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Statement by Mr. Michel Forst, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Haiti, and Mr. Santiago Corcuera, Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, on the situation of human rights in Haiti

Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Council, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The following statement is delivered on behalf of the Special Procedures mandate-holders of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Last January’s earthquake devastated Haiti’s capital and its surroundings. At least 220,000 people were killed. The earthquake destroyed and severely damaged public infrastructure, including most key central government buildings, private sector infrastructure and housing. This disaster exacerbated the numerous problems that Haitians have faced for decades: extreme poverty, inequality, instability and a dire economic situation. In this context, weak state institutions have been incapable of ensuring adequate access to basic rights such as food, water, sanitation, health care, and education.

We welcome the ongoing efforts deployed by the Government of Haiti, working together with the international community, to respond to the humanitarian crisis and initiate the recovery process. We also commend the efforts of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Haiti to reinforce a human rights-based approach to the response. As thematic mandate holders, we stand ready to lend our thematic expertise to complement this work

The situation in Haiti remains one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. Over two million people are affected, 1.5 million among them now internally displaced. Beyond grappling with the direct effects of natural disaster, many Haitians continue to face human rights violations and abuses that are rooted in a long standing lack of capacity, commitment and awareness and have been exacerbated in the current crisis situation.

In Port-au-Prince and other areas close to the earthquake’s epicenter, an estimated one million people are living in tents and makeshift shelters. With the onset of the rainy season, conditions have deteriorated in some respects and could get worse if Haiti experiences a hurricane in the months to come. Reports indicate that many among those without safe shelter are under increasing pressure to leave the land they currently occupy. We support the call of the Independent Expert on Haiti to extend a moratorium on forced evictions until viable alternatives that offer transitional shelter, access to employment and livelihoods, health and education services can be found. Under no circumstances, should IDPs be relocated without prior consultation.

We would also like to recall that more than half a million people have been displaced from the earthquake affected area to other parts of the country. These people and the host families that support them are often forgotten and need more attention and support.

We are concerned about violence against women, in particular rape and domestic violence which is on the rise in IDPs camps and elsewhere. Continued problems in providing adequate water and sanitation facilities to the affected population render women and girls more vulnerable to sexual assault.

The situation of the 150,000 to 500,000 so-called restavèk children, who are often exploited and neglected by their host families, has further deteriorated in the current emergency situation. Furthermore, their number might increase because the earthquake left many children orphans and separated others from their families. In addition, some parents are now so destitute and desperate that they are forced to give their children away. We are also extremely worried about reports on cases of illegal transnational adoption of children. Trafficking of women and children is another concern, which must be tackled by an approach prioritizing the protection of victims.

For the full and harmonious development of children it is crucial to normalize their situation as far as the circumstances permit.  As a matter of priority, children must be able to go back to school and enjoy their right to education, including the right to free and compulsory primary education. It needs to be ensured that education provided complies with the Minimum Standards for Education in Emergencies of the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE).

The earthquake has had such a tragic impact because the majority of the Haitian population lives in extreme poverty, enduring appalling living conditions. Addressing the factors that perpetuate inequality and extreme poverty is essential particularly in the aftermath of such a catastrophe and as Haiti slowly recovers. It is crucial to recall the importance of investing in social protection in the reconstruction process. Particularly vulnerable groups such as children, persons with disabilities and older persons require urgent assistance and need to be fully included in humanitarian and recovery programms.

Despite the heavy toll the earthquake has taken on the functioning of the justice, police and penitentiary sectors, the Haitian authorities, supported by international forces, have to be commended for maintaining security and stability.  We recall that law and order can only be upheld on a sustainable basis if the solid foundation of the rule of law is in place. Vigilante justice or rogue police action must not be tolerated and perpetrators of summary executions and other serious human rights violations must be brought to justice. The lack of strong State institutions and the risk of penetration by drug-trafficking and other organized criminal networks may have an irreversible effect on the country’s institutions and could also lead to a general climate of impunity. Strengthening the justice sector, police and penitentiary system must be a priority of the reconstruction process. The current construction process provides the country with an opportunity to further reform the career of judges and prosecutors through a proper and transparent process based on objective criteria, enabling the selection of independent, principled and competent judges and prosecutors. Similarly, efforts to reconstitute the police force and remove corrupt elements have to be renewed. Obstacles to prevent people from accessing justice, in particular women and the poorest sectors of society should also be removed.

National food production, which has been greatly affected by such factors as tariff reductions over the last decades, needs to be actively encouraged so as to limit Haiti's dependency on international markets and aid. A participatory approach is crucial. Given that respect for the environment and human rights are intertwined, sustainable investments in agriculture must prioritize ecologically friendly modes of production that prevent soil erosion and contribute towards reforestation. Finally, we encourage the international community to give priority to local rice producers when purchasing food aid.

We also need a sustainable housing strategy that responds to the needs of all Haitians, including those who did not enjoy access to land or security of tenure prior to the earthquake.  Furthermore, we consider it important that reconstruction efforts seek to preserve the diversity of Haiti’s rich cultural heritage.

Mr. President, international solidarity is crucial to protect the human rights of Haitians.

We applaud moves made by many bilateral creditors to forgive Haiti's external debt and we commend commitments made by the G7 at its summit in February 2010 to work with multilateral institutions, including the Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank, International Monetary Fund and International Development Association, to forgive these multilateral debts. We call on all international creditors, including multilateral creditors, to take all necessary steps towards cancelling the remaining external debt of Haiti as a matter of urgency. Repayment of existing debt would hinder Haiti’s ability to meet its human rights obligations, including on basic economic, social and cultural rights, and impede the Haitian people to exercise their right to development and achieve the Millennium Development Goals. International cooperation is a key factor in the process of rebuilding the Haitian nation.

We also encourage all States to temporarily suspend the deportation of Haitian migrants to their home country until the situation has normalized. Deportations, at the current point in time, force the victims into a life of immediate peril, deprive the remainder of the population of remittances that are needed more than over and add to social instability.

Finally, we call on all member states to fulfill pledges to provide humanitarian assistance and thereby provide resources needed to uphold the basic minimum standards guaranteed by economic and social rights. Little more than half (58%) of the 2010 Humanitarian Appeal for Haiti is funded and especially sectors such as early recovery (30% funding) and agriculture (40%) that focus on measures with a longer-term impact are underfunded.

Mr. President,

Local and national authorities, the Government of Haiti, donor agencies and the international community must ensure that rebuilding efforts are designed and implemented in full consultation with the community and that marginalized and disadvantaged groups do not suffer further violations of their fundamental rights.  Accountability, participation, transparency, freedom of information, justice, equity, equality and non-discrimination, must be fully guaranteed throughout the recovery and reconstruction process.

I would like to end by paying tribute to the people of Haiti, who have shown a resilience, dignity and courage in the face of overwhelming tragedy, which must lead all who have witnessed it to believe that Haiti will recover and prosper.

Thank you for your attention.