wiping of former world leaders, it is hoped that the recommendations will be acted upon with haste, so that the same cannot be levied at the current ones. 

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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