Women News Network
June 22, 2o11
Following seven months after Hurricane Tomas hit the Haitian region, hardship for the remaining 680,000 homeless tent-city residents is now reaching an all-time high. On November 5, 2010, Hurricane Tomas, with 130 kph winds, brought massive floods ushering in an expanded outbreak of cholera as make-shift tents and tarpaulins were ripped from their foundations and floods caused injury, death and 16,000 people to act with immediate voluntary relocation.
Rising violence on forced evictions with forced removal from temporary homes by private land owners and Haitian authorities has now set legal team experts and advocacy rights groups to send a joint summary petition filing to the IACHR – Inter-American Commission on Human Rights demanding a follow-up on the precautionary measures recommendations made by the IACHR that were outlined to the Haitian government.
“The Government of Haiti does not appear to have adopted or implemented the Commission’s recommendations, or even designated a public agency to oversee implementation. To the contrary, the GOH continues to execute a pattern of forced evictions, on both public and private land, and to participate in or fail to prevent evictions by private individuals,” says the formal joint advocates petition.
“Haiti does not have a Housing Ministry, so there is no clear mechanism for the dissemination, analysis or implementation of directives…,” says an April 2011 interview by the Haiti Social Justice Project (Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law) with members of the Haitian government along with residents from IDP camps in Port-au-Prince.
Haiti’s tent-city residents, also known as IDPs – Internally Displaced Persons by relief agencies and regional governments, are often the ones who fall to the bottom of the heap with public services and human rights. Women and children, along with the elderly, are also at the top of the list of those facing increased danger and violence in camps that have little to no security or management. Many women IDPs in Haiti who are taking care of their own children as well as the children of women who are deceased are extra vulnerable to dire conditions.
“I live in a camp – in a tent in a camp – and I am a witness of the violence against women and girls who live in the camp all around me and I’m also a witness to the government’s response, a response which is entirely insufficient,” said activist Malya Villard-Appolon on June 8, 2010 before a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
If any options are available to them, IDPs are trying to leave the camps, but the essential and root problem is that they don’t know where to go. A recent March 2011 survey of IDPs by United Nations partner, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), reveals that a downward trend is occurring for residents living in IDP camps located in Croixdes-Bouquets, Delmas, and Port Au Prince.
But displacement from the camps does not mean that those who are leaving the camps are easily finding homes. “…a considerable number of IDPs that have left the sites (camps) have moved into precarious and temporary situations in the neighborhoods,” says the recent March 2011 IOM data.
The consortium of legal and advocacy experts are asking the IACHR and the Haitian government authorities to: “Provide illegally evicted displaced people with effective judicial remedies.” Currently 60 per cent of all IDP camps in Haiti are located on privately owned land. Of the 70 per cent of those who owned their homes before the earthquake ravaged the area, only 19 per cent have been able to rebuild their homes.
“When asked where they would go if they left the IDP sites, 55% of respondents from Port Au Prince and 26% of respondents from the provinces reported that they did not know where they could go,” says the IOM.
Land rights and ownership in Haiti has been an ongoing tangle of confused information though. Proof of land and parcel ownership has many times gone without any proper or official real estate records as sharecropping, absentee ownership and land leases have been common. The ability for people to falsely claim ownership of land is also fueled by the struggling rebuilding and instability in Haiti.
Women, children, and especially the elderly, are particularly vulnerable to evictions as they can be caught between violence during fights that break out with evictions. The recent death of 51 year old IDP woman, Thelucia Ciffren, who was allegedly and mortally injured while caught in between fighting during evictions at the Orphe Shadda Camp is a case in point.
“In addition, pursuant to its acquired human rights commitments, the Haitian State is obliged to exercise due diligence to prevent, punish, and eradicate the widespread discrimination and violence against women found in Haiti,” said a formal statement by IACHR to the Haitian government in 2009.
Legal team experts and advocates involved in the push with the legal petition summery to the IACHR cite the need for updated precautionary measures for Haiti’s increasing evictions and rising violence.
The group filing the legal petition includes the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (Bureau des Avocats Internationaux), the International Human Rights Law Clinic at American University Washington College of Law and Haiti’s disaster law center – You.Me.We.
Knowing where to go is a real and tangible problem for many IDPs in a region that has suffered so much building deterioration and damage after the earthquake. Assessments in needs for the displaced show that they need the basics. “When asked what their biggest need would be in order to move to a new location the two most common responses were ‘Cash’ and ‘Livelihoods.’ The third and fourth most common answers were ‘shelter’ and ‘food’,” continued the IOM survey.
“The evictions taking place are illegal under both Haitian law and international law, and we hope the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will intervene and urge this new government of Haiti to enact a moratorium on evictions immediately,” said Vince Warren, Executive Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Adequate future housing with greater interim management of sanitation and violence in the camps can provide a line progress in protection for elders, women and children. The legal push to encourage the government of Haiti to establish correct management that will build protection and opportunities for women is on to ensure that all displaced persons have some opportunity for improved lives.
“The Haitian government can best protect displaced persons from forced evictions by facilitating their access to adequate and affordable housing,” said attorney Jeena Shai of BAI – Haiti’s Bureau des Avocats Internationaux.
As use of forced eviction is part of a growing trend to clear the camps, actions of evictions by private land owners or by government agencies using police force can cause women and families to experience a greater vulnerability to violence.
Specific violence during evictions has occurred. Officials working in their capacity as state agents demolished one IDP camp with a bulldozer, denying the residents the opportunity to gather their belongings as they carried out arbitrary arrests. Some people were also wounded with rubber bullets. Other cases were also denied access to basic services provided by nongovernmental organizations.
“…forced evictions in Haitian displacement camps are increasing and are usually being carried out with violence, threats of violence or coercion,” says the consortium of legal experts and advocates agencies in the their formal petition summary to the IACHR.
“This is a situation that makes people cry,” says recently evicted 32-year-old IDP, Sabida Dorce, who was living in a camp in the Delmas district in Port-au-Prince.
Principle 14 of the 1998 United Nations Human Rights Commission “Guiding Principles for Displaced Persons” states: “1. Every internally displaced person has the right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose his or her residence. 2. In particular, internal displaced persons have the right to move freely in and out of camps or other settlements.”
“I don’t know what to do,” said 55-year-old IDP and mother of three Marie Denise Menssou, who has been moving from one place to another since the rising waters of Hurricane Tomas carried away her AJTTC camp tent at Tabarre where she and her family were living.
Dorce and Menssou are only two of thousands of women IDPs who still currently face an uncertain future in Haiti migration as they continue to try to find the best option for any home available to them and their family.
For more information on this topic:
- Formal Summary Petition Letter to the IACHR – Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (Bureau des Avocats Internationaux), Center for Constitutional Rights, You.Me.We (the Disaster Law Center) and TransAfrica Forum, June 15, 2011;
- “The Guiding Principles for Displaced Persons“, United Nations Human Rights Commission, United Nations Publications Geneva, 1998;
- Universal Periodic Review – Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (Bureau des Avocats Internationaux), April 21, 2011.
Additional sources for this article include Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, American University Washington College of Law, United Nations Human Rights Council Geneva, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, You.Me.We, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the International Organization for Migration.
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