Dozens of Haitian and international organizations have marked UN Human Rights Day today by calling for an end to forced evictions, which, as Oxfam notes, “infringe on other rights in addition to the right to adequate housing” due to “the inter-relationship and interdependence of all human rights.” In a statement calling “on the international community to act against the human rights abuses taking place in Haiti in the form of arbitrary and illegal forced evictions,” groups gathered under the Under Tents campaign note that “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.”
A briefing note [PDF] released by Oxfam today notes that “the right to decent housing” is enshrined in both Haitian and international law:
The right to private property is acknowledged and guaranteed by the Haitian constitution of 1987, but the constitution, as well as many international legal instruments, also recognizes the right to decent housing. These include the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, whose ratification by the Haitian parliament on 31 January 2012 was hailed as an important step in broadening the scope of human-rights protection in the country.
But it also notes that “By the end of October 2012, the displaced population was estimated at 358,000 people, living in 496 camps and informal sites.” Oxfam presents some of the scale of those whose rights have been violated in forced evictions and precarious IDP camp situations so far:
Up to August 2012, around 61,000 people had been evicted from 152 camps. Another 78,000 people housed in 121 camps are currently threatened with eviction. Of the 121 camps currently under threat of forced evictions, around 96 per cent of these camps are located on private property. According to Oxfam’s latest survey, 86 per cent of the people in the camps lack the financial resources to leave, and the majority do not have jobs in the formal economy. The internally displaced persons (IDPs) who remain in camps live in extreme poverty, with 60 percent reporting that they ate one meal or fewer per day.
The Under Tents statement also notes the failings of the Haitian government and private landowners to protect these rights:
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.
A video report by Aljazeera English presents a human face alongside the numbers presented by the Under Tents statement and by Oxfam’s briefing note, profiling IDP camp residents such as Judith Bertrand who told Aljazeera, “I hear all the time that billions were given for the people, and instead of helping us to leave the camps, I realize that they have left us here to die.”
Both Oxfam and Under Tents describe some of the violence involved in past forced evictions, with Oxfam describing how “In the Place Mausolée camp, a fire in the middle of the night forced residents to leave without being able to take their personnel belongings. A 12-year-old girl perished in the blaze.” Under Tents noted that in the
December 2011 government-led eviction of Place Jérémie, a camp on public land …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.
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.
Once displaced from camps, people’s right to decent housing continues to be violated, as Under Tents notes that
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.