On the 64th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we call on the international community to act against the human rights abuses taking place in Haiti in the form of arbitrary and illegal forced evictions.
On January 12, 2010, a catastrophic earthquake hit Haiti, killing over 250,000 people and displacing 1.5 million. 358,000 men, women and children still remain in displacement camps in and around Port-au-Prince. Haiti’s displaced face not only the challenges inherent to living in tent camps, but one in five are currently at risk of forced eviction.
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Forced evictions or the involuntary removal of individuals or communities without appropriate forms of legal or other protection are often prompted by private landowners with complicity from local authorities and police. Most are carried out with no legal protection to displaced families.
The level of violence involved and the disregard for the rights of the displaced demonstrated during these evictions are a scandal. The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights recommended in November 2010 that the Government of Haiti issue a moratorium on all evictions from IDP (Internally Displaced People’s) camps. The Commission’s precautionary principles recommend that those who have been unlawfully evicted be transferred to places with a minimum of sanitary and security conditions, and have effective recourse before tribunals and other competent authorities. The Haitian government has not complied with the Commission’s binding recommendations to date.
Haitians displaced by the earthquake are entitled to special legal protection under the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (Guiding Principles), which prohibit forced evictions unless necessary to protect the safety and health of those affected. The Haitian government has a duty to provide these citizens with due process protection such as consultation and adequate notice of eviction, as well as an alternate place to live that meets international standards. Neither private landowners nor the Haitian government, from the local police to the Minister of Justice, are respecting these protections.
Human rights advocates point to the December 2011 government-led eviction of Place Jérémie, a camp on public land, as a prime example. Although families were supposed to receive $500 to relocate (already an amount insufficient for families to find sustainable housing), police came to the camp in the middle of the night, armed with machetes and batons, destroyed tents and violently evicted residents. The housing rights coalition Force for Reflection and Action on Housing (FRAKKA) reported that the majority of families received $25 in compensation. With regards to this case, the International Tribunal on Evictions ruled in September 2012 that the Haitian government should not only protect against violence and threats of forced evictions, but also provide assistance to those who have been evicted and respect the rights of all displaced.
Victims of forced evictions suffer an extensive list of human rights abuses: destruction of their tent ‘homes’; theft of their belongings; violent attacks by law enforcement and private thugs; arbitrary arrest; and the withholding of food, water, medical care, and sanitation services. In recent evictions documented by FRAKKA and other grassroots activists, residents have been shot at or beaten by police, their property has been destroyed, and in several cases, entire camps have been set on fire. In October, one woman was raped during the attempted eviction of Camp Lamèfrape.
With a shortage of housing units in Port-au-Prince, evicted families often have no option but to inhabit dangerous and substandard housing. Within one year of the earthquake, families had returned to 64% of houses marked for demolition and 85% of houses needing significant repair. Others have been pushed to live on dangerous hillsides, in slum neighborhoods, or to the outskirts of the city where no infrastructure exists.
Forced evictions of displaced Haitians are a flagrant abuse of their human rights, and should be matter of concern for the international community at large.
The Under Tents campaign calls on international donors, allies and the United Nations to urge the Haitian state to:
- Implement the precautionary measures against forced evictions requested by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in November 2010 and the recommendations of the International Tribunal of Evictions in September 2012;
- Apply and enforce the Haitian civil and criminal laws that outline procedures and guidelines related to evictions;
- Ensure that IDP camps are not closed until adequate long-term housing alternatives are provided, which meet international standards in terms of safety, affordability, habitability and accessibility;
- Ensure that relocations only take place with consultation of displaced communities, especially women;
- Ensure that Haiti’s National Housing Policy includes social or affordable housing programs that Haiti’s most vulnerable populations, especially women and girls, can access; and prioritize the implementation of such a policy.
Under Tents is an international campaign working with the Haitian Right to Housing Collective to win housing rights for Haiti’s displaced. We make this declaration in solidarity with the Collective and other grassroots and Haitian civil society organizations speaking out against forced evictions.
Signatories of this statement include:
Agricultural Missions, Inc (AMI)
American Jewish World Service (AJWS)
American Association of Jurists (AAJ)
Canada Haiti Action Network (CHAN)
Centre Medico Social
Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH)
Coalition of Classist Tendencies (Venezuela)
Commission on Women Workers (Venezuela)
Convergence of Movements of the Peoples of the Americas (COMPA)
Diaspora Community Services
Government Accountability Project
Haiti Justice Alliance
Haiti Support Group
Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH)
Just Foreign Policy
Let Haiti Live
Li, Li, Li! Read
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Haiti
Otros Mundos (Mexico)
School of the Americas Watch
Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL)
Take Back the Land Leadership Committee
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
United Methodist General Board of Church and Society