Haiti a year after
Government officials visited a mass grave outside the capital as Haiti today began two days of remembrance ceremonies in honour of the estimated 300,000 people killed during last January’s massive earthquake that virtually destroyed the country.
The symbolic laying of the first stone in a housing project in the center of Port-au-Prince, where tens of thousands of people who lost their homes remain in tent camps is scheduled for later on Tuesday.
But the main event is an open-air mass early tomorrow by the ruins of the Port-au-Prince Roman Catholic Cathedral which collapsed during the earthquake that leveled the capital and left more than a million people homeless.
There will also be a minute silence at 4:53 p.m (local time) when the magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit the impoverished Caribbean country on January 12 last year. White balloons will also be released.
Meanwhile, the top United Nations human rights official has expressed solidarity with the people of Haiti and called for concerted efforts to improve fundamental human rights in the country.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, acknowledged the significant efforts, despite heavy losses of personnel, by the Haitian government and the international community to address the tremendous challenges facing the country. She expressed deep concern that, although there have been advances in many areas, the situation in the Caribbean country remains critical, and highlighted some key human rights issues she believes need urgent attention by the authorities. “Firstly, a comprehensive long-term plan needs to be put in place by the Haitian Government, with the support of the international community, so that the State can provide durable solutions regarding access to basic services, both for those living in camps and those living in slums, in line with its human rights responsibilities,” Pillay said. The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti Nigel Fisher said tat there were 1,150 camps in Haiti accommodating nearly 900,000 people.
“Current access to adequate shelter, water, sanitation, education and health care continues to fall far below acceptable levels,” said Pillay, adding that “without an overarching guiding plan, the many national and international temporary housing and reconstruction initiatives in place will be inadequately coordinated, and people will continue to be evicted from camps without adequate alternative solutions.”
She called for efforts to strengthen the functioning of rule of law institutions, particularly ensuring that tribunals, prisons and the police comply with international human rights standards and that the population has greater access to security and justice. The High Commissioner also hoped that a solution could soon be found to the ongoing political crisis that would reflect the aspirations of Haitian voters and provide a more conducive environment for reconstruction. She urged the presidential candidates to call on their supporters to avoid violence. She also urged the Haitian authorities to strive to prevent the lynching of individuals accused of spreading cholera, and to ensure that those who carried out such attacks are brought to justice.
It is also vital to strengthen the cholera awareness campaign so that people know about the disease and how it is transmitted to reduce the mortality rates, she said. The outbreak, which began in October, has already claimed at least 3,600 lives, she said.
“We all have a role and a responsibility to ensure that, in 2011, the utmost is done to move the country forward, not just in terms of physical reconstruction, but also in terms of ensuring that the inhabitants’ fundamental rights are dramatically improved,” Pillay said. (CMC)