Fulfilling the human rights of Haiti’s displaced

A group of experts has emphasised the need to find durable, rights-based solutions for Haitians displaced as a result of the January earthquake.

Port-au-Prince's National Stadium, where Haitians have pitched makeshift shelter - © UN Photo/Sophia ParisThe experts, speaking during a panel discussion on the sidelines of the 13th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva highlighted the human rights, humanitarian, development and reconstruction challenges that now await Haitian authorities and the international community.

The Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Walter Kälin said a roadmap to recovery which provides a coherent response to the needs of the displaced in Haiti was now necessary. He added that finding durable solutions for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) should be based on the rights of displaced persons, their participation in decisions relating to recovery and reconstruction, and on their voluntary and informed decision as to where to rebuild their lives. Affected host communities that have welcomed displaced persons must also be taken into account.

“ I have seen too many situations where the displaced continue to live in rundown camps or collective shelters or settlements years after the hostilities or after a natural disaster has struck simply because political will or capacity to reintegrate them into society is lacking”, said Kälin. “I have visited too many places where the displaced were not able to return to their homes after a natural disaster because of unresolved property issues.”

Walter Kälin also presented the Framework for Durable Solutions (PDF) which he developed in cooperation with humanitarian and development actors. The Framework provides guidance for international actors and national authorities working in situations of internal displacement on strategies for the social and economic reintegration of Haiti’s IDPs.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 1.9 million Haitians are currently displaced as a result of the earthquake. Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency estimates that some 600,000 have now left Port-au-Prince for outlying departments. The Deputy Director of the Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Recovery of the UN Development Programme, Miguel Bermeo noted that reintegration is a complex process.

“Displacement ends when the causes of the displacement have ceased, when IDPs are able to make an informed choice on return to their original homes or resettlement at a third area, and when their needs and vulnerabilities no longer exist due to their ability to have access to protection and services provided for by their national authorities”, Bermeo said.

The panel also stressed that particular attention must be paid to vulnerable groups, such as children, people with disabilities, and certain groups of women, who in times of crisis are much more vulnerable to various types of human rights violations, including forced labour and sexual exploitation. The experts added that “Cash for work” programs and other livelihood programs should include these groups and their particular needs be taken into account in national recovery and reconstruction strategies.

“It is also important to stress the vital role women play in helping communities recover in times of crisis,” said the Independent Expert of the Human Rights Council on the Situation of Human Rights in Haiti, Michel Forst, noting that the Haiti discussion panel coincided with International Women’s Day. “We must empower women by ensuring that their needs also are 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 representative of the Permanent Mission of Haiti to the UN Office in Geneva, Mr. Jean-Claude Pierre spoke of his government’s priorities for the reconstruction of Haiti which include rebuilding livelihoods, the justice, law enforcement and agricultural systems, and major physical infrastructures such as roads, schools and the health system. “These will be vital for the Haitian population but also to attract foreign investment in the country”, he said.

15 March 2010