Help End Horrific Human Rights Violations Against Deaf People in Haiti

Help End Horrific Human Rights Violations Against Deaf People in Haiti

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Off-The-Grid Missions started this petition to United Nations and

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*TRIGGER WARNING* Extreme violence against people with disabilities.  Various types of severe abuse against women, children, and people with disabilities will be mentioned. Reader discretion is advised. Parental discretion is also strongly advised.  Content may not be appropriate for minors. 

Developed by Off-The-Grid Missions in partnership with the Deaf Community in Haiti.

Yet another deaf woman in Haiti has been gang-raped, brutally tortured, had her organs extracted, and murdered.  Her mutilated dead body was left in the open until her own family could recover it.  The stigmatization of disability is prominent in the Haitian Creole culture, which isolates and abuses deaf people from the moment they are born. This leads to brutal “ritualistic savagery” frequently performed against deaf people. In Haiti, people with disabilities are believed to be “cursed”, and in the past four years, we have witnessed vicious murders of four deaf women who we personally knew through our organization’s work.  Deaf people in Haiti are not afforded basic human rights, and they continue to live within the confines of inhumane conditions while egregious crimes against humanity are ignored. 

“Deaf people in Haiti are treated like animals. We are not even equal to other disabled people–because other disabled people still have the privilege of hearing and communicating verbally. Deaf people are isolated and used like slaves because society knows they can not speak up. They kill us because they believe we are cursed.”
– Members of the Deaf Community in Haiti 

Four months ago, Majorie Célestin (pictured left in the photo above), a deaf woman, walked after dark from her village to a banana plantation to collect food for her four starving children (11 months to 8 years old). She was raped by six men. Although she survived, on May 4th, 2021, she was attacked again at the same location. This time, “they destroyed her,” says the Deaf Community who went looking for her when she did not return home. They found her body at the shore, faced down, naked, and mutilated. She was bleeding from her anus, her heart had been removed, and her eyes were hanging out of their sockets. Calls for help from deaf people were ignored and Majorie’s body was left on the shore for days. There was no investigation and an autopsy was not performed. In fact, this murder has not been made public until now. 

In the Spring of 2016, three deaf women named Jesula “Sophonie” Gelin, Vanessa Previl, and Monique Vincent (three women pictured second, third, and fourth to the left in the photo above) were forced to walk 20 miles home to their village after dark due to a bridge collapsing en route to their village. People throughout Haiti were aware of the bridge collapse because it was all over the news and they made other plans not to commute through this area. However, deaf people do not have this privilege because the information is not accessible to them. While on the way home, they went off-road in an attempt to stay at a family member’s house because it was not safe outside. They were invited into an adjacent cinder blockhouse. There, a group of both men and women viciously attacked them. They beat them, cut out their tongues, and threw their naked bodies into a ditch. Again, the Deaf Community recovered their bodies. Vanessa was approximately six months pregnant at the time of her murder. Micheler Castor, the husband of Sophonie, is also deaf and has been left to raise their six children. Unlike Majorie’s murder, this incident was publicized and hit international media outlets, most likely because of the number of women killed. Unfortunately, this has done nothing to combat the stigma associated with people with disabilities.  As a result, many deaf people were forced to abandon their homes and sleep with machetes at their side. 

Motives that drive these incidents are suspected to be caused by superstitions. Some Haitians believe disabilities are contagious or caused by a curse. Some people who claim to foresee the future believe that if body parts like tongues from fresh corpses increase the chances of winning bets. “I believe they picked them to cut their tongues to play the lottery,” Castor says.

These crimes against humanity are overlooked as well as the ongoing oppressive nature deaf people in Haiti are subjected to. Although there are legal protections for people with disabilities on paper, in reality, the laws are poorly implemented, if at all. In 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti resulted in an increased number of amputees. This contributed to increased awareness and increased number of accessible buildings, but the overall progress is limited to people with physical disabilities that do not involve hearing loss. In Haiti, Deaf people remain at the bottom of the hierarchy, below people with the said physical disabilities. This is because people with physical disabilities without hearing loss generally do not experience barriers when it comes to communicating verbally. The Deaf Community in Haiti stresses that “Hearing people with disabilities have more access to education than deaf people do, so we are exploited into forced labor from a young age, molested by family members, doing slave work and when we find ways to make money, we must give that money to our ‘owners.' Some deaf children are forced to sleep separately from their hearing family members: on the ground, outside, or on the roof. They do this knowing we won't be able to speak up. It is another reason why Haitian people, including those with disabilities that do not involve hearing loss, do not pay attention to the fact that deaf people continue to be brutally murdered; there is an overall absence of response, a significant lack of remorse.” Another indicator of the stigma associated with deaf people throughout Haiti is the common usage of the word, “bèbè”. This term, which is considered offensive and degrading by deaf Haitians, is often used to mock those who struggle with verbal speech. The term translates into stupidity, uselessness, and dependency. Deaf people are also commonly referred to as “muette” (mute) and "bèbè," instead of the proper term, “Sourd” (deaf). This stigma is so deeply rooted in Haitian society to the point deaf people do not receive basic human rights or support without humanitarian intervention.

