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Haiti/Earthquake: rights of the displaced must be part of recovery - UN expert panel

GENEVA (10 March 2010) – “A durable solution based on the human rights of people displaced in Haiti is an essential component of the country’s recovery and re-construction process,” stressed a panel of experts gathered at the United Nations in Geneva to discuss the elements of a roadmap for lasting solutions for the estimated more than
1.9* million persons displaced by the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

“The human rights of Haiti’s displaced population should serve as benchmarks for all recovery efforts,” said the Representative of the Secretary General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kalin, at Monday’s panel discussion.

This view was supported by the Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Haiti, Michel Forst, who called for “an integrated human rights approach in the assistance and reconstruction efforts made by the international community, with particular efforts needed to ensure that affected people can enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights.”

In this regard, Mr. Forst added that “it is essential that the Haitian government is fully associated with the reconstruction process and that the needs of the local population are addressed.”

The roadmap must also include the element of participation. “It is important to ensure the participation of displaced people in the planning and management of recovery strategies, through intensive consultation with affected persons and communities. This will be crucial”, emphasized Mr. Kalin, “to allow the displaced to make a voluntary and informed choice on where to rebuild their lives, either in their former place of residence or in a new location in the country.”

The Representative of the Secretary General further underlined that the needs of host communities in rural areas which have welcomed displaced persons must also be addressed – a message echoed by all the experts at this side event to the Human Rights Council.

The Haitian government representative participating in the high level meeting stressed the continuing and vital need for humanitarian assistance including food aid, shelters that can withstand the hurricane and rainy seasons, and drinking water.

At the top of the government’s agenda, explained the Chargé d’Affaires of the Haitian Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva, Mr. Jean-Claude Pierre, was the need to re-establish livelihoods, rebuild the agricultural, police and justice sectors, and major infrastructures such as a metropolitan water and sanitation system, a health system, schools, roads and an airport. “These will be vital to the Haitian population but also to attract foreign investment in the country.”
For the Deputy Director of the Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Recovery, at the United Nations Development Programme, Mr. Miguel Bermeo, “responding to the complex needs of internally displaced persons is a critical priority for both humanitarian and development actors. As of now, humanitarian assistance and early recovery interventions remain urgent priorities.”

In his view, “essential elements for recovery and reconstruction in Haiti include the full integration of internally displaced persons into society and the economy, a coordinated response under the leadership of the national and local governments, and a proper balance of humanitarian and development interventions that can ensure that programmes are durable.”

The panel highlighted that particular attention must be paid to vulnerable groups, such as children and especially orphaned children, persons with disabilities, and certain groups of women, who in times of crisis are much more vulnerable to exploitation, sexual abuse, trafficking, forced labor and other rights violations. Cash for work programs and other livelihood programs must include these vulnerable groups and their particular needs must be taken into account in recovery and reconstruction strategies.

“It is important to stress the vital role women play in helping communities recover in times of crisis” Mr. Forst stated, noting that the Haiti discussion panel coincided with International Women’s Day. “Their resilience and capacities are instrumental at this time, but we must empower women by ensuring that their needs are also met, their rights and security respected, and by stressing the need for their full participation in all aspects of Haiti’s recovery and reconstruction process.”

“The needs are many, and the challenges daunting but they are not insurmountable. In meeting all of these needs, however let us remember that, while it is necessary and urgent to rebuild infrastructure and houses, the task at hand goes beyond this immediate goal. What we must do is ultimately to help people rebuild their lives by securing their human rights”, concluded Mr. Kalin.
(*) Figures on estimated numbers of internally displaced persons in Haiti cited in this statement were provided by OCHA. Please see:
http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/LPAA-83CC4Y?OpenDocument&RSS20&RSS20=FS