Haiti: Human Rights in Action

A special team from the United Nations Human Rights office and the UN Refugee office has arrived in Haiti as part of the UN efforts to help protect the quake-stricken population, especially the most vulnerable groups such as children separated from their parents and those at risk of sexual violence.

A mother shelters her children from the sun with an umbrella in a tent city after the earthquake - © UN Photo/Logan AbassiSince the devastating earthquake struck on 12 January, the United Nations and its partners have been working tirelessly to provide immediate assistance to the victims. Protection issues such as family separation, trafficking of children, sexual violence, and displacement, warrant particular concern.

The five-member team is a joint effort by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to support the Human Rights Section of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and protection work on the ground.

OHCHR mourns the tragic loss of UN staff members, including human rights officers, and many thousands of people in Haiti.

The team is monitoring issues related to human rights and protection work. One of the main concerns is related to the situation of separated families, including unaccompanied children, after the quake.  A family tracing mechanism is being established to support people searching for relatives.

In addition, there are sizeable population movements into the countryside and a range of protection issues can emerge among the displaced people living outside the main area where relief operations are taking place.

Both the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Children Fund (UNICEF) have drawn attention to the urgent need to protect children in the aftermath of the earthquake.

“Children are always deeply affected by major disasters of this type, and almost half of the Haitian population are children,” the Committee said in a recent statement, adding that it was “alarmed by emerging reports of looting and violence, which highlight the importance of immediately adopting effective systems and measures to protect children from all forms of violence and exploitation, including sexual abuse and abductions masquerading as adoptions.”