GENEVA, NEW YORK, PORT-AU-PRINCE – On the morning of Oct. 14, activists erected large portraits of cholera victims outside the United Nations (U.N.) offices in New York, Geneva and Port-au-Prince to commemorate the 9,000 lives lost from cholera brought to Haiti by U.N. peacekeepers five years ago.
The portraits are a part of a new campaign, Face Justice, which calls on the U.N. to hear victims’ calls for justice. The campaign urges the U.N. to accept responsibility for causing the epidemic through faulty waste management, provide reparations and invest in water and sanitation to eliminate cholera.
“Every family in my community lost something because U.N. peacekeepers gave us cholera. I say to the U.N.: Give us justice,” said Joseph Dade Guiwil, a cholera survivor whose portrait will be featured at the U.N.
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is among 17 organizations that support the Face Justice campaign in calling for justice for victims of cholera. MCC has worked in Haiti for more than 50 years and has witnessed cholera add another deadly burden to the lives of people struggling to recover from the 2010 earthquake.
The photo exhibit is an Inside Out group action that features diverse faces of cholera’s toll, including 9-year old Pierre Louis Fedline who was orphaned by cholera, and Renette Viergélan who was herself hospitalized with cholera when her 10-month old baby contracted it and died.
Inside Out is a global participatory art project created by the artist JR to provide a platform for people to share their untold stories and transform messages of personal identity into works of public art.
“We are doing this to remind the U.N. that victims of cholera are not just numbers—they are real people. They could be my uncle, my father, my sister, my brother. My children,” said Jimy Mertune, an activist with the Haitian diaspora group Collective of Solidarity for Cholera Victims.
In Haiti, several thousand people are expected to gather for a demonstration outside the U.N. Logistics Base on Oct. 15. Face Justice is also sending postcards to U.N. member states, which feature photos of victims and relay their appeals for justice.
Kolton Nay, Mennonite Central Committee U.N. Office intern, from Dover, Ohio, hands a Victims of Cholera in Haiti postcard to a diplomat as he approaches the United Nations. (MCC Photo/Doug Hostetter)
Many others are calling on the U.N. to provide justice, including 154 Haitian-American diaspora leaders and groups that recently sent a letter to the U.N. and the U.S. government; and U.N. human rights officials who sent an official Allegation Letter to the Secretary-General expressing concern that the U.N.’s cholera response violates Haitians’ human rights.
“We hope these personal images and stories will cause more people at the U.N. to consider the human toll of cholera and to understand that the U.N.’s inadequate response ignores the dignity of each victim and the severity of their loss,” said Katharine Oswald, MCC Haiti policy analyst and advocacy coordinator, who worked with victims to document their stories.
Cholera cases continue to surge in Haiti five years since the disease was introduced. In the first half of 2015, the infection rate tripled over the same period last year. More than 746,000 people have fallen ill in the last five years. In 2013, Haiti had 46 percent of all reported cholera cases worldwide.
For more information about the campaign, visit www.facejustice.org.
Face Justice is a collaboration among victims of cholera, Haitian advocacy organizations and international solidarity groups that support justice for victims of cholera. The collaborators include Alternative Chance, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, Church World Service, Collective of Solidarity for Cholera Victims, Défenseurs des Opprimés, Environmental Justice Initiative for Haiti, Haiti Justice Alliance, Haiti Solidarity Network of the Northeast, Haitian-Americans United, Inc., Haitians United for Development and Education, Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, Li!Li!Li!, Mennonite Central Committee, Mouvman Viktim Kolera, Other Worlds and Presbyterian Church (USA).
The campaign was launched on the fifth anniversary of the U.N.’s introduction of cholera to Haiti to urge the U.N. to face the victims who continue to demand justice. Face Justice is displaying portraits of victims outside the U.N. in New York, Geneva and Port-au-Prince through an Inside Out Project Group Action. Visit www.facejustice.org for more information.
Inside Out is a large-scale participatory art project that transforms messages of personal identity into pieces of artistic work. Everyone is challenged to use black and white photographic portraits to discover, reveal and share the untold stories and images of people around the world. These digitally uploaded images are made into posters and sent back to the projectʼs co-creators, for them to exhibit in their own communities. Posters can be placed anywhere, from a solitary image in an office window, to a wall of an abandoned building, or in a full stadium. These exhibitions will be documented, archived and made available online at http://www.insideoutproject.net/. The Inside Out project is a creation of the artist JR, recipient of the 2011 TED Prize (watch JR’s TED talk here).
The TED Prize is awarded annually to an exceptional individual who receives $1,000,000 and the TED community’s resources and expertise to spark global change. The award offers support to build a project’s core infrastructure quickly – so that others can add their own collaborative action. The first TED Prize was awarded in 2005, born out of the TED Conference and a vision by the world’s leading entrepreneurs, innovators, and entertainers to change the world – one Wish at a time. What began as an unparalleled experiment to leverage the resources of the TED Community to spur global change has evolved into one of the most prestigious prizes. A TED Prize winner is a rare and powerful combination of someone who knows how to capture the imaginations and make a measurable impact, a visionary and a pragmatist, a dreamer and a doer. From Bono’s the ONE Campaign (’05 recipient) to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (’10 recipient) and JR’s Inside Out Project (’11 recipient), the TED Prize has helped to combat poverty, take on religious intolerance, improve global health, tackle child obesity, advance education, and inspire art around the world. For more information on the TED Prize, visit www.ted.com/prize.