Because of the belief that people with disabilities are cursed, they are considered subhuman even by professionals who are charged with the responsibility of providing care to the public (e.g. healthcare providers, medical practitioners, etc.). Last month, when a deaf woman sustained a gunshot wound to her belly, it took 18 hours of our team pressuring doctors to finally agree to remove the bullet that ruptured her intestines. Following the procedure, the hospital staff neglected to properly care for her. As a result, our team had to demand her to be cared for properly. If our team was not there to fight for her basic human rights, she would have not received any medical response at all.

When a deaf person is born in Haiti, families will often either hide their children inside their home or isolate them from society rather than sending them to school.  Alternatively, they may feel they have no other option but to send them to an institution that is run by an NGO, or farm them out as domestic servants, which often subjects them to horrific abuse. For deaf children, the only opportunities they may have are often made possible by initiatives run by NGOs. However, when deaf children reach a certain age, they are often forced to leave the institution, and as a result, have no way to continue their education by way of a college or employment. This is often because the schools (that are funded by public donations) need to accommodate the next generation of deaf children. The only options left for them are limited to working in factories, washing floors, carrying baskets and buckets of water long distances by foot, and/or selling their bodies. Most deaf people in Haiti earn less than $1.12 a day, which is below the extreme poverty line, according to the World Bank.  

As an effort to combat this systemic oppression, our organization created a “Safe Haven” in Haiti where deaf women who want to further their education and work are provided with tools and technologies so they can safely earn a salary, have access to clean water, and receive a meal a day. We also monitor and respond to emergencies the best we can, which largely stem from the ongoing civil unrest. Deaf men and Children of Deaf Adults support these efforts as educators and by volunteering as Haitian Sign Language interpreters. Our work in Haiti is not possible without the hard work of our partners on the ground, whom for the sake of their safety, we have agreed not to disclose.

Off-The-Grid Missions is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that is dedicated to providing life-saving resources to deaf and hard-of-hearing people around the world. We have been working with the Deaf community in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake and continue to witness and navigate horrific crimes against humanity that target the very individuals we work to support. Deaf people can not continue to fight against brutal crimes against humanity alone, which is why we are asking for your help.

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HOW YOU CAN HELP:

• SIGN THIS PETITION
• Share this petition 
• Donate to www.offthegridmissions.org

By signing this petition you will be requesting*

  • Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: to condemn the HR violations and call the Haitian government to take action.
  • UNICEF: to support Haitian deaf associations through their organizations and agencies to better protect deaf girls and youth. To direct funds for protecting deaf children against abuse in Haiti. To make accessible for deaf communities their resources in the matter.
  • World Bank: To direct funds for protecting deaf children and deaf women against abuse in Haiti.
  • Renan Hédouville, Protector of the Citizen: to take direct action to condemn and prosecute the crimes reported and to raise awareness about the dignity and human rights of deaf people in Haiti.
  • USAID HQ and Haiti office: to direct funds for protecting deaf children and deaf women against abuse in Haiti as a priority for the country.
  • BSEIPH-Bureau du Secrétaire d'Etat à l'Intégration des Personnes Handicappes: to raise awareness about dignity and human rights of deaf people in Haiti as a priority in the country, and by recognizing the Haitian Sign Language officially.
  • Organization of American States: To articulate collaboration South-South among government authorities and the National Councils on Disabilities to support Haitian Government and National Associations of the Deaf in Haiti by training them and the community on Disability Rights, in coordination with the World Federation of the Deaf.
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: to make a public statement condemning the human rights violations denounced in the letter and to organize a public hearing on the matter.
  • Monitoring Committee of the Inter-American Convention for the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities, CIADDIS-CEDDIS: to call the Haitian BSEIPH to take action to stop these human rights violations against deaf women.
  • Inter-American Commission of Women: to coordinate with the OAS Department of Social Inclusion and the MESECVI actions of awareness-raising on violence against deaf girls and women in Haiti, condemning the facts reported.
  • Monitoring Mechanism of the Belen-Do-Para Convention for the Elimination of Violence against women, MESECVI: To condemn the violence against deaf girls and women denounced in the letter.
  • Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: to visit Haiti and gather evidence about the human rights violations against deaf girls and deaf women. Elaborate a report on the matter to encourage proactive action from the Haitian government to prosecute these crimes and report these violations to the UN-CRPD Committee.

*Contributor Credit: World Federation of the Deaf for identifying key decision-makers and their respective calls-to-action.

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RESOURCES:
• To learn more about our efforts in Haiti, visit hashtag #offthegridHAITI
• More on Sophonie, Vanessa, and Monique, go to hashtag #3sunstars 
• Documentary of Deaf Community in Haiti: https://vimeo.com/358541869

PETITION TRANSLATIONS:
International Sign and Spoken English by @dajabi & @signlanguagehealth
• Portuguese Sign Language by @adt_14
Spain Sign Language by @elotrocielo
Russian Sign Language by @trofitatiana
India Sign Language by @deafwomentoo

We can be contacted directly at info@offthegridmissions.org

0 have signed. Let’s get to 35,000!
At 35,000 signatures, this petition becomes one of the top signed on Change.org!