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Rights Groups Testify Before Inter-American Commission and File Legal Request on Unlawful Forced Evictions in Haiti

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Contact: press@ccrjustice.org

November 2, 2010, Washington, D.C. — For the 1.5 million people still living in displacement camps, forced evictions pose an immediate threat of grave and irreparable harm, according to a coalition of human rights advocates who testified last week before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).   In response to unlawful forced evictions being carried out in displacement camps across Haiti, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IDJH), Bureau des Avocates Internationaux, the International Human Rights Law Clinic at American University’s Washington College of Law and the disaster law center You.Me.We. filed a Request for Precautionary Measures with the IACHR today.

The legal request demands an immediate moratorium on forced evictions; an investigation into these violations; and the implementation of human rights monitoring mechanisms that will protect the rights of Haiti’s most vulnerable population.

“Forced expulsions of the internally displaced violate Haitian and international law,” said lawyer Mario Joseph with Bureau des Avocats Internationaux. “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 legal request, filed on behalf of five displacement camps, describes entire settlements that have been destroyed and the terrorization and brutality that camps’ residents who refuse to vacate face routinely.  According to a recent New York Times article, 28,000 displaced Haitians have been evicted and 144,000 people have been subject to threats of eviction. Most of the time, communities are left homeless again without any other place to go.

Said Bill Quigley, CCR Legal Director, “Haitians living in the IDP camps are already in desperate conditions. People are hanging on by a thread and should be put into safer situations with access to water, food and employment. Instead the exact opposite is happening; unbelievably, many people are being forced out of the camps and into even more precarious situations. The housing crisis in Haiti is deepening and worsening and action is required on many levels but, at the very least, forced evictions must end immediately.”

Nicole Phillips, Staff Attorney with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and Assistant Director of Haiti Programs at the University of San Francisco School of Law said, “The Haitian government’s response to the housing crisis has been to assist landowners in evicting families from displacement camps without providing any alternative place to live, further exacerbating security issues. These forced evictions must stop immediately and a comprehensive resettlement plan protecting Haiti’s displaced population must be adopted.”

Kathleen Bergin, law professor and You.Me.We.Director, added that the group has conducted two fact finding missions to Haiti, and their team of lawyers in Port au Prince continues to receive reports of on-going human rights violations. "Our investigation shows that government agents are forcing earthquake victims out of the camps with no place else to go, and that humanitarian aid, including food, water and medical care, are being withheld from camps targeted for eviction," says Bergin. "The police have bulldozed entire settlements, beaten and abused camp residents, and turned a blind-eye when thugs with machetes invaded the camps and assaulted the people inside."

According to Laura Karr and Jennifer Goldsmith, Student Attorneys with the International Human Rights Law Clinic at American University’s Washington College of Law, "By conducting and permitting forced evictions, Haiti has committed serious human rights abuses against IDPs and put them at risk of irreparable harm. Haitian IDPs urgently need the Commission's protection from these human rights violations."

The groups hope that the hearing and legal request will prompt the Commission to take a leadership role in protecting the human rights of displaced Haitians.   

An audio recording of the hearing is available at: http://www.cidh.oas.org/prensa/publichearings/Hearings.aspx?Lang=En&Sess....

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The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.