Tag Archives: Haiti

How the Red Cross Raised Half a Billion Dollars, and Built Six Haitian Homes

Homes in the the Parc Tony Colin community in Bon Repos, Haiti. Most of the residents of the community were moved from the Tabarre neighborhood where they lived in tents after the 2010 earthquake. Many residents are having problems with rain that leaks in through the holes made by the nails on their roofs and their walls are starting to deteriorate from water damage. Photo by Marie Arago for ProPublica, © 2015

Homes in the the Parc Tony Colin community in Bon Repos, Haiti. Most of the residents of the community were moved from the Tabarre neighborhood where they lived in tents after the 2010 earthquake. Many residents are having problems with rain that leaks in through the holes made by the nails on their roofs and their walls are starting to deteriorate from water damage. Photo by Marie Arago for ProPublica, © 2015

by Justin Elliott, ProPublica, and Laura Sullivan, NPR
June, 2015

The neighborhood of Campeche sprawls up a steep hillside in Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince. Goats rustle in trash that goes forever uncollected. Children kick a deflated volleyball in a dusty lot below a wall with a hand-painted logo of the American Red Cross.

In late 2011, the Red Cross launched a multimillion-dollar project to transform the desperately poor area, which was hit hard by the earthquake that struck Haiti the year before. The main focus of the project — called LAMIKA, an acronym in Creole for “A Better Life in My Neighborhood” — was building hundreds of permanent homes.

Today, not one home has been built in Campeche. Many residents live in shacks made of rusty sheet metal, without access to drinkable water, electricity or basic sanitation. When it rains, their homes flood and residents bail out mud and water.

The Red Cross received an outpouring of donations after the quake, nearly half a billion dollars. 

The group has publicly celebrated its work. But in fact, the Red Cross has repeatedly failed on the ground in Haiti. Confidential memos, emails from worried top officers, and accounts of a dozen frustrated and disappointed insiders show the charity has broken promises, squandered donations, and made dubious claims of success.

The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people. But the actual number of permanent homes the group has built in all of Haiti: six. 

After the earthquake, Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern unveiled ambitious plans to “develop brand-new communities.” None has ever been built.

Aid organizations from around the world have struggled after the earthquake in Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. But ProPublica and NPR’s investigation shows that many of the Red Cross’s failings in Haiti are of its own making. They are also part of a larger pattern in which the organization has botched delivery of aid after disasters such as Superstorm Sandy. Despite its difficulties, the Red Cross remains the charity of choice for ordinary Americans and corporations alike after natural disasters.

One issue that has hindered the Red Cross’ work in Haiti is an overreliance on foreigners who could not speak French or Creole, current and former employees say. 

In a blistering 2011 memo, the then-director of the Haiti program, Judith St. Fort, wrote that the group was failing in Haiti and that senior managers had made “very disturbing” remarksdisparaging Haitian employees. St. Fort, who is Haitian American, wrote that the comments included, “he is the only hard working one among them” and “the ones that we have hired are not strong so we probably should not pay close attention to Haitian CVs.”

The Red Cross won’t disclose details of how it has spent the hundreds of millions of dollars donated for Haiti. But our reporting shows that less money reached those in need than the Red Cross has said. 

Lacking the expertise to mount its own projects, the Red Cross ended up giving much of the money to other groups to do the work. Those groups took out a piece of every dollar to cover overhead and management. Even on the projects done by others, the Red Cross had its own significant expenses – in one case, adding up to a third of the project’s budget.

In statements, the Red Cross cited the challenges all groups have faced in post-quake Haiti, including the country’s dysfunctional land title system. 

“Like many humanitarian organizations responding in Haiti, the American Red Cross met complications in relation to government coordination delays, disputes over land ownership, delays at Haitian customs, challenges finding qualified staff who were in short supply and high demand, and the cholera outbreak, among other challenges,” the charity said.

The group said it responded quickly to internal concerns, including hiring an expert to train staff on cultural competency after St. Fort’s memo. While the group won’t provide a breakdown of its projects, the Red Cross said it has done more than 100. The projects include repairing 4,000 homes, giving several thousand families temporary shelters, donating $44 million for food after the earthquake, and helping fund the construction of a hospital.

