Between the Storms? Thousands of Haitian IDPs Are Still at Risk of Forced Eviction

The rains have stopped, for now. In the past couple of days a 'tropical depression' has hovered over Haiti, bringing high winds blowing dust and a slight break in the 100-plus temperatures. But as everyone knows, the hurricane season is far from over. At the slightest sign of drizzle, such as Thursday afternoon, street vendors pack their things and run for shelter. As the storm a couple of weeks ago dramatizes, rain can kill.

For the many still living in Haiti's internally-displaced people (IDP) camps, it is much the same thing.

The rains have stopped, for now. In the past couple of days a 'tropical depression' has hovered over Haiti, bringing high winds blowing dust and a slight break in the 100-plus temperatures. But as everyone knows, the hurricane season is far from over. At the slightest sign of drizzle, such as Thursday afternoon, street vendors pack their things and run for shelter. As the storm a couple of weeks ago dramatizes, rain can kill.

For the many still living in Haiti's internally-displaced people (IDP) camps, it is much the same thing.

The last big wave occurred on Monday, May 23, barely a week into the presidency of Michel Martelly. Mayor Wilson Jeudy of Delmas, who unsuccessfully ran against Martelly, violently shut down two of Delmas' most visible camps on public squares: Carrefour Aeroport and Place Publique Delmas 3 / Delmas 5.

Sabina Dirce, a leader with a women's organization O.P.D.F.H., who was forced out of the Delmas 3/5 camp, recalls:

Monday, May 23, Mayor Wilson passed through the Carrefour Aeroport camp and destroyed the camp. He said it was the pretext that he was looking for armed bandits who are shooting and committing a series of dishonest/violent acts on the people of Carrefour Aeroport Then he came to Delmas 3 very early, Wednesday at 6 a.m. Mayor Wilson said "there are no people in this plaza." He came with his agents, destroyed people things, crushed people's televisions, destroyed all of people's belongings!

He forced us out with the butt of people's rifles. Since Wednesday we have been soaking under the rains. We don't have anywhere to stay. We are just left hanging. We can't rent a house, because housing has become expensive. We don't know where we can go.

Some of us have wandered into another camp. Others are taking the risk to stay nearby, where there is no security. Still others are sleeping in this broken pickup. Many are just under the rain and in God's hands.

Having already lost her belongings and her sense of security, Sabina risked even further retaliation by speaking out at a June 8 press conference organized by FRAKKA, the Reflection and Action Force on the Housing Cause, and deposited a petition with over 90 signatories to the Parliament at a FRAKKA march held on June 10. As Sabina told journalists on the 10th,

What needs to happen? The government needs to assume its responsibility to take all necessary measures to give us decent housing for us to live, like Article 22 of Haiti's Constitution and other international convention requires.

Also speaking in front of Parliament was FRAKKA co-founder Reyneld Sanon, who critiqued Mayor Jeudy's discourse:

It's possible that there were a couple of bandits in the camp. But that's not a reason to destroy the camp. It's a sign that Mayor Jeudy failed in his responsibility to protect the citizens living in the camp. It's they who suffer most when there is violence in the camps. Imagine. If a bandit is found in a (well-to-do) residential neighborhood, do the police destroy people's houses just to get the bandits? No, they arrest the bandits like they should.

The high-profile, violent forced evictions on public land triggered a mobilization in Haiti and overseas. The Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) issued an injunction to prevent further forced evictions. TransAfrica Forum organized an international petition to the Haitian government to stop forced evictions. On Thursday, BAI, TransAfrica, the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a joint request to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) requesting an enforceable moratorium on camp evictions. In November, the international body spoke out against forced evictions.

Luckily, like the rains that killed at least 28, the forced evictions appeared to have stopped.

Or have they?

Though the high-profile evictions have not occurred since Jeudy's actions late May, consistent threats and other pressuring techniques have persisted. In Camp Palais de l'Art, where residents have been facing threats and violence in order to evict them since early 2010, the landowner has once again restricted water distribution to the camp two months ago. The French Red Cross, who was bringing water, has not implemented other options and has not relayed any information to the camp on what alternative actions they will pursue. The Red Cross's water shutoff occurred during a surge in the water-born cholera epidemic, aggravated by the same rain waters that have been flooding and washing away camps.

Unfortunately these cutoffs of aid are often followed by physical violence, pressure from police and hired thugs. The Haitian National Police (PNH) brokered a deal that led to the eviction of 97 families from the private property of a Toyota dealer. On June 10, IDPs were offered 5000 Haitian Gourdes ($125) to voluntarily leave the land. The vast majority of residents collectively decided that this amount would not offer them acceptable alternatives, so they chose to remain in the displacement camp. On June 11, PNH then returned to the camp with a clarification of the options for the IDPs: they were to accept the funds and leave or their belongings would be removed with bulldozers in two days. Within the hour, camp residents decided that they had no other choice but to leave. As promised, the camp was closed on June 13.

By all means this is a forced eviction, but it has the appearance of a negotiated settlement. At this same camp, an agent of the landowner's private security assaulted and killed a 51 year old woman earlier this month. No action was taken against the security guard.

These aid cutoffs and violence are not exceptions; they have been witnessed by human rights monitors since as early as February of last year. The first step seems to be cutting off life-saving aid such as water. Despite humanitarian principles of neutrality, protection of the most vulnerable, and prioritizing life-saving aid, and IDPs' rights to this aid (see below), the majority of NGOs and international agencies denied this aid when landowners began to complain. As a result there is a statistically significant difference between camps on private land and public land in terms of services like water, toilets, and health care facilities.

