LONDON, England -- Hundreds of thousands of Haitians living in makeshift camps remain at risk of illegal forced evictions and other human rights violations, Amnesty International said on Wednesday, two years after a devastating earthquake ravaged the Caribbean country.
In recent weeks, the Haitian authorities have continued a series of forced evictions of camps in public spaces around the capital Port-au-Prince, effectively making hundreds of victims of the 12 January 2010 earthquake homeless all over again.
An estimated half a million people still live in dire conditions in hundreds of tent cities in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas, two years after the earthquake killed 230,000 people and injured 300,000.
“When the earthquake struck Haiti two years ago, it was a national trauma. But homelessness caused by illegal forced evictions is a preventable crisis that further traumatizes the victims and violates human rights,” said Javier Zúñiga, special advisor at Amnesty International.
One recent forced eviction violently cleared nearly 1,000 residents from a camp in Place Jérémie, a square in Port-au-Prince, overnight between 20 and 21 December 2011.
According to eyewitnesses, around 10 people brandishing knives, machetes and sticks descended on the camp at around 4am on 21 December and began destroying tents. The camp was reportedly home to some 945 people – 79 families that included pregnant women, elderly people and 225 children.
One woman who lived in Place Jérémie described the eviction: “I was sleeping, along with my 15-day-old baby. They tore down the tent down on top of me, without any warning. I had no time to take anything. I could only save the baby. All the baby clothes are lost. I spend the night [outdoors] and I have nothing to cover the child. "
Several hours earlier, two men from a local movement, the Association des Jeunes Progressistes du Bas-Peu-de-Choses, had visited the camp, going tent-to-tent to conduct an improvised “census” of residents.
The evicted residents were later paid off with envelopes containing anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 gourdes (US$25 to US$250).
Three police vehicles were seen in the area at the time of the eviction, but police did not intervene to stop the assault on the camp. Plain-clothed agents have also been accused of taking part in the forced eviction.
When local NGOs questioned Port-au-Prince authorities about the incident, a spokesperson denied any responsibility for the forced eviction or the relocation of the homeless families.
Following the eviction at Place Jérémie, a group of Haitian NGOs demanded answers about the incident from the Haitian authorities, since nobody had assumed responsibility for it.
Increasingly, displaced Haitians have reported tactics being used to coerce them into leaving the camps they have inhabited since the 2010 earthquake, including cash bribes and threats by plain-clothed security forces or armed groups.
The forced evictions frequently take place without prior notice or consultation with those living in the camps. Excessive force is frequently used, sometimes with the apparent knowledge or direct participation of Haitian police.
Amnesty International has repeatedly urged the Haitian authorities to comply with national laws and international standards when relocating earthquake victims from the makeshift camps.
The organization has also repeatedly asked the UN and the international community to do more to support the Haitian government to provide the internally displaced people with suitable alternative housing options and to ensure that illegal evictions are not tolerated.
“Respect for human rights must be at the centre of the Haitian authorities’ reconstruction plan – camp evictions must follow due process and the displaced families must be offered adequate alternative housing,” said Javier Zúñiga.
On the first anniