We are pleased to see such a strong focus on economic, social and cultural rights in Haiti in your discussion of the five key aspect of the human rights situation in Haiti. In particular, your focus on education and literacy underlines the lack of opportunity many Haitians face. Although boys and girls start school at the same rate, entrenched gender discrimination, poor sexual and reproductive health and lack of adequate facilities mean adolescent girls and young women do not attain the same level of education as their male counterparts. Targeted efforts to keep girls in school and to attain high-levels of education are needed.
For example, in 2014, Human Rights Watch investigated the impact of poor water and sanitation in schools, visiting a number of schools in the Central Plateau of Haiti to assess water and sanitation conditions of educational facilities. These schools, including recently constructed ones, lacked adequate water and sanitation facilities. None of the schools Human Rights Watch visited complied with the government’s guidelines for the promotion of hygiene in schools. These schools Human Rights Watch visited are not anomalous in Haiti. Nearly 60 percent of schools lack toilets and more than three-fourths of schools lack water access.
Most students and teachers have nowhere to relieve themselves, wash their hands with soap, obtain clean water, or, for women and girls, maintain menstruation hygiene. Where facilities do exist, they may not be sufficient in number, may not function, or may not be clean or safe. Teachers, students, and government officials we spoke to told us that the situation was dire and has a negative impact on students’ education. And, girls suffer additional harms from the lack of access to water, sanitation, and hygiene at home or at school, including absenteeism for collecting water or due to lack of adequate menstrual hygiene management.
In your discussions with the Minister of Education, do you believe there is a strong commitment to addressing the particular challenges faced by girls in continuing their education?
In addition, the lack of water and sanitation in schools, and often leading to the practice of open defecation and no handwashing, means that often, as the Inter-American Development Bank has stated, “[i]nstead of promoting children’s health, many schools in Haiti expose children to health hazards such as diarrhea and intestinal worm infections.” A demographic and health survey conducted in 2012 found that school-aged children (age 5-19) represented the highest percentage of cholera victims, and the second highest percentage of cholera deaths (age 5-14), compared to all other age groups.
Lack of potable water and sanitation at home or at school can increase the risk for water-borne illnesses and diarrheal disease, and lessen the amount of time children are in school. This is particularly concerning when, as you note, cholera cases continue to spike in Haiti.
On the question of cholera, Human Rights Watch has noted that to date, there has been no independent adjudication of the facts surrounding the introduction of cholera to Haiti and the question of the UN’s involvement. A recent communication from you and four other Special Rapporteurs to the Secretary-General stresses that "it is essential that the victims of cholera have access to a transparent, independent and impartial mechanism that can review their claims and decide on the merits of those claims ...."
We note that the communication also requested a meeting with UN representatives to discuss this further before bringing the matter to the Human Rights Council. Could you tell us where the process is now? Has the Secretary-General responded to this letter? What do you see as the next steps in this process?
Thank you for all of your hard work on behalf of human rights in Haiti.