Sonia Pierre, 1963 - 2011
On Sunday, December 4, the world lost an extraordinary advocate for human rights, Sonia Pierre, at age 48. Sonia was the executive director of Movimiento De Mujeres Dominico Haitiana (MUDHA), which AJWS has partnered with and funded for the past eight years.
“It is very difficult to know where and how to begin to speak about this extraordinary woman,” says Amarilys Estrella, AJWS program officer for Haiti and the Dominican Republic. “She had such a presence. As someone once said to me, her aura was enough to lighten all of those around her. Sonia was a combination of strength and humility; a force to be reckoned with. You could feel the passion with which she fought for human rights for the past 35 years of her life.
For the past eight years, AJWS supported Sonia and MUDHA’s work to improve the conditions of Haitian migrants and their descendants in the Dominican Republic. Most recently, we supported MUDHA’s work in Haiti, empowering women to become economically independent and informed about their rights.
The daughter of Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic, Sonia’s activism began at a young age. She was just 13 when she led her fellow Dominican residents of Haitian descent in a march for the rights of sugar cane cutters, demanding fair wages and access to resources such as water and medical services. Sonia was arrested and threatened with deportation. Estrella recalls: “I had the pleasure of hearing and translating this story on many occasions. It is only the first glimpse into the activist that Sonia would become.”
As an adult, Sonia led the fight for the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent. In 2006, she received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, honoring her work securing citizenship and education for Dominican-born Haitians. In 2010, Sonia won the International Women of Courage Award, given by the U.S. Department of State for outstanding women leaders around the world who have demonstrated courage in their struggles for social justice and human rights.
Sonia founded MUDHA in 1983 to address the problems that Haitians and their children born in the Dominican Republic face, and to advocate for reforms to Dominican immigration law that will enable her community to reap the benefits and protections of nationality and citizenship. Sonia used a campaign of public education and legal action to reform the Dominican Republic’s birth registration system and to build awareness of how statelessness deprives people of access to crucial human rights.
MUDHA was one of the first responders to the earthquake in Haiti, and, in an astounding grassroots organizing effort, coordinated relief caravans with medical support and personal hygiene supplies to Haiti, focusing primarily on the needs of women neglected by large-scale relief operations.
In October 2011, Sonia traveled to Washington, D.C. to testify at a hearing of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. She spoke about the absence of effective judicial response when Dominican residents of Haitian descent are arbitrarily denied citizenship.
Sonia is survived by her mother, ten brothers and sisters, four children; Manuela, Carlos, Leticia and Humberto and two grandchildren, Gael and Israel. For her goodness and her extraordinary accomplishments, Sonia’s legacy will live on forever in our hearts.
At a visit to one of Sonia’s projects in 2010 she said:
I think that this earthquake could serve as an opportunity for Haiti. Every time I speak I like to frame the issue around “construction,” because “reconstruction” would imply leaving [Haiti] where it was before the earthquake. And I want to dream. I want to dream as a daughter of a daughter of this land, of my parents who originated from this land, and we’re here to contribute with our support. I have many dreams for Haiti, dreams that we can make a reality with much will and with support we can receive for the community and other support that we could receive; we are betting on these dreams.