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Haiti still in crisis, says UN Expert on Displaced

GENEVA (19 October 2010) - “Nine months after the earthquake, Haiti is still living through a profound humanitarian crisis that affects the human rights of those displaced by the disaster,” said Walter Kaelin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, upon returning from the country.

“According to estimates, 1.3 million people – people who lost their homes during the earthquake, joined by others who fled extreme poverty exacerbated by the earthquake of 12 January – live in spontaneously formed ‘camps’ in and around Port-au-Prince,” the UN expert said. “Visiting some of the capital’s worst slum areas, I also met many others outside camps, whose plight was less visible, but not less grave.”

“People in the camps have specific needs, especially relating to shelter, which need to be addressed at the camp level,” said Kaelin calling for a shift in the focus of humanitarian operations. “However, other urgent needs such as access to health, water, sanitation and education faced not only by the camp population but also by Haiti’s poor should be addressed through a neighbourhood approach. That way, the entire affected population has equal access in accordance with needs and people are not drawn into unsustainable camps.”

The Representative also called for more urgency in launching the reconstruction process: “This is a humanitarian crisis that needs a development solution. In line with its primary responsibility, the Government of Haiti needs to endorse and communicate publicly a plan on how to provide durable solutions for those in the camps and to inform and consult with the displaced on its implementation.

“In the meanwhile, if development donors ensure flexible, early recovery orientated funding arrangements, smaller-scale neighbourhood reconstruction can get underway and provide much needed hope,” noted Kaelin while urging humanitarian donors to continue funding humanitarian assistance and protection activities as long as no substantial progress towards durable solutions is made.

The UN independent expert underlined the importance of a rights-based approach that builds on the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement: “The right of the displaced to return and reclaim legitimate occupancy rights is a key principle. In some cases, in particular where areas of origin have proven inherently unsafe, voluntary relocation or local integration are options, provided that livelihood opportunities and access to basic services can be ensured.”

Regarding the increasing number of forced evictions from private land, Kaelin stressed that “there must not be any forced eviction without due process and reasonable alternative. The Government should publicly stand up for this principle.” He recalled that the right to property has to be balanced against economic and social rights of the earthquake victims.

Kaelin expressed concern that pre-existing high levels of violence against women and children where being replicated in the camps: “Rape is a serious concern – in and outside the camps. While I encourage the Haitian National Police and the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) to increase its presence and patrols in the camps, this is only part of the solution.

“The Government needs to send a clear signal to the police and the justice system that ending widespread impunity for the perpetrators is a priority,” Said the Representative, calling for a more integrated approach to assisting victims and protecting those who report the crime from reprisals.

Walter Kaelin, professor of law at the University of Bern (Switzerland), has been the Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons since 2004. During the course of his visit to Haiti (11-16 September 2010), Kaelin met with earthquake victims in camps and neighbourhoods. He also met with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Interior and Justice, senior United Nations officials, donors as well as local and international non-governmental organisations.

Learn more about the mandate and work of the UN Representative on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/idp/index.htm

OHCHR County Page – Haiti: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/LACRegion/Pages/HTIndex.aspx

For additional information please contact Jan Hessbruegge (Tel: +41 22 917 9192 / email: jhessbruegge@ohchr.org) or write to idp@ohchr.org