Amnesty International: Haiti is forcibly evicting people from tent cities

By Jacqueline Charles, The Miami Herald, April 23, 2013

While the number of Haitians living in makeshift, deteriorating camps has dropped significantly since Haiti’s devastating Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake, a leading international human rights organization said Tuesday that forced evictions are largely responsible for the decline.

A violation of international human rights, the evictions overwhelmingly affect women and girls, and along with insecurity and chronic unemployment, push those still living in tent cities even deeper into poverty, Amnesty International said in its latest human rights report on Haiti. [Find the 50-page Amnesty International report by clicking here.]

“People who most suffered from the earthquake were those living in extreme poverty. They have been living in camps with appalling living conditions,” said Javier Zúñiga, an Amnesty special advisor. “And, as if this were not enough, they are threatened with forced evictions and, eventually, made homeless again. Each time it becomes increasingly difficult for them to find a new location and the means to rebuild their lives.”

Titled Nowhere to Go: Forced Evictions in Haiti’s Camps for Displaced People, the report was released the same day that Haiti welcomed a dozen Latin American and Caribbean leaders as part of the fifth summit of the Association of Caribbean States.

It is also the second report in recent days raising concerns about human rights in Haiti. Last week, the U.S. State Department, in its country report on human rights, said “the most serious impediments to human rights involved weak democratic governance in the country; the near absence of the rule of law, exacerbated by a judicial system vulnerable to political influence; and chronic, severe corruption in all branches of government.

“Although the government took some steps to prosecute and punish some government officials and Haitian National Police (HNP) members who committed abuses, there was considerable evidence of impunity for some government officials, as well as for high-ranking officers in the HNP,” the report said.

The State Department report also touched on the situation in the hundreds of makeshift camps. It too noted the vulnerability of Haitian women and children. Their living conditions, poor lightening, unsecured flimsy tent doors and a lack of effective law enforcement made them vulnerable to rape and other forms of violence, U.S. officials said.

The International Organization for Migration reports that the number of displaced people still living in camps three years after the disaster has gone from 1.5 million to 320,050. The change represents a 79 percent drop with thousands of homeless Haitians transitioning into more permanent dwellings with help from a Haitian government rental subsidy program.

But Amnesty said that many also have been forced out of the informal settlements by police, landowners and even government officials. “Appeals from Amnesty International and other [non-governmental organizations] to halt the forced evictions have fallen on deaf ears; not only has the Haitian government not put an end to them, but it has allowed them to increase since the beginning of this year,” said Zúñiga. “This is a story of ongoing human rights violations creating deep suffering.”

Between, July 2010 and the end of 2012, 60,978 Haitians were forcibly evicted from tent cities, most of them in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area. During the first three months of this year, 977 additional families were evicted.

Haiti’s government has said it doesn’t condone forced removal of people from camps. But Amnesty said some evictions have been “carried out or condoned by the authorities.”

Last week it called on Haitian government officials to “thoroughly and impartially” investigate allegations that Civil Merius, a camp resident in Delmas, died after being beaten by police during a protest against an arson attack on the camp.

Amnesty has called on the Haitian government to ensure that human rights are a central part of the country’s reconstruction efforts.

[Find the 50-page Amnesty International report by clicking here.]