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Last month, the Haitian police, a local mayor, and private security agents raided and destroyed three displacement camps in the city of Delmas outside of Port-au-Prince to remove approximately 1,000 homeless earthquake victims. Some residents were warned about the raid the day before, but most were caught by surprise. Residents were given almost no time to collect their belongings before security forces destroyed them.
The police shot one camp resident in the leg. Others were beaten with batons. At least three who tried to stop the eviction were arrested. When an attorney and community organizer called a press conference at the scene, police and municipal workers charged them with machetes. They survived, but now hundreds of people, including families with small children, have no shelter and nowhere to live just as hurricane season begins.
What happened at Delmas is a snapshot of a larger epidemic of forced evictions that began shortly after the earthquake. The International Organization for Migration estimates that 233,941 Haitians have been evicted from displacement camps, and that 166,000 of the 680,000 people remaining in camps face an ongoing threat of eviction. They say that the “rapid pace of eviction” is causing people to leave the camps even though they have nowhere else to go. Of the more than 180,000 residential buildings destroyed in the earthquake, only 4,100 have been repaired. Only a fraction of the needed temporary shelters have been built.
These violent and extrajudicial evictions not only threaten the lives and dignity of the hemisphere’s poorest people, they also violate Haitian and international law. Evictions that leave people homeless or subject them to violence, threats, or coercion, violate international human rights norms. Even people who occupy land without permission from the owner are entitled to due process protections, including prior notice of an eviction and an opportunity to consult with government officials regarding their relocation.
The evictions in Haiti are especially violent and cruel. Police brutality and surprise raids are common, and basic survival needs are often withheld from camp residents to force them off the land. In one case, people who identified themselves as camp “organizers” set up a wire fence to divide the camp in half, and then denied people on one side of the fence access to food, water and sanitation facilities that were being distributed to people on the other side of the fence.
Last fall, we were part of a team that brought a claim before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“IACHR”) on behalf of displacement camps that resulted in a directive to the Haitian government to protect earthquake victims living in camps from unlawful evictions. The directive urged former President Rene Préval to adopt a moratorium on evictions until displaced people had an alternative and safe place to live. The Commission also ordered the government to provide people who have been illegally evicted with a safe place to live, to establish an effective complaint mechanism to report and respond to unlawful evictions, to implement security measures to protect camp residents, to train law enforcement personnel on the rights of displaced people, and to ensure that international monitors have access to camps and to internally displaced people. It appears that President Préval made little effort to comply with the precautionary measures or otherwise respond to the Commission’s directive.
The duty to protect the Haitian people now falls on Haiti’s new President, Michel Martelly. Martelly pledged to close the camps in six months, starting with six camps during his first 100 days as President. The public still awaits details on how he will meet that ambitious goal without forcibly evicting people. Mayor Wilson Jeudy claimed to have President Martelly’s authority to carry out the Delmas raids with the help of the national police. The President’s staff unofficially denounced the raids after being pressured by the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti, but the brutal actions have so far gone unpunished.
Haitian human rights groups brought a lawsuit again Mayor Jeudy on behalf of displaced residents to stop the extrajudicial evictions and send a message that public officials in Haiti are not above the law. We have returned to the IACHR on behalf of displacement camps to ask for renewed protections against forced evictions under the Martelly government.
The international community also bears responsibility for the desperate situation in Haiti. As the first eviction in Delmas was happening, the UN’s camp coordination body in Haiti, led by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, cancelled its meeting, squandering an opportunity for humanitarian actors to coordinate a response to the evictions and find shelter for hundreds left without housing. To frustrated Haitians languishing in camps and now fearing government raids, this is another example of the UN’s inability to respond to crisis and protect their human rights. The epidemic of sexual assaults in the camps and a cholera outbreak that has led to 302,401 reported cases and a death total of 5,234 since October, are other examples.
The United States bears responsibility too. Congresswoman Barbara Lee cited “the lack of urgency on the international community’s part,” as one reason for Haiti’s sluggish recovery, and introduced a bill to require accountability for humanitarian and reconstruction aid in Haiti. The bill passed by a voice vote in the House and awaits Senate action.
More recently, Congressional Representatives Donald Payne, Yvette Clarke, Frederica Wilson and Maxine Waters denounced the evictions at Delmas. Along with 48 other members of Congress, they also urged Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to dedicate “significant attention” to the worsening situation in the camps, and to ensure “accountability and transparency” in humanitarian aid projects, including those administered by USAID. President Obama and members of Congress should support these efforts.
The U.S. government strongly supports President Martelly and his promise to open Haiti for investment. It condoned the Haitian elections, despite the fact that they were marred by fraud and historically low voter turnout (22.7 percent). Martelly was elected by only 16.7 percent of Haitian voters.
With Martelly at her side last month, Secretary Clinton vowed “to be a good partner for Haiti.” If the U.S. wants to be a good partner for Haiti, first we should make good on our financial commitments to Haitians–the U.S. has disbursed only one quarter of the funds it pledged to rebuild Haiti. We must also ensure that taxpayer money does not support forced evictions or other human rights violations against earthquake victims.
Kathleen Bergin is a law professor in Houston, Texas, and co-director of the disaster law center, You.Me.We. Nicole Phillips is a Staff Attorney with the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, Assistant Director for Haiti Programs with the University of San Francisco School of Law and a contributor to the Americas Program.
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Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti: IJDH works with the people of Haiti in their non-violent struggle for the consolidation of constitutional democracy, justice and human rights.