CCR Helps Fight Escalation of Forced Evictions from Haiti's Informal Settlements: Letter to UN Secretary General and Others

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CCR helped organize a sign-on letter protesting a recent increase in forced evictions from Haiti's camps for Internally Displaced Persons. The letter, signed by lawyers, law professors, and human rights advocates, urges Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Madam High Commissioner Navanethem Pillay, Humanitarian Coordinator Nigel Fisher, and Special Expert Michel Forst to demand that Haitian President Michel Martelly publicly denounce forced evictions and declare a moratorium on all such evictions.

August 23, 2011

Ban Ki Moon
United Nations Secretary General
760 United Nations Plaza,
New York, NY 10017, USA

Navanethem Pillay
High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Nigel Fisher
Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator Ad Interim
One United Nations Plaza,
Room DC1-1392
New York, NY 10017, USA

Michel Forst
Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Haiti
Palais des Nations 35 rue Saint-Dominique
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland 75700 Paris, France

RE: Letter in Support of Immediate Moratorium on Evictions of Internally Displaced Persons in Haiti

Dear Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Madam High Commissioner Navanethem Pillay, Humanitarian Coordinator Nigel Fisher, and Special Expert Michel Forst:

We, the undersigned lawyers, law professors, and human rights advocates, are writing to express our great alarm at the escalation of forced evictions of displaced families and individuals living in informal settlements in Haiti. We urge you to immediately engage with the office of President Michel Martelly to publicly denounce these forced evictions and declare a moratorium on all evictions of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) from their camps. The moratorium must be communicated to the Haitian National Police and local mayors and maintained until the Government of Haiti (GOH) is able to adequately re-house all of its displaced population, consistent with Haiti’s obligations under international law.

Forced evictions in Haiti represent an extremely urgent and intensifying threat to Haiti’s displaced.1 Starting at the end of May 2011, the Mayor of the Port-au-Prince suburb of Delmas escalated an illegal and violent campaign to forcibly evict IDP camps.2 Since then, lawyers, journalists, and the residents of camps themselves have documented an exponential increase in the number of camps under attack. For example, the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI), a Haitian public interest law firm, reports that where in the past it might have responded to several threats of forced eviction per month, starting in the beginning in June it was responding to several threats of evictions per week, and since last week, has been responding to several per day.

Forced evictions are often carried out with brutal violence.3 Armed groups and uniformed members of the Haitian National Police, frequently in the pay of local mayors or private actors, have assaulted camp residents with boots, batons, bullets, and in the case of one camp, homemade firebombs. However, purported private landowners are seldom, if ever, able to demonstrate legal title to the land in question and have shown little interest or ability to conduct evictions in compliance with Haitian law.

This must stop. Private and government actors in Haiti must respect the law governing evictions. Haitian law tightly circumscribes the manner in which evictions of real property occupants may be carried out: through judicial or executive order, depending on whether the party seeking the eviction is a private actor or the government. Evictions that take place without a judicial or executive order or the voluntary consent of the occupants are unlawful and considered “forced evictions” under international law. Further, according to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, even lawful evictions of persons may only occur after all feasible alternatives have been explored; under satisfactory conditions of shelter, hygiene, health, safety and nutrition; and with the population’s consultation in their relocation. This right to adequate housing is recognized in Article 22 of the Haitian Constitution itself —a right the GOH must honor by assisting those living in camps and informal settlements to find adequate housing before permitting their eviction.

Without a comprehensive housing plan in place, forced evictions lead inexorably to other, still more serious violations of victims’ human rights. The gravity of this looming ‘second displacement crisis’ led the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to issue precautionary measures directing the GOH to end all evictions until a re-housing plan is in place.4 Lacking any meaningful re-housing assistance, evicted camp residents are left bereft of options, forced to choose between shifting to other camps, taking shelter on precarious hillsides or ravines, living in the street, or moving back into the same unsound, earthquake-damaged houses they had originally fled. 54,314 of these re-inhabited houses “may collapse at any moment” and 101,499 are expected to “collapse in heavy wind or foul weather,”5 placing residents in even greater danger than if they had remained in the camps.

Paying victims to leave camps does not change their evictions’ illegal and coercive nature. Such “compensated” displacements still occur under open threat of violence, are manifestly inadequate to provide alternative housing, and do not amount to durable solutions to displacement, required by the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

These extrajudicial and violent acts constitute an intolerable violation of Haitian citizens’ most basic rights, and demand a swift and unambiguous response from the international community. As the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the High Commissioner on Human Rights, the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs, and the Independent Expert on situation of human rights in Haiti, each of your offices has a singular and critically important mandate to ensure that the Government of Haiti respects the human rights norms agreed upon by the international community to protect displaced populations. The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights’ condemnation of the recent eviction at the Sylvio Cator Stadium6 is critical, but further action is required to halt all evictions of displaced, homeless Haitians citizens until they have access to adequate housing.

