Ms. Loune Viaud, “Partners in Health” Director, Haiti
2002 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Laureate.
from the RFK Memorial
November 13, 2002
Washington, D.C. – Loune Viaud, the Director of Strategic Planning and Operations at the Zanmi Lasante (Partners in Health) socio-medical complex in Cange, Haiti was selected as the 2002 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Laureate. Viaud strongly advocates, and demonstrates through her work, that access to health care is a fundamental human right.
Situated on the Central Plateau in rural Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Zanmi Lasante offers free health care to the hundreds of thousands of people living in the region. Last year alone 56,000 people came to the clinic for medical help. In 2002 more than 100,000 people will be treated there.
Zanmi Lasante addresses the overall needs of the community surrounding it. It has special clinics for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, a clinic for women (Proje Sante Fanm), a special center for children and an operating theatre. The complex also develops educational projects on HIV/AIDS, sanitation and human rights.
“Loune is a heroic leader on the cutting edge of human rights. She has done extraordinary work in the field of health and human rights and has shown the connections between all aspects of the human rights struggle,” explained John Shattuck, former Undersecretary of State and CEO of the John F. Kennedy Library, and one of five 2002 RFK Laureate judges.
Though built in an under-developed region Zanmi Lasante's treatment program shows that difficult to treat diseases can be addressed in rural areas. This complex does more than treat diseases, it also empowers people to understand their rights. In 2001 Viaud was instrumental in developing a patients' Bill of Rights with a group of 60 HIV positive patients (Copies are available upon request). The patients view their health care as a basic human right, not charity.
"Loune Viaud's effort to combat HIV/AIDS represents human rights leadership at its most important level. The right to live is the baseline. The lack of support for basic health care provision and other services to meet the ravages caused by the HIV/AIDS crisis is the cruelest violation possible of this fundamental right, " stated Lynn Walker Huntley, the Executive Vice President of the Southern Education Foundation and another 2002 RFK Memorial judge who chose Viaud.
Viaud's work attacks the symptoms of a greater and more persistent human rights violation, namely the right to healthcare. Article 19 of the Haitian constitution states that the government of Haiti is obliged to provide basic health care to its citizens. The government has stated that it would develop health facilities, following Zanmi Lasante's model, in other parts of the country if it had the resources. To fulfill this obligation the government has applied for a number of loans. One of these loans, from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has technically been agreed upon, and the Parliament of Haiti has ratified it, but no money has been disbursed.
The RFK Memorial and Viaud believe that the United States government, and other governments in the region are violating the rights of the Haitian people by not facilitating the rapid disbursement of these loans. (“Human Rights Violations Against Haitians”, nine page RFK Memorial Legal Briefing available upon request.)
"The government of Haiti has a right to self-determination and within this right it has created a constitution. This constitution clearly states that health care is a right in Haiti,” explained Todd Howland, Director of the Center for Human Rights at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial. “Money for Haiti has been in the pipeline since January 2001. None of this money has been disbursed, yet the IDB indicates in its public information that they are doing wonderful work in this country. In fact people are dying in Haiti and the government is not upholding its obligation to respect the right to health care,” Howland concluded.
Haiti is not alone in recognizing health care as a fundamental human right. More than 130 countries around the world recognize this right as does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Viaud as a strong advocate of this right is currently helping the Boston based Partners in Health (www.pih.org) to develop strategies for approaching health crises in the United States, Peru, and Russia.
Viaud has a long history of fighting injustice. In the 80s under the second Duvalier regime she advocated for democratic rights. When she was forced to flee the country she organized her fellow refugees to safeguard their rights while waiting for asylum. Today she works tirelessly to change not only the conditions of the poor, sick and forgotten but the structures that allow people to become poor, sick and forgotten. The RFK Memorial will be working with Loune Viaud for years to come.
“For the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial to choose me, a humble footsoldier in the struggle for health and human rights, as the recipient of this prestigious award means more than I can say. For I am a Haitian, and the majority of Haitian people have always stood for equality. From 1791, when we fought against slavery to become the world's first independent republic born of a slave revolt, until 1990, when we again declared as a people our belief in social and economic rights as a human rights platform, the Haitians have struggled against long odds. Two hundred years of struggle, much of it in isolation even from those who profess a belief in human rights. Thank you for reminding us that we are never, in fact, really alone,” stated Ms Loune Viaud on learning that she had been selected.
Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy, Mrs. Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, Senator Edward Kennedy and Mr. Harry Belafonte, among others, will participate in the award ceremony in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 106 on November 20th, 2002, at 10:00 AM. Journalists are welcome to attend.
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