Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

International Concern for Haitians in the Diaspora

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

International Concern for Haitians in the Diaspora

Article excerpt

During the last quarter of the 20th Century, many Haitians left their homeland in search of a better life, elsewhere. Because they left for a variety of reasons--social, economic and political--it is difficult to place them all in a single category. Based upon the "pull" and "push" factors which caused them to leave they are usually referred to as "economic migrants" or "political refugees." Regardless of the name given to them, they are among the most abused in our society, having undergone extraordinary distress in their efforts to reach the host country and sometimes having suffered equal hardship upon their arrival. The public exposure of their plight has brought about an international outcry both from governmental and non-governmental organizations. This paper will assess the international concern shown for Haitian migrants in the United States, Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.

Haitians in the United States

Historically, the United States has been accused of pursuing a racist policy in regard to the granting of refugee status (USCCR, 1-19); therefore, it was not surprising that some of the international human rights organizations questioned its attitude toward Haitian migrants. Such a challenge took place June 22, 1979 when the International Human Right Law Group (US) complained to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS) concerning the treatment of Haitian refugees. According to the petition, which was filed on behalf of the National Council of Churches, "the procedures employed by the United States in handling claims of these Haitian refugees violated regional and international commitments which the U.S. has undertaken." It was accused of failing to observe obligations which it assumed as a result of its membership in the OAS, and as a signatory of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (Declaration), and the American Convention on Human Rights (Convention). The petition cited Article XXVII of the Declaration, which binds the U.S. "not only to act in accordance with its domestic laws in granting asylum to those seeking it, but must also act in accordance with international agreements," including the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (IHRLG, 2). Specifically, the United States was accused of:

* Depriving Haitian nationals seeking asylum in the U.S. of their rights to equal protection and to life and liberty.

* Depriving Haitian refugees of their rights to due process.

* Discriminating against Haitian nationals on the basis of their country of origin.

* Denying Haitian effective access to the U.S. courts due to harassment and other actions which interfere with legal representation.

* Returning Haitian refugees to Haiti where their lives or freedom are threatened on the basis of political opinion (IHRLG, 9).

Although the IACHR normally does not accept cases until domestic remedies have been exhausted, the petitioner suggested that a waiver of this requirement be made, inasmuch as "once domestic remedies have been exhausted, the Haitian refugee seeking political asylum in the U.S. is subject to immediate deportation and is placed in imminent peril of violations to his personal security and safety upon refoulement to Haiti (IHRLG, 11).

Although the State Department questioned the right of the IACHR to consider the issue, it agreed to allow the Commission to undertake an on-site investigation of the situation, if it decided that such was needed. The United States assured the IACHR that if such an investigation was made, it would do everything possible to facilitate the effort (USDS, 4).

In a memorandum to the IACHR, the International Human Rights Law Group suggested that in case the original petition was declared inadmissible because of nonexhaustion of domestic remedies, the Commission should conduct a study and issue a report on the situation of Haitian refugees in the United States. …

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