A Kansas University professor soon will travel to Haiti to be an observer with the United Nations for up to two years.
Bryant Freeman, professor of French and Italian and of African and African-American studies, and director of the Institute of Haitian Studies at KU, will leave for Haiti on May 28 or 29 for a three-month assignment. His stay could be extended for up to two years.
Freeman was notified this week by U.N. officials that he would serve as an official observer in Haiti, which has been under military rule since 1991. He will have official U.N. diplomatic status.
Two of Freeman's students, Dominique Delor and Rob Christensen, also may be headed to Haiti as U.N. observers. However, they have not yet officially been notified.
Freeman said he and the students will be part of a U.N. team that would seek to curb human rights abuses in Haiti. The country has been under military rule since the overthrow of President Jean Bertrand Aristide in September 1991.
The observers may report human rights abuses and would have limited authority to intervene if they encounter beatings, killings or other incidents, which have been reported.
He said 107 U.N. observers already are in the country. Freeman will be part of a group of 20 additional observers who will arrive in Haiti.
"I will be regional coordinator for a group of U.N. observers in Haiti," he said. As part of that role, Freeman will teach the native language of Haitian Creole to other U.N. observers, and will lecture on Haitian politics and culture.
He also plans to start an education campaign through the Haitian press and radio, outlining human rights to Haitians.
"How we're going to do that, I don't know," Freeman said. "The basic charge of this campaign will be informing Haitians of what their rights are."
Freeman also said he would have access to hospitals, prisons and morgues.
However, he said he hoped ruling authorities would not prohibit him from traveling to designated areas or limit his role as an observer.
"This has all been agreed to," he said. "It will remain to be seen how much all of this will be possible. Whether we can do it or not, we'll just have to see."
Freeman, who has been to Haiti several times since 1958, said he is not worried about his safety.
"I love Haiti," he said. "I'm very, very comfortable there."
The only danger of the trip, Freeman joked, "is that I have to stop in Miami on the way down there."
Freeman said his students were "waiting by the phone" to hear whether they will be going as observers.
"I expect to get a contract," Delor said. "I'm just here waiting."