Based on research conducted by a collaboration of the Faculte d'Ethnologie, Universite d'Etat d'Haiti and the City University of New York, 20 percent of IDP camps that still existed as of January have been closed since then, because of landlord pressure and a non-involvement stance by the Haitian government and the international community. An additional 8 percent are in immanent risk of closing within the coming weeks, say the residents. In almost half the cases of camp closures the person claiming to be the landowner used force. In a few others, they offered a financial incentive, from 500 gourdes ($12.50) to 1500 gourdes ($37.50), according to researchers who spoke with former camp leaders this week.

What is behind the wave of forced evictions, and have these conditions changed?

The inauguration of President Martelly might have served as a green light to landowners, most of them coming from middle or upper classes, who own businesses in the area, to take their land back. According to BAI attorney Mario Joseph, "It's not so much of a green light as the fact that he hasn't said anything about IDPs' rights, to prevent landowners from forcing people out." In his speech this week listing fifteen successes in his first month of office without external funds and without a Prime Minister, Martelly did not mention anything about the camps. Senator Moise Jean Charles (Preval's Inite party) has publicly accused Martelly of reaching an agreement with four Port-au-Prince mayors to continue in Delmas mayor Wilson Jeudy's footsteps. When questioned by journalists the Senator refused to give details of the alleged meeting.

Despite his silence on the right to decent housing and emergency shelter and other services, Martelly was clear on a plan to shut down more camps on public land. The six camps targeted for closure are the Mais Gate near Haiti's international airport (where, according to a staffer for the Interim Commission a multi-million dollar rehabilitation project was approved); the Primature, the office and official residence of the as-yet-unapproved Prime Minister; the Sylvio Cator stadium in downtown Port-au-Prince; Place St. Pierre and Place Boyer in Petion-Ville, and Place Canape Vert between Port-au-Prince and Petion-Ville. Faced with enormous pressure, Martelly had to back off from his plans to close the camp in Champs-de-Mars in front of the National Palace, housing tens of thousands of residents.

Even groups paying IDPs' relocation costs are finding the same thing: there is nowhere for people to go. One particular religious NGO had to stop their relocation program in a particular camp because, despite the weeks of trying and hundreds of gourdes spent in transportation costs, there are no alternatives for IDPs. A report commissioned by USAID and leaked to the press underscores the precariousness of the situation, wherein 64 percent of the "red-tagged" buildings, fit for demolition and could fall down at any moment, are re-occupied. Almost half a million are living in these houses at immanent risk of falling because the alternative - life in the camps - was just too difficult, dangerous, and demoralizing.

To be fair, there are some areas where progress has been made. Learning and following these lessons might prove useful to solving this crisis. In the neighborhood of Christ-Roi, where a year-long collaboration between the Hospice St. Joseph that has been an area stalwart for twenty years and the Catholic Relief Services has built hundreds of wooden temporary or "T-shelters," nearly all the "red" houses have been cleared, to install other T-shelters, permanent homes, or schools. This collaboration has the support and active collaboration of several grassroots neighborhood associations that have existed before the earthquake. Importantly, it also has the financial support of the Interim Commission, who approved a grant for rubble removal.

But this sign of hope is far from the standard in the Port-au-Prince metropolitan area, according to researchers and the authors' own visits throughout the region. Nearly all other areas hard hit by the earthquake remain with large rubble unabated.

The fact that there are - by far - not enough safe, adequate, secure housing for the remaining IDPs to live in has not stopped Mayor Jeudy and private landowners from forcing people out of the camps at any cost.

Meanwhile, according to eyewitnesses, the street merchants in Carrefour Aeroport have been facing a daily barrage of Jeudy's special forces destroying and confiscating their merchandise. Mark Snyder caught one such episode yesterday (Friday June 17) on video.

Sabina Dirce continues to struggle to survive, each day battling the elements on her own while shuttling her kids from place to place, while thousands of others fear for when the machetes and the bulldozers come their way. Like the rains which are sure to return, they fear the worst. Said a camp leader in Carrefour, "You never leave your tent unoccupied, even if it's burning hot in the middle of the afternoon. Any empty tent can be an excuse for thugs to rip it and destroy or steal your things."

In the mean time, this "tropical repression" can also be stopped. For example, one of the four main pillar's in the U.S. government's Plan for Haiti's Reconstruction is respect of the rule of law. Following is a list of some relevant laws and conventions protecting the rights of the most vulnerable:

The U.N.'s Office for Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) presented Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement in 1998, ratified in 2005 by U.N. member states. It provides some legal framework for IDP rights, including:

Principle 7: (2) rights to "satisfactory conditions of safety, nutrition, health and hygiene"

Principle 11: (2)(a) protection from "rape... gender-specific violence, forced prostitution and any form of indecent assault"

Principle 18: right to an adequate standard of living, including; (a) Essential food and potable water; (b) Basic shelter and housing; (c) Appropriate clothing; and (d) Essential medical services and sanitation

As "guiding principles" the above have questionable enforceability. However, the Haitian Constitution, article 22, states that "the State recognizes the right of every citizen to decent housing, education, food, and social security."(1) In addition to this, the progenitor of all Haitian law, there are numerous international conventions, most of which Haiti has signed onto, such as:

  1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights(1948), Article 25;
  2. Charter of the Organization of American States, Article 31, especially sections (i), (k), and (l);
  3. American Convention on Human Rights, Articles 22 and 26;
  4. The Right to Adequate Housing(Article 11 (1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), CECSR(2) General Comment 4, 12 December 1991;
  5. The Right to Water (article 11 and 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), CESCR General Comment 15, 26 November 2002, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/2002/11, Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.