“Millions of Haitians are safer, healthier, more resilient, and better prepared for future disasters thanks to generous donations to the American Red Cross,” McGovern wrote in a recent reportmarking the fifth anniversary of the earthquake.

In other promotional materials, the Red Cross said it has helped “more than 4.5 million” individual Haitians “get back on their feet.” 

It has not provided details to back up the claim. And Jean-Max Bellerive, Haiti’s prime minister at the time of the earthquake, doubts the figure, pointing out the country’s entire population is only about 10 million.

“No, no,” Bellerive said of the Red Cross’ claim, “it’s not possible.”

Two Haitians use crowbars, shovels and their hands to clear rubble in an attempt to reach survivors at the Montana hotel that collapsed after an earthquake measuring 7 plus on the Richter scale rocked Port au Prince, Haiti, on January 12, 2010. Photo by United Nations Development Programme.

Two Haitians use crowbars, shovels and their hands to clear rubble in an attempt to reach survivors at the Montana hotel that collapsed after an earthquake measuring 7 plus on the Richter scale rocked Port au Prince, Haiti, on January 12, 2010. Photo by United Nations Development Programme.


When the earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, the Red Cross was facing a crisis of its own. McGovern had become chief executive just 18 months earlier, inheriting a deficit and an organization that had faced scandals after 9/11 and Katrina. 

Inside the Red Cross, the Haiti disaster was seen as “a spectacular fundraising opportunity,” recalled one former official who helped organize the effort. Michelle Obama, the NFL and a long list of celebrities appealed for donations to the group. 

The Red Cross kept soliciting money well after it had enough for the emergency relief that is the group’s stock in trade. Doctors Without Borders, in contrast, stopped fundraising off the earthquake after it decided it had enough money. The donations to the Red Cross helped the group erase its more-than $100 million deficit.

The Red Cross ultimately raised far more than any other charity.

A year after the quake, McGovern announced that the Red Cross would use the donations to make a lasting impact in Haiti.

We asked the Red Cross to show us around its projects in Haiti so we could see the results of its work. It declined. So earlier this year we went to Campeche to see one of the group’s signature projects for ourselves.

Street vendors in the dusty neighborhood immediately pointed us to Jean Jean Flaubert, the head of a community group that the Red Cross set up as a local sounding board. 

Sitting with us in their sparse one-room office, Flaubert and his colleagues grew angry talking about the Red Cross. They pointed to the lack of progress in the neighborhood and the healthy salaries paid to expatriate aid workers. 

“What the Red Cross told us is that they are coming here to change Campeche. Totally change it,” said Flaubert. “Now I do not understand the change that they are talking about. I think the Red Cross is working for themselves.”

The Red Cross’ initial plan said the focus would be building homes — an internal proposal put the number at 700. Each would have finished floors, toilets, showers, even rainwater collection systems. The houses were supposed to be finished in January 2013.

None of that ever happened. Carline Noailles, who was the project’s manager in Washington, said it was endlessly delayed because the Red Cross “didn’t have the know-how.” 

Another former official who worked on the Campeche project said, “Everything takes four times as long because it would be micromanaged from DC, and they had no development experience.”

Shown an English-language press release from the Red Cross website, Flaubert was stunned to learn of the project’s $24 million budget — and that it is due to end next year.

“Not only is [the Red Cross] not doing it,” Flaubert said, “now I’m learning that the Red Cross is leaving next year. I don’t understand that.” (The Red Cross says it did tell community leaders about the end date. It also accused us of “creating ill will in the community which may give rise to a security incident.”)

The project has since been reshaped and downscaled. A road is being built. Some existing homes have received earthquake reinforcement and a few schools are being repaired. Some solar street lights have been installed, though many broke and residents say others are unreliable.

The group’s most recent press release on the project cites achievements such as training school children in disaster response.

The Red Cross said it has to scale back its housing plans because it couldn’t acquire the rights to land. No homes will be built. 

Other Red Cross infrastructure projects also fizzled. 

In January 2011, McGovern announced a $30 million partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. The agency would build roads and other infrastructure in at least two locations where the Red Cross would build new homes.

