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Post-Earthquake Violence Against Women in Haiti: Failure to Prevent, Protect and Punish


MADRE is working as part of a coalition of organizations seeking
justice for women in Haiti. The coalition submitted the following
statement to the UN Human Rights Council for the upcoming session.

Coalition members include: MADRE KOFAVIV Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti (IJDH) University of Virginia School of Law Human Rights Program Human Rights Litigation and Advocacy Clinic, University of Minnesota

Post-Earthquake Violence Against Women in Haiti: Failure to Prevent, Protect and Punish

  1. The
    January 2010 earthquake not only devastated Haiti's frail
    infrastructure, it also worsened already inadequate and inequitable
    access to basic social services throughout Haiti. It also created a
    severe crisis of safety and security - especially for those living in
    the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps - exacerbating the already
    grave problem of sexual violence.
  2. Women in Haiti are
    disproportionately impacted by the earthquake, both because they face
    gender discrimination, exposing them to higher rates of poverty and
    violence; and because they are responsible for meeting the needs of the
    most vulnerable, including infants, children, the elderly and the
    thousands of newly disabled people.
  3. From May 1-10, 2010,
    a delegation of U.S. lawyers and a women's health specialist
    investigated the prevalence and patterns of rape and other gender-based
    violence (GBV) against IDPs in Port-au-Prince in the aftermath of the
    earthquake and the governmental, inter-governmental, non-governmental
    and grassroots responses to the violence. For firsthand knowledge of
    the rapes in the camps, members of the delegation interviewed over 25
    survivors of rape or attempted rape. These women and girls were
    referred to the delegation by KOFAVIV and FAVILEK, grassroots women's
    organizations working within Port-au-Prince.
  4. Although
    this report makes no attempt to quantify the rapes that have occurred
    in the camps to date, one thing is clear - rapes in the camps are
    dramatically underreported. From January 13-March 21, KOFAVIV tracked
    230 incidents of rape in 15 camps in Port-au-Prince. There are over 500
    camps in the capital. Medicins Sans Frontiers reported 68 cases of rape
    in the month of April at one of their clinics in Port-au-Prince. The
    vast majority of the women living in camps who were interviewed
    reported being raped by two or more individuals, almost always armed
    and at night.
  5. There is a demonstrated lack of governmental
    response to sexual violence occurring in the camps. This failure to act
    appears to have two prongs - the Haitian government is both unwilling
    and unable to respond. Rape survivors living in the camps told
    interviewers that reporting rape to the police is an exercise in
    futility since they could not identify their assailant or assailants.
    Many women stated that when they approached the police for help, the
    police said that there was nothing they could do and the survivor
    should return when she had identified and/or captured their attacker.
    One survivor reported that the officer she spoke with disclaimed
    responsibility for trying to capture her rapist, telling her that it
    was the problem of Haiti's president, Rene Preval.
  6. Conditions
    in the camps are bleak. Overcrowding, lack of privacy, weakened family
    and community structures, among other things, render women and girls
    particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. Women and girls live in
    inadequate shelter, often sleeping under nothing more than a tarp or
    blanket, with no means of protection and no friends close by, and bathe
    in public, in view of men and boys.
  7. Sexual assault
    survivors interviewed spoke of widespread occurrence of transactional
    sex to obtain food aid cards, although each interviewee denied having
    engaged in transactional sex herself. The occurrence of coerced
    transactional sex - a form of rape - is beyond the scope of this report
    and merits an independent investigation.
  8. Preventative
    measures within the camps are critically lacking. In particular, the
    survivors we spoke with noted the following issues, a number of which
    were confirmed by our own visits to the camps: lack of lighting; lack
    of private bathing facilities; lack of tents; and even for those with
    tents, utter lack of security (at least one survivor stated that her
    attacker had used a blade to cut the side of her tent to gain access);
    lack of a police presence (many survivors stated that police only
    patrolled the perimeter of the camps and were unwilling to enter the
    interior, particularly at night).
  9. Because most of the
    camps were erected with little or no planning, patrolling the camps is
    an onerous task and poses safety issues even for officers. Police are
    unwilling to enter the camps because they fear the armed gangs who
    generally are active at night when, due to the lack of lighting,
    attackers are less likely to be seen or recognized.
  10. Mechanisms
    for redress following sexual violence appear to be lacking,
    ineffective, or underutilized. In partnership with the Haitian
    government, UNICEF, and NGOs postcards listing psychological and
    medical follow-up support have been distributed in the camps. An
    informal survey of listed clinics revealed that the card contained
    inaccurate information, including out-of-service phone numbers and
    incorrect street addresses. Furthermore, the cards were published in
    French instead of Kreole, the predominantly spoken language in the
    camps. The publication of misinformation could discourage survivors
    from attempting to access such resources to the extent they have heard
    from others that it is a waste of time. Additionally, not all staffing
    and resources are adequate. At least one of the clinics did not provide
    HIV prophylaxis or testing. Many survivors believed that even if they
    knew of a clinic, they thought they could not afford services or the
    cost of transportation. The publication of misinformation not only
    hinders survivors from accessing critically needed resources but also
    discourages women from attempting to obtain support.
  11. Although
    government officials cite a lack of authority and a lack of resources,
    efforts must be made to maximize the resources that are available and
    provide support to existing programs. The Haitian government should
    support community-based anti-violence strategies within a human rights
    framework. Haitian women's groups indicated that each of the
    following measures could be helpful in increasing the security in the
    camps: training programs for officers on GBV and human rights issues;
    increasing the number of female police officers; instituting
    self-defense training and rape whistle programs within the camps; and
    providing various trainings as well as support to community-organized
    security patrols.
  12. Along with UNIFEM, two national women's
    organizations, Kay Fanm and SOFA, are training the Haitian National
    Police on protocol for receiving survivors and will be providing
    survivors with transport needs for rapid response. They are also
    working with students from the state university to hold self-defense
    clinics in the camps. However, these efforts are not well-publicized.
    Their impact could be greatly increased if the support of smaller,
    grassroots organizations and the resources of NGOs were also brought to
  13. The Haitian criminal justice system has never
    effectively prosecuted rape cases. First, discriminatory practices
    pervade the justice system, such as a refusal to credit women's
    eyewitness testimony against a man's, discriminatory laws, and gender
    imbalance at every level and unit of the justice system. Second, there
    is limited access to justice for all women, especially poor women, who
    are the majority of rape victims. Lastly, there is a lack of
    specialized training and programs for rape prosecutions. This failure
    to effectively prosecute denies victims justice, normalizes gender
    violence and provides prospective perpetrators assurance of impunity.
  14. We respectfully urge the Human Rights Council to recommend the following:
That the Government of Haiti and other IGOs/NGOs coordinating the
relief effort allocate resources immediately to provide for increased
security and lighting in the camps.

