Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Human Rights Situation in the Camps for Internally Displaced Persons in Haiti

By Alexandra S. Haney, The Human Rights Brief


Participants: Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), American University Washington College of Law International Human Rights Clinic (IHRLC), State of Haiti (not present)
Internally Displaced Persons

Update: Disease, malnourishment, contaminated water, and sexual assault plague internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps in Haiti, while post-disaster aid is going into the “wastebasket of corruption,” according to Mario Joseph of the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hearing on human rights in IDP camps in Haiti. After the January 12, 2010 earthquake that left more than 200,000 dead, 1.5 million Haitians have been forced to live in squalid conditions in IDP camps and tent cities across the country. Now residents of IDP camps are facing the threat of eviction.

Since March, approximately 28,000 IDPs have been forcefully evicted through intimidation tactics, including verbal assault, sexual aggression, and rape. Another 144,000 IDPs have been threatened with eviction. At the October 26, 2010 IACHR hearing, petitioners from BAI, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), and Washington College of Law’s International Human Rights Clinic advocated on behalf of the unnamed victims of forced eviction from 22 IDP camps before IACHR Chair Luz Patricia Mejía Guerrero and Commissioners Dinah Shelton and Rodrigo Escobar Gil. The petitioners indicated that two fact-finding missions to Haiti exposed the increasing vulnerability of camp residents to forced eviction. Of the 3,500 IDP camps in Haiti, most are located on public land; about thirty percent, however, were established on private property and are at risk of destruction by landowners and law enforcement.

Mario Joseph of BAI underscored the irreparable harm by state agents who have demolished shelters and camps, depriving Haitians of their right to property under Article 21 of the American Convention on Human Rights. Mr. Joseph contends that unverified landowners, even without producing land deeds, have enlisted the support of the Haitian National Police to extrajudicially evict persons living in camps on private lands without trial, order, or judicial procedure. IJDH staff attorney Nicole Phillips affirmed the state has done little to ensure the safety of camp residents and has been complicit to arbitrary evictions by police forces.

Petitioners Jennifer Goldsmith and Laura Karr from American University Washington College of Law’s International Human Rights Clinic cited numerous violations of internationally-recognized rights, including the rights to life, privacy, property, due process, and humane treatment. Ms. Karr reported that victims of extrajudicial evictions been deprived of the right to a fair trial under Article 8 of the American Convention and that the destruction of shelters on private property does not absolve landowners and state agents from violating the right to property. Ms. Goldsmith cited Case of the Ituango Massacres v. Colombia, in which the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found that Article 21 of the American Convention is violated when property is destroyed, including any personal property without regard to its value. Ms. Goldsmith further contended that destruction of tents and shelters by police also violates the right to privacy under Article 11 which she noted “protects an individual’s private life and home from arbitrary or abusive interference.” The petitioners noted that forced eviction is only a sampling of the illegalities occurring in IDP camps which are wrought with socioeconomic wrongs.

Commissioner Mejía inquired as to what mechanisms exist to keep the state informed of criminal offenses involving forced evictions. Commissioner Escobar Gil noted that if evictions are carried out on a de facto basis, then the police are committing a criminal offense, and further inquired whether they had been lodged with the proper authority and what judicial procedures are available. The commissioners expressed interest in the State’s involvement in the establishment of camps and settlement of those individuals who have been evicted. The petitioners responded that the State is aware of the evictions, and has consistently ignored the right of IDPs to housing. Ms. Phillips suggested that the state has the authority to invoke eminent domain policies to ensure adequate land for IDPs. Representatives of the State were not present at the hearing to provide further details regarding the mechanisms in place to prevent and document forced evictions.

The petitioners requested that the Commission condemn the epidemic of forced eviction, execute an official investigation in Haiti, and call on the Haitian government and civil society organizations to protect the rights of IDPs. The Commission is requesting a formal petition, which the petitioners confirmed would be filed by the end of the week. The petitioners emphasized the critical need for adequate housing for those evicted, who are more vulnerable to acts of rape and violence that pervade the recovering country, and implored the Commission and the State to take immediate precautionary and remedial measures. As petitioner Ryan Smith asserted, “being evicted means being less likely to survive.”

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