We therefore urge you to take swift and decisive action with the Martelly government to denounce the forced evictions that have taken place, announce and enforce a nation-wide moratorium on evictions, and maintain that moratorium until a comprehensive plan is developed and implemented that provides access to adequate housing to all those rendered homeless by the January 12, 2010 earthquake.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

Sincerely,
Brian Concannon
Director
Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Mario Joseph
Director
Bureau des Avocats Internationaux

Vince Warren
Executive Director
Center for Constitutional Rights

Mairead Corrigan Maguire
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
Founder, Northern Ireland Peace Movement

Souhayr Belhassen
President
International Federation for Human Rights

Ramsey Clark
Former Attorney General of the United States

Cathy Albisa
Executive Director
National Economic and Social Rights Initiative

Ira J. Kurzban, Esq.
Attorney
Kurzban, Kurzban, Weinger & Tetzeli
Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Miami and Nova Southeastern University.

Bill Quigley
Director of the Law Clinic and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center
Loyola University New Orleans

Meg Satterthwaite
Faculty Director
Center for Human Rights and Global Justice
Associate Professor of Clinical Law

Nicole Lee
President
TransAfrica Forum

Kathleen Bergin
President
You.Me.We

Jennifer M. Green
Director, Human Rights Litigation and International Advocacy Clinic
Associate Professor of Clinical Instruction
University of Minnesota Law School

Sheri P Rosenberg
Assistant Professor of Clinical Law
Director, Human Rights and Genocide Clinic
Director, Program in Holocaust & Human Rights Studies
Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law

David Baluarte
Practitioner in Residence International Human Rights Law Clinic
American University - Washington College of Law

Davida Finger
Assistant Clinical Professor
Loyola University New Orleans College of Law

Lauren Carasik
Director, International Human Rights Clinic
Western New England University School of Law
Clinical Professor of Law

Caroline Bettinger-Lopez
Associate Professor of Clinical Education
University of Miami School of Law

Sr. Helen Prejean
Author, Dead Man Walking

Fr. Roy Bourgeois
Founder
School of Americas Watch

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
U.S. Roman Catholic Bishop (retired)

Hiroko Kusuda
Assistant Clinic Professor
Immigration Clinic at Loyola University New Orleans, College of Law

JoNel Newman
University of Miami Law Clinics

Martha Rayner
Clinical Associate Professor of Law
Fordham University

Arturo Carrillo
Professor of Law
Director, International Human Rights Clinic
George Washington University Law School

Laila Hlass
Attorney
Immigration Clinic at Loyola University New Orleans, College of Law

Lisa Radtke Bliss
Associate Clinical Professor
Co-Director, HeLP Legal Services Clinic
Georgia State University College of Law

J.P. “Sandy” Ogilvy
Professor of Law
Director-CUA Innocence Project Clinic
Director-Law & Social Justice Initiatives
Director-National Archive for Clinical Legal Education Columbus School of Law

Dr. Daniel Fitzpatrick
Coordinator, Asia-Pacific Law, Governance and Development Initiative Reader
Law School, Australian National University

Bret Thiele
Co-Executive Director
Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

Karen Musalo
Clinical Professor of Law
Director, Center for Gender & Refugee Studies University of California Hastings College of the Law

Vanessa Ramos
Asociación Americana de Juristas (American Association of Jurists)

Marjorie Cohn
Professor of Law
Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Dianne Post
Attorney

Teddy K. Miller Esq.,
Director - New Leaders Council

John Duff
Professor
University of Massachusetts, Boston

Tom Miller
Counsel for Global Exchange

Brittany Scott
National Economic and Social Rights Initiative

Robin Alexander
Director of International Affairs
United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE)

John Philo
Legal Director
Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice

Connie de la Vega
Professor of Law
University of San Francisco

Irwin Stotzky
Professor of Law
Director, Center for the Study of Human Rights
University of Miami

Walter Riley
Chair
Haiti Emergency Relief Fund

Azadeh Shahshahani
Executive Vice President and International Committee Co-Chair
National Lawyers Guild

Wallace J. Mlyniec Lupo-Ricci
Professor of Law
Director, Juvenile Justice Clinic Georgetown Law Center

Jeanne Mirer
President
International Association of Democratic Lawyers

Sarah Paoletti
Associate Professor of Law
Director, Transnational Legal Clinic
University of Pennsylvania Law School

Lisa Davis
Human Rights Advocacy Director, MADRE
Professor of Law, CUNY Law School

Rev. Eugene P. Squeo, Esq,
President
New Jersey Forum for Human Rights

Judy Somberg
Attorney
National Lawyers Guild

1 See Letter, Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, Update to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
(IACHR) on Forced Evictions (June 15, 2011) available at http://ijdh.org/archives/19215.
2 Trenton Daniel, Camps Cleared in Haiti as Hurricane Season Starts ASSOCIATED PRESS, May 31, 2011 available at
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2015196258_apcbhaitist....
3 See note 1.
4 Precautionary Measures, Forced Evictions from Five Camps for Displaced Persons, Haiti, PM 367-10 (2010) available at
http://www.cidh.oas.org/medidas/2010.eng.htm.
5 Trenton Daniel, Many leaving Haiti’s earthquake settlement camps, ASSOCIATED PRESS (Apr. 1, 2011) available at
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/04/01/ap/latinamerica/main20049774.s... TIM SCHWARTZ ET AL., BUILDING ASSESSMENTS AND RUBBLE REMOVAL IN QUAKE-AFFECTED NEIGHBORHOODS IN HAITI.
6 UN human rights officials voice concern at closure of displaced camp in Haitian capital, UN NEWS SERVICE, July 21, 2011 available at http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=39115&Cr=haiti&Cr1.