COLETTE LESPINASSE ̶ Haiti
This story is part of the series We are human rights changemakers to celebrate Equitas’ 50th anniversary (#Equitas50). All through 2017, we invite you to discover stories of 50 inspiring human rights changemakers. These are but a few of the hundreds who have changed lives around the world through human rights education with Equitas’ support.
Photo : Mikaël Theimer (www.mikaeltheimer.com)
“I am always looking for ways to contribute to the liberation of people who are excluded, and to the recognition of their rights.”
Over the radio, Colette Lespinasse spreads human rights education and ensures access to information for marginalized populations in Haiti. She started her career during the Duvalier era at Radio soleil, where she voiced the concerns of people who were marginalized and excluded. There, she gave a platform to the lived experiences of peasants, women, and migrants. When President Jean-Claude Duvalier organized a referendum in 1983 in an attempt to maintain his hold on the country, “we carefully explained in the program topics what a referendum is, we defined the issues through sketches and radio dramas, so that the population could fully understand the situation,” Colette recounts. In the end, the referendum was boycotted.
“Because of radio, I was able to discover the reality of the country: the different communes, life in the countryside, land issues, evictions, dispossession, environmental problems,” she says. For Colette, the media must be close to the people. By simply allowing people who have been marginalized and abandoned by the state to voice the problems that affect them, we facilitate their inclusion in society. “We have produced, for example, the program Honneur et respect where people can speak to their own experiences of the living conditions of peasants, they can receive training on agriculture and human rights.”
Until 2011, Colette hosted a program on Radio Kiskeya called Femmes actives. This program gave women and women’s organizations greater visibility and raised awareness of their struggles and their work. The program was a place for exchange that celebrated the feminist movement. “Whatever the situation, I could find people to comment, for example on natural disasters and the impact on women.”
During the coup d’état against President Aristide in 2004, freedom of expression, communication rights, and freedom of association faced considerable obstacles due to political instability and violence. This situation did not stop Colette from continuing her work of informing the public and raising awareness.
“We started to record information for persecuted and marginalized groups. We did extraordinary things to save lives, we collected statements from witnesses and raised awareness of what was happening. The records were copied and sent around the country. Covertly, these groups were able to stay informed.”
As Colette became more and more interested in different human rights issues, she decided in 2005 to deepen her understanding of the area by participating in Equitas’ International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP) in Montreal, Canada.
“It was at that moment that I realized the importance of the base values of human rights and their transformative power. Before Equitas, I understood human rights in a superficial way, from reading about them.”
Throughout her time as an activist, whether on the radio or in civil society organizations, Colette has worked with marginalized populations. Today she raises awareness of the lived experiences of people with disabilities and the LGBTQI community, but she is equally interested (and has been since the early 1990s), in the lot of repatriates and refugees.
In 1991, the president of the Dominican Republic announced that he would deport all people in the country suspected of being Haitian. Between June and September 1991, more than 75,000 people were deported to Haiti. Colette joined a collective in founding Groupe d’appui aux rapatriés et réfugiés (GARR), that to this day helps repatriates from the Dominican Republic. Colette trained GARR staff to develop a human rights-based organizational approach, and integrated gender equality. Since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the GARR has also worked with internally displaced people who find themselves in camps and with host families in Port-au-Prince and at the border.
With the challenges encountered over the years, the radio always has and continues to be an important tool for Colette to continue her fight for a more inclusive society. “The radio is a meeting place and a space for exchange. A medium that promotes liberty and solidarity.”
COLETTE LESPINASSE ̶ Haiti
Co-founder and Former Director of Groupe d’appui aux rapatriés et réfugiés (GARR)
Equitas’ International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP) Alumnus, 2004
Story prepared by Paule Portugais-Poirier, communications intern, Equitas.