But it took more than two and a half years, until August 2013, for the Red Cross just to sign an agreement with USAID on the program, and even that was for only one site. The program was ultimately canceled because of a land dispute.

A Government Accountability Office report attributed the severe delays to problems “in securing land title and because of turnover in Red Cross leadership” in its Haiti program. 

Other groups also run into trouble with land titles and other issues. But they also ultimately built 9,000 homes compared to the Red Cross’ six. 

Asked about the Red Cross’ housing projects in Haiti, David Meltzer, the group’s general counsel and chief international officer, said changing conditions forced changes in plans. “If we had said, ‘All we’re going to do is build new homes,’ we’d still be looking for land,” he said.

The USAID project’s collapse left the Red Cross grasping for ways to spend money earmarked for it. 

“Any ideas on how to spend the rest of this?? (Besides the wonderful helicopter idea?),” McGovern wrote to Meltzer in a November 2013 email obtained by ProPublica and NPR. “Can we fund Conrad’s hospital? Or more to PiH[Partners in Health]? Any more shelter projects?”

It’s not clear what helicopter idea McGovern was referring to or if it was ever carried out. The Red Cross would say only that her comments were “grounded in the American Red Cross’ strategy and priorities, which focus on health and housing.”

Another signature project, known in Creole as “A More Resilient Great North,” is supposed to rehabilitate roads in poor, rural communities and to help them get clean water and sanitation.

But two years after it started, the $13 million effort has been faltering badly. An internal evaluation from March found residents were upset because nothing had been done to improve water access or infrastructure or to make “contributions of any sort to the well being of households,” the report said. 

So much bad feeling built up in one area that the population “rejects the project.”

Instead of making concrete improvements to living conditions, the Red Cross has launched hand-washing education campaigns. The internal evaluation noted that these were “not effective when people had no access to water and no soap.” (The Red Cross declined to comment on the project.)

The group’s failures went beyond just infrastructure.

When a cholera epidemic raged through Haiti nine months after the quake, the biggest part of the Red Cross’ response a plan to distribute soap and oral rehydration salts — was crippled by “internal issues that go unaddressed,” wrote the director of the Haiti program in her May 2011 memo.

Throughout that year, cholera was a steady killer. By September 2011, when the death toll had surpassed 6,000, the project was still listed as “very behind schedule” according to another internal document.

The Red Cross said in a statement that its cholera response, including a vaccination campaign, has continued for years and helped millions of Haitians.

But while other groups also struggled early responding to cholera, some performed well.

“None of these people had to die. That’s what upsets me,” said Paul Christian Namphy, a Haitian water and sanitation official who helped lead the effort to fight cholera. He says early failures by the Red Cross and other NGOs had a devastating impact. “These numbers should have been zero.”


So why did the Red Cross’ efforts fall so short? It wasn’t just that Haiti is a hard place to work. 

“They collected nearly half a billion dollars,” said a congressional staffer who helped oversee Haiti reconstruction. “But they had a problem. And the problem was that they had absolutely no expertise.”

Lee Malany was in charge of the Red Cross’ shelter program in Haiti starting in 2010. He remembers a meeting in Washington that fall where officials did not seem to have any idea how to spend millions of dollars set aside for housing. Malany says the officials wanted to know which projects would generate good publicity, not which projects would provide the most homes.

“When I walked out of that meeting I looked at the people that I was working with and said, ‘You know this is very disconcerting, this is depressing,’” he recalled.

The Red Cross said in a statement its Haiti program has never put publicity over delivering aid.

Malany resigned the next year from his job in Haiti. “I said there’s no reason for me to stay here. I got on the plane and left.”

Sometimes it wasn’t a matter of expertise, but whether anybody was filling key jobs. An April 2012 organizational chart obtained by ProPublica and NPR lists 9 of 30 leadership positions in Haiti as vacant, including slots for experts on health and shelter.

The Red Cross said vacancies and turnover were inevitable because of “the security situation, separation from family for international staff, and the demanding nature of the work.”

The constant upheaval took a toll. Internal documents refer to repeated attempts over years to “finalize” and “complete” a strategic plan for the Haiti program, efforts that were delayed by changes in senior management. As late as March 2014, more than four years into a six-year program, an internal update cites a “revised strategy” still awaiting “final sign-off.”

