For Immediate Release
Rights Groups Ask Inter-American Commission to Intervene in Puerto Rican Human Rights Disaster
Hundreds of Residents of Villas Del Sol Face Police Brutality, Lack of Water and Forced Evictions
NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union, the
ACLU of Puerto Rico and the International Human Rights Law Clinic at
American University Washington College of Law (IHRLC) today filed a
request asking the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to
intervene in the case of the Puerto Rican community of Villas del Sol,
where over 200 families have been subjected to continuous human rights
violations by the Puerto Rican government and local law enforcement.
Members of the community, made up of both Dominican immigrants and
American citizens including over 300 children, have been subjected to
police brutality, denied access to basic water and electrical services
and now face forced eviction from the land where they have lived for
more than a decade.
"Without immediate intervention, the
residents of Villas del Sol face the serious threat of continued police
brutality, life-threatening illness due to lack of water and even the
loss of the homes they built and have lived in for over 10 years," said
Chandra Bhatnagar, staff attorney with the ACLU Human Rights Program.
"This sort of egregious abuse undermines basic values of fairness and
due process and is a violation of U.S. human rights commitments."
Villas del Sol, a community located
in the Puerto Rican municipality of Toa Baja, was founded in 1998 by
several families who were unable to evacuate the area following
Hurricane George. With the knowledge of municipal authorities, the
remaining families spent thousands of their own dollars cleaning up the
devastation and building houses on the land. The community was provided
with municipal water and electricity services and existed without issue
for nearly a decade.
According to the request to the
IACHR, in 2007 Puerto Rican authorities began subjecting the residents
of Villas del Sol to harassment, claiming the area was a flood zone and
they could not live there anymore. That year, without warning,
representatives of the Puerto Rican housing authority arrived at Villas
del Sol with bulldozers and proceeded to destroy 30 homes. In 2009,
dozens of police officers descended on Villas del Sol with
semi-automatic weapons, dogs, horses and a helicopter and proceeded to
erect a barrier at the edge of the community, blocking all entry and
exit from the area. Residents who attempted to peacefully resist the
barricade, as well as some who did not attempt to resist at all, were
met with pepper spray, tasers and other police brutality - including the
beatings of a pregnant woman and her six-year-old child. Puerto Rican
authorities then put Villas del Sol under 24-hour police surveillance
and shut off water and electrical services to the community, a health
hazard which has contributed to an infant contracting H1N1 and increased
incidences of Dengue fever and other disease and infection.
"The residents of Villas del Sol now
face eviction because of the current government's backlash against
squatter communities - which have developed around the island as a
direct result of the government's own failure to make available
affordable rental properties for the poor," said William Ramirez,
Executive Director of the ACLU of Puerto Rico. "The government's
inhumane tactics and human and civil rights violations have caused pain
and suffering to the people of Villas del Sol. Unfortunately,
authorities and courts have thus far refused to provide any remedy."
According to today's request to the
IACHR, the actions by Puerto Rican authorities toward the residents of
Villas del Sol, many of whom are of Afro-Dominican descent, are
motivated by racial and anti-immigrant bias, among other factors. The
request also asserts the actions are violations of the United States'
obligation under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of
Man, adopted by the Conference of American States in 1948. The request
asks the IACHR to take measures to protect the residents of Villas del
Sol from further harm, and specifically to call on the U.S. and Puerto
Rican governments to take immediate measures to reinstate water and
electric services, protect the community from police violence and halt
forced evictions until all residents of Villas del Sol are safely
relocated to adequate housing, pending final execution of any agreements
reached by all parties involved.
"We call on the United States
government to take responsibility for the deplorable human rights
violations occurring in Puerto Rico," said Andrea Pestone, a student
attorney with the IHRLC. "The federal government should work with the
Puerto Rican government to ensure that residents once again have access
to water and electricity and are treated with dignity and as the decent
human beings they are."
The request to the IACHR is online
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.