IACHR Press Release
Washington, D.C., November 18, 2010—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over the situation in a number of camps for persons displaced by the earthquake that took place in Haiti in January 2010, especially with regard to forced evictions and sexual violence against women and girls.
According to information received by the Inter-American Commission, the extremely precarious conditions and lack of security in the camps for internally displaced persons (IDP camps) is generating a situation of extreme vulnerability for the women and girls who live in them. The number of sexual violations committed in the camps is apparently on the rise, and rapes of girls as young as five years old have been reported. Organizations working on the ground have observed that most of the rapes are committed at night by two or more attackers, who are usually armed. According to the data provided to the IACHR, the victims of these attacks do not have adequate medical services available, nor do they have accessible, effective judicial recourse, which creates a situation of impunity which allows the violence against women and girls to be perpetuated.
The IACHR also received information regarding forced evictions. This situation has reportedly arisen in five IDP camps created by families that set up tents in open fields, either on public or private property, after their homes were destroyed by the earthquake. The information received indicates that in some cases these evictions were carried out by landowners and in other cases by members of public law enforcement agencies in order to establish official camps. For example, it is alleged that members of the National Police arrived to an IDP camp in the nighttime hours and, with no prior notice, began to raze the shelters using bulldozers. The inhabitants built new structures in an area adjoining the original IDP camp, and some weeks later, these were also said to have been destroyed. The government reportedly built an official camp for displaced persons on the site of the original camp, whose members now live alongside the official camp. According to the information that was provided, the situation involves some 500 people who live in absolutely precarious conditions and are not allowed to use the official camp’s water or sanitation services or to participate in its food program.
The Inter-American Commission recognizes the efforts made by the government of Haiti to respond to the needs of its population, and especially to the 1.4 million people in a situation of internal displacement due to the earthquake that took place at the beginning of the year. However, the IACHR underscores the importance of respecting international human rights obligations in all circumstances, in particular non-derogable rights and the rights of the most vulnerable. Based on the powers it has been granted by Article 41 of the American Convention on Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission has sent a letter to the government of Haiti requesting that it adopt measures to investigate the facts surrounding the sexual violations in the IDP camps and to prevent them from being repeated. The IACHR has also decided to grant precautionary measures in relation to the forcible evictions from the IDP camps.
In this regard, the IACHR recommended to the State of Haiti that it ensure the presence of security forces around and inside the IDP camps, in particular female security forces and especially near the bathrooms; improve lighting inside the camps; implement measures to facilitate the filing of legal actions and to improve the efficiency of judicial investigations, including in particular training police officials in their duties related to cases of violence against women; and provide free assistance by specialized doctors who have experience in treating victims of sexual violence.
The IACHR also recommended that the State of Haiti adopt a moratorium on expulsions from the IDP camps until a new government can take office; offer those who have been illegally expelled from the camps a transfer to places that have minimum health and security conditions, and then transfer them if they so agree; guarantee that internally displaced persons have access to effective recourse before a court and before other competent authorities; implement effective security measures to safeguard the physical integrity of the inhabitants of the camps, guaranteeing especially the protection of women and children; train the security forces in the rights of displaced persons, especially their right not to be forcibly expelled from the camps; and ensure that international cooperation agencies have access to the camps.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.
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