b. That the Government
of Haiti act immediately to implement the National Plan for Combating
Violence Against Women (2006-2011) and, upon its expiry, work to renew
a new and stronger national plan of action to eliminate violence
against women that includes legal measures, service programs, redress
and prevention strategies and encourages collaborative participation
with the civil sector for both drafting of a national plan and for
strategic and effective implementation.

c. That the
Government of Haiti assess its current laws, policies and programs that
address violence against women; evaluate their compliance with
international obligations; remove discriminatory laws and practices
against women; and implement a legal and policy framework that
guarantees due diligence and promotes the full protection and promotion
of women's human rights.

d. That the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women visit Haiti.

That the Haitian and donor governments guarantee women's full
participation and leadership in all phases of the reconstruction of
Haiti as mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and other
internationally recognized standards.

f. That the
Government of Haiti enact a systematic collection of data that
documents the prevalence and incidences of all forms of violence
against women in the IDP camps; in collaboration with civil society

MADRE is an international women's human rights organization that partners with community-based women's groups to advance women's human rights, challenge injustice and create social change in contexts of war, conflict, disaster and their aftermath. MADRE advocates for a world in which all people enjoy individual and collective human rights; natural resources are shared equitably and sustainably; women participate effectively in all aspects of society; and all people have a meaningful say in policies that affect their lives. For more information about MADRE, visit