Forced Evictions Continue, Despite Public Opposition from Martelly

August 02, 2011

On July 21, President Martelly declared “my government is against forced evictions,” but as of yet has done little to stop this systematic violation of rights. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA ) reports that over 125,000 people face the imminent threat of eviction every day. Yesterday, the residents of Camp Django in Delmas protested (click for photos) for their right to adequate shelter and for Martelly to live up to his promises after having faced the constant threat of eviction for months (follow developments on Twitter under #noevictions). In June, Bill Quigley and Jocelyn Brooks of the Center for Constitutional Rights, reported:

Last Saturday, a group of five men, some armed with guns, stormed into the camp and threatened the residents. Four of the men were wearing green t-shirts that read “Mairie de Delmas” (The Office of the Mayor of Delmas).

The Mayor’s men told the people that they would soon destroy their tents. They bragged they would mistreat people in a manner worse than “what happened at Carrefour Aero port,” referring to the violent unlawful eviction of a displacement camp at that location by the same mayor and police less than a month ago.

The Mayor’s men pushed their way through the camp, collecting the names and identification numbers of heads of household and marking tents with red spray painted numbers.

When the men pounded on the wooden door of the tarp covered shelter where 25-year-old pregnant Marie lived with her husband, she tried to stop them from entering.  Marie tried to explain that her husband was not home.  But the leader of the group, JL, violently slammed open the wooden door of her tent into her stomach, causing her to fall hard against the floor on her back.

Three days later, Marie remained in severe pain and bed ridden, worried sick about her baby.

Jeena Shah, a BAI attorney, arrived at Camp Django while government agents were still there. Jeena asked JL [the leader of the group] who had sent his group to Camp Django and why they had marked the tents with numbers. JL was evasive, repeating over and over that “the government” had sent him. Finally he stated that “the National Palace,” a reference to current President Michel Martelly, had sent him.

Last Thursday, Jeena Shah gave an update on Camp Django:

At around 9 am this morning, two truckloads of police officers along with one of the mayor’s agents returned to the camp.  By this time, Camp Django residents had begun protesting just outside of their camp.  The police officers proceeded to beat camp residents with their batons and boots and arrest them.  Several victims required medical attention.  One family’s tent – that of the camp leadership’s spokesperson, who had spoken out against the Mayor’s past threats against the camp – was ransacked by police officers as they searched for her to arrest her.  The mayor’s agent and police officers were unaccompanied by a judicial officer, and neither did they present any judicial order to evict the residents, as required under Haitian law.

What happened to Camp Django was not an isolated incident. In mid-July some 500 families were forcibly evicted, illegally, from the area around Sylvio Cator Stadium in Port-au-Prince. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights characterized the eviction as not respecting the right to adequate housing and added that “the former camp residents will be much more vulnerable than they were in the camp.” Amnesty International added that:

“Port-au-Prince’s Mayor must stop these illegal forced evictions of earthquake victims until adequate alternative housing can be found for all the displaced families,” said Javier Zuñiga, Special Advisor at Amnesty International.

“By pushing families out in the street for a third time since last year’s earthquake, Haitian authorities have failed to protect their rights to an adequate standard of living and basic shelter.”

Amnesty noted that “City authorities had designated a small plot of marshland two kilometres away to relocate the displaced people. However, there has only been space to accommodate approximately 100 families there and the site has no facilities whatsoever. It is not known where the other families have gone.”  Previous studies have shown that many leave the IDP camps for damaged homes. As Dr. Miyamoto explained to anthropologist Timothy Schwartz in a USAID-sponsored report:

“Occupied yellow and red houses are extremely dangerous since many are a collapse hazard.  People occupy these houses despite communications and warnings from MTPTC engineers since they have nowhere to go but the camps. People do not want to stay in these tents. Security is poor and they are exposed to diseases. I see little children sleeping next to the heavily cracked walls every day.”

As both Amnesty and OCHA pointed out, the stadium was on a list of priority sites for relocation that the Martelly government distributed after his taking office. Yet OCHA noted that “the municipal authorities took the decision to relocate the families without consulting the humanitarian community, while the site where some of the families have been relocated was not planned.”

Oxfam has called on the authorities to “implement a relocation strategy” that “must ensure that these people have access to basic services such as drinking water, sanitation services, health care, education and employment opportunities so that they can finally start to rebuild their lives.” In response, Patrick Rouzier, an advisor to the president, told AP:

“I understand Oxfam’s position but we have a comprehensive plan that we are finalizing,” Rouzier said by telephone. “This has been in the works for the past three months. … We are on it 100 percent.”

But in the face of such flagrant abuse of Haitian citizens, patience is dwindling. In a public statement released on Friday, Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ) “strongly condemned” what has become a regular pattern:

Words cannot fully describe how disappointing it is to hear of such vicious attacks towards the people of Haiti.  Members of Congress have previously condemned Mayor Jeudy’s forceful evictions and we will continue to do so until such actions come to a halt…The United States government did not invest dollars, resources, and manpower to have the people of Haiti mistreated by their own government.

Payne notes that “women, children, men and the elderly continue to be abused and displaced, in violation of Haitian and international law.” In this hostile environment, human rights advocates, NGOs, the international community, and–most importantly–the hundreds of thousands of displaced continue to wait for a comprehensive relocation plan.

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