In February, I had the pleasure of traveling to Haiti for ELAW.

AHDEN Members

I went to work with friends and partners at l’Association Haitienne de Droit de l’Environnement (AHDEN).  Haiti has faced enormous challenges in recent years, but the commitment and enthusiasm of our Haitian partners left me inspired and hopeful.

During the first few days, I participated with AHDEN members in a meeting hosted by the MacArthur Foundation, which brought together its grantees who will be working in Haiti over the next three years to see how we could support each others’ efforts, build synergies, and ensure that we’re all successful in our work in Haiti.  The meeting was fantastic, largely due to the inspiring conservation work that people are doing in Haiti.  ELAW and AHDEN learned about the legal needs of organizations working to conserve key biodiversity areas in Haiti and looking for alternative livelihoods for people dependent on exploiting natural resources to put food on their tables.

AHDEN and INSAPROMA members

After the meeting of MacArthur Foundation grantees, we welcomed ELAW partners from the Dominican Republic who came to help AHDEN with its inaugural public event.  INSAPROMA’s President Euren Cuevas and Director Jorge Verez traveled all day by bus to share experience strengthening and enforcing environmental law in the DR with their colleagues in Haiti.

On February 11, 2011, l’Association Haitienne de Droit de l’Environnement (AHDEN) and the Faculte de Droit et des Sciences Economiques (FDSE) hosted the Colloque International sur la Promotion du Droit de l’Environnement en Haiti. The event was advertised as a place to discuss environmental law as an instrument in the national reconstruction and as a tool for sustainable development in Haiti.  The all-day workshop went from 8:30 am until 7:30 pm, and nearly all of the 108 registered participants remained with us to the end of the very long day.

It was a phenomenal event with informative speakers and a highly engaged audience.  Representatives from many government agencies, university professors, students, aid organizations, and local NGOs came to discuss environmental law in Haiti.  People were thrilled to hear about the establishment of AHDEN and the role it will play in shaping Haiti’s environmental policy and contributing to the country’s reconstruction.

The colloquium consisted of five panels.  The first described environmental problems in Haiti from a technical perspective.  A panelist from the Ministry of the Environment described recent studies, including one showing high levels of pollution in breast milk.  One of the panelists focused on problems related to land registration.  Land registration is clearly an important issue in Haiti, as it came up in each of the five panels and was the focus of at least half the questions posed to panelists.  This was also an issue discussed frequently in the meeting of MacArthur Foundation grantees, where grantees working on conservation noted a need for clarity regarding land ownership.

I joined INSAPROMA’s President Euren Cuevas and Director Jorge Verez on a panel where we described environmental law in our respective countries and described citizens in the DR and around the world successfully using law to protect the environment.

Many speakers explained environmental law in Haiti, including AHDEN President Jean André Victor during the last session.  Earlier in the day, he distributed the index to his compilation of Haitian environmental laws, which served as a list of existing laws.  He then used his position as the final speaker of the day to respond to questions that had been raised throughout the colloquium by providing specific legal answers, historical context, and other relevant information.

One speaker described the need to give environmental law a life beyond the textbook in Haiti.  She happily acknowledged that AHDEN was filling two of the needed components she identified – advocacy and education.

Jean André Victor (AHDEN) talks with reporters

AHDEN’s President, Jean André Victor, was absolutely mobbed by reporters from television and radio stations and newspapers.  Many of the reporters stayed for much of the morning and filmed or recorded several sessions, including AHDEN presenting a guide that ELAW recently published (and an AHDEN member translated) to help communities and NGOs prevent mining abuses.

I was thrilled by the interest in the colloquium and the energized, active participation by everyone in the room.  The level of enthusiasm for the work and the amazing discussions following each panel were truly inspiring and gave me incredible hope for what AHDEN can accomplish in Haiti — even as I sat in the city center of Port au Prince, surrounded by constant reminders of just how hard things are in Haiti right now.

On my return home ELAW launched a website for AHDEN where we will gather presentations from the colloquium and publish other material relevant to AHDEN and environmental law in Haiti: http://www.ahden.org Check out the site and know that AHDEN is making history – it is helping shape environmental protection in Haiti while educating and involving Haitians in the decision-making processes.

Jen Gleason
ELAW Staff Attorney