The Red Cross said settling on a plan early would have been a mistake. “It would be hard to create the perfect plan from the beginning in a complicated place like Haiti,” it said. “But we also need to begin, so we create plans that are continually revised.” 

Those plans were further undermined by the Red Cross’ reliance on expats. Noailles, the Haitian development professional who worked for the Red Cross on the Campeche project, said expat staffers struggled in meetings with local officials.

“Going to meetings with the community when you don’t speak the language is not productive,” she said. Sometimes, she recalled, expat staffers would skip such meetings altogether.

The Red Cross said it has “made it a priority to hire Haitians” despite lots of competition for local professionals, and that over 90 percent of its staff is Haitian. The charity said it used a local human resources firm to help.

Yet very few Haitians have made it into the group’s top echelons in Haiti, according to five current and former Red Cross staffers as well as staff lists obtained by ProPublica and NPR.

That not only affected the group’s ability to work in Haiti, it was also expensive. 

According to an internal Red Cross budgeting document for the project in Campeche, the project manager – a position reserved for an expatriate – was entitled to allowances for housing, food and other expenses, home leave trips, R&R four times a year, and relocation expenses. In all, it added up to $140,000. 

Compensation for a senior Haitian engineer — the top local position — was less than one-third of that, $42,000 a year.

Shelim Dorval, a Haitian administrator who worked for the Red Cross coordinating travel and housing for expatriate staffers, recalled thinking it was a waste to spend so much to bring in people with little knowledge of Haiti when locals were available.

“For each one of those expats, they were having high salaries, staying in a fancy house, and getting vacation trips back to their countries,” Dorval said. “A lot of money was spent on those people who were not Haitian, who had nothing to do with Haiti. The money was just going back to the United States.”


Soon after the earthquake, McGovern, the Red Cross CEO, said the group would make sure donors knew exactly what happened to their money.

The Red Cross would “lead the effort in transparency,” she pledged. “We are happy to share the way we are spending our dollars.” 

That hasn’t happened. The Red Cross’ public reports offer only broad categories about where $488 million in donations has gone. The biggest category is shelter, at about $170 million. The others include health, emergency relief and disaster preparedness. 

It has declined repeated requests to disclose the specific projects, to explain how much money went to each or to say what the results of each project were.

There is reason to doubt the Red Cross’ claims that it helped 4.5 million Haitians. An internal evaluation found that in some areas, the Red Cross reported helping more people than even lived in the communities. In other cases, the figures were low, and in others double-counting went uncorrected.

In describing its work, the Red Cross also conflates different types of aid, making it more difficult to assess the charity’s efforts in Haiti.

For example, while Red Cross says it provided more than 130,000 people with homes, that includes thousands of people who were not actually given homes, but rather were “trained in proper construction techniques.” (That was first reported by the Haiti blog of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.)

The figure includes people who got short-term rental assistance or were housed in several thousand “transitional shelters,” which are temporary structures that can get eaten up by termites or tip over in storms. It also includes modest improvements on 5,000 temporary shelters.

The Red Cross also won’t break down what portion of donations went to overhead. 

McGovern told CBS News a few months after the quake, “Minus the 9 cents overhead, 91 cents on the dollar will be going to Haiti. And I give you my word and my commitment, I’m banking my integrity, my own personal sense of integrity on that statement.”

But the reality is that less money went to Haiti than 91 percent. That’s because in addition to the Red Cross’ 9 percent overhead, the other groups that got grants from the Red Cross also have their own overhead. 

In one case, the Red Cross sent $6 million to the International Federation of the Red Cross for rental subsidies to help Haitians leave tent camps. The IFRC then took out 26 percent for overhead and what the IFRC described as program-related “administration, finance, human resources” and similar costs. 

Beyond all that, the Red Cross also spends another piece of each dollar for what it describes as “program costs incurred by the American Red Cross in managing” the projects done by other groups.

The American Red Cross’ management and other costs consumed an additional 24 percent of the money on one project, according to the group’s statements and internal documents. The actual work, upgrading shelters, was done by the Swiss and Spanish Red Cross societies. 

