Advocates to testify about forced evictions in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti, Friday October 22, 2010 – Human rights advocates are set to testify before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights next Tuesday about what they say are unlawful forced evictions in that country.

The groups claim that hundreds of camps have been threatened with eviction or actually evicted as people purporting to be land owners stake claim to the land. 

According to the groups, entire settlements have been destroyed and residents who refuse to vacate their camps are routinely terrorized and beaten by the police.

The advocates say that forced evictions pose “an immediate threat of grave and irreparable harm”.

“Forced expulsions of the internally displaced violate Haitian and international law,” says lawyer Mario Joseph with Bureau des Advocats Internationaux, who will testify at the hearing. 

“This is just the beginning of a problem we’ll be facing for years to come unless the Haitian government immediately puts a moratorium on forced expulsions, verifies land ownership titles, and nationalizes by decree all empty and idle lands in the hands of purported landowners.”

The coalition of human rights advocates, which includes the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, the International Human Rights Law Clinic at American University’s Washington College of Law, the disaster law center You.Me.We, and the University of San Francisco School of Law Center for Law and Global Justice, will also be filing a Request for Precautionary Measures with the Inter-American Commission, demanding an immediate moratorium on forced evictions, an investigation into these violations, and implementation of human rights monitoring mechanisms that will protect the rights of Haiti’s most vulnerable population.

Meantime, United Nations expert Walter Kaelin has stressed that there must not be any forced eviction without due process and reasonable alternatives. He said “the Government should publicly stand up for this principle,” with the right to property balanced against the economic and social rights of the quake victims.

Kaelin, Secretary-General Ban Ki moon’s Representative on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), made the comments after a visit to the country this week.

He also called for a shift in the focus of humanitarian operations and more urgency in launching the reconstruction process in Haiti.

“Haiti is still living through a profound humanitarian crisis that affects the human rights of those displaced by the disaster,” Kaelin said, noting that camp residents include both those who lost their homes and others fleeing poverty exacerbated by the January quake, which killed more than 200,000 people.

“Visiting some of the capital’s worst slum areas, I also met many others outside camps, whose plight was less visible, but not less grave. People in the camps have specific needs, especially relating to shelter, which need to be addressed at the camp level,” he added.

“However, other urgent needs such as access to health, water, sanitation and education faced not only by the camp population but also by Haiti’s poor should be addressed through a neighbourhood approach. That way, the entire affected population has equal access in accordance with needs and people are not drawn into unsustainable camps.”

Calling for more urgency for the reconstruction process, Kaelin said the crisis needs a development solution, with the Government facing the primary responsibility to communicate publicly a plan on how to provide durable solutions, while donors ensure early recovery funding for smaller-scale neighbourhood reconstruction to begin. 

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