“It’s a cycle of overhead,” said Jonathan Katz, the Associated Press reporter in Haiti at the time of the earthquake who tracked post-disaster spending for his book, The Big Truck That Went By. “It was always going to be the American Red Cross taking a 9 percent cut, re-granting to another group, which would take out their cut.”

Given the results produced by the Red Cross’ projects in Haiti, Bellerive, the former prime minister, said he has a hard time fathoming what’s happened to donors’ money. 

“Five hundred million dollars in Haiti is a lot of money,” he said. “I’m not a big mathematician, but I can make some additions. I know more or less the cost of things. Unless you don’t pay for the gasoline the same price I was paying, unless you pay people 20 times what I was paying them, unless the cost of the house you built was five times the cost I was paying, it doesn’t add up for me.”

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Haitian descendants risk losing Dominican citizenship, expulsion

At the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Photo by Alex Proimos via Flickr, Creative Commons

At the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Photo by Alex Proimos via Flickr, Creative Commons

By Eve Hayes de Kalaf, University of Aberdeen
April 24, 2015 

Just because people feel that they are a national of a country does not mean the state necessarily agrees. While tourists flock to the Dominican Republic – the most visited destination in the Caribbean – few are aware of the struggle that tens of thousands of people are currently facing to prove their right to a Dominican nationality.

DominicanBorn and raised in the country, many had the birth certificates, ID cards and passports to prove it. Yet the state is claiming that for over 80 years a bureaucratic mistake led them to issue this documentation. Those affected have been left stateless.

The DR shares an island with Haiti. For almost a century Haitians were a cheap source of labour for the sugar industry. As economic interests shifted, migrants and their descendants moved into different professions from construction to domestic labour. Tens of thousands settled in the country and had children. Their children had children.

But Dominicans of Haitian descent have found it increasingly difficult over the past ten years to obtain or renew state-issued documentation. From 2007 the authorities began to reject the birth registrations of native-born people with French-sounding names (meaning Haitian ones) or presumed to have one or more Haitian parents. The DR also retroactively redefined the criterion it used to define foreigners born in the country, withholding documentation from thousands of people.

Then in 2013, a constitutional court ruling validated these practices and effectively stripped the Dominican nationality of all citizens of undocumented parents born between 1929 and 2007 – affecting some 210,000. The court also ordered a revision of the civil registry so that all those “erroneously” recorded as Dominicans could be identified.

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which represents the region, was among those who were outraged. It called the ruling “abhorrent and discriminatory” and refused to accept the country’s application to join the organisation.

Bowing to national and international pressure, last May the DR adopted a new law that stipulated that those whose births had been registered (and whose families had formal migrant status) could apply for citizenship. The remainder, an estimated 110,000, were told to apply for foreign residency permits with a view to being able to apply for naturalisation two years later. This was despite their having been born in the country and in many cases having long self-identified as Dominican.

Time is now running out for both groups. A deadline which expired in February has left less than 5% of the estimated 110,000 in the second group registered. Amnesty International has expressed concern that any in the first group remain in legal limbo, having either registered and not received documentation or failed to register. It is not clear how many people fall into this first category. From June 16 the government will be entitled to deport everyone without documentation, with the second group thought particularly at risk.

Politicians in the DR have long invoked the “Haitian question” for political and economic gain. Dictator Rafael Trujillo, who ruled the DR between 1930 and 1961, promoted the racist ideology of an imagined “white” Dominican superiority over Haitians. In 1937 he ordered the deaths of an estimated 20,000 Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent residing on the border.

In the 1990s the popular three-times DR presidential candidate Peña Gómez, a black man who was orphaned in the 1937 massacre, had to endure the opposition playing on his Haitian roots and using crude stereotypes to attack his legitimacy as a candidate.

In his final run in 1996, Gómez narrowly lost to Leonel Fernández, who has since dominated the Dominican political scene. He is back in the running for the presidency in 2016, pandering to the sentiments of neo-nationalists at a time when their fervour has reached fever pitch. Lately we have seen Dominicans marching against illegal first-generation Haitian immigrants in the capital Santo Domingo, and burning a Haitian flag in the second city of Santiago.

Although these anti-Haitian protests are only by a small part of the population, this is the context of the registration row. The Dominican government wants the debate to focus on the country’s tensions with Haiti as this clouds the fact that it has withdrawn citizenship from its own citizens. Those stripped of their identity have even been accused of deception and fraud by deceiving the state into believing that they might ever have been Dominicans.

By invoking the secret “Haitianness” of this group, and by talking about them in the same sentence as first-generation Haitian migrants, black Dominicans have become the ideal political fodder for a ruling elite keen to galvanise votes by revving up racial tensions.

The Dominican state appears to have successfully created a group of re-categorised second-class citizens, administratively segregated from fellow citizens and made to jump through bureaucratic hoops to obtain their citizenship. They are unable to contribute. They cannot work legally. Their children cannot go to school.

They face expulsion to a country many do not know, where they have no family ties and whose language they do not speak. Even if they are not deported, the threat will presumably hang over them and they will have formally lost their status as equals within the DR.

For Dominicans of Haitian descent, many are discovering that despite what their paperwork may say, they are foreigners in their country of birth. It is hard to escape the conclusion that for the Dominican state, they were never really citizens in the first place.

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Eve Hayes de Kalaf is a PhD Student, Centre for Citizenship, Civil Society and Rule of Law, at the University of Aberdeen

 

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Photojournalist wins $1.2M in copyright lawsuit

Haitian photographer Daniel Morel has been awarded $1.2 Million by a US judge in a nasty copyright infringement lawsuit against Getty Images and Agence France-Presse. This decision is not only a major win for Morel and serious damage to the reputations of the two international news agencies for what the judge called, willful copyright infringement, it will also be a precedent setting ruling that defines the use and distribution of copyrighted images on the internet and social media websites with their Term of Use agreements that lays claims to photos that people post to their accounts. The case is one of the first to address how images that individuals make available to the public through social media can be used by third parties for commercial purposes and suggests that such “Terms of Use Agreements” cannot override federal and international copyright laws.

Joseph Baio, who represents Morel, said the ruling proves that images taken from Twitter without permission cannot be used for commercial purposes.

Danial Morel's photos of the 2010 Haiti earthquake make the frontpages of newspapers and TV broadcasts around the world. ...click to enlarge.

Danial Morel’s photos of the 2010 Haiti earthquake make the front pages of newspapers and TV broadcasts around the world. …click to enlarge.

This story started when Morel, 62, a well known photographer for his years of work in Haiti posted the first photos of the 2010 Haiti earthquake to his Twitter account for his clients to see. An editor at AFP discovered Morel’s photos through another Twitter user’s account, downloaded them, striped the identifying metadata and gave them to Getty, a partner agency, for distribution. The photos were then widely disseminated to Getty’s clients worldwide. AFP also distributed a number of the images on their network.

When Morel complained about the copyright infringement AFP filed the lawsuit in 2010 against Morel, seeking a declaration that it had not infringed on his copyrights. Morel then filed his own suit.

In the Jan 2013 preliminary hearing AFP had initially argued that Twitter’s terms of service permitted the use of the photos but Judge Alison Nathan found that Twitter’s policies that allowed posting and retweeting of images but did not grant the right to others to use them commercially and that AFP and Getty committed a willful violation of the US Copyright Act and ordered the case go to trail to award damages. The jury also found AFP and Getty guilty of violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act: specifically for altering Copyright Management Information and for adding false and misleading CMI. AFP had removed Morel’s identifying metadata and credited the photos to another photographer. For this they awarded Morel a further $20,000.

At trial, AFP lawyer Joshua Kaufman, blamed the infringement on an innocent mistake and said the Twitter user who posted Morel’s photos without attribution bore responsibility for the error. The AFP editor, Kaufman said, believed the pictures were posted for public distribution.

The $1.2 million was the maximum statutory penalty available under the US Copyright Act. AFP had asked for the award to be set at $120,000. Several news outlets that published Morel’s images previously settled with the photographer for undisclosed amounts, including the Washington Post, CBS, ABC and CNN.

Twitter was not a party in the case. “As has always been our policy, Twitter users own their photos,” a Twitter spokesman said.
You can get the blow-by-blow account of the trail at Editorial Photographers UK
Reuters coverage of the Jan 2013 Hearing
Reuters coverage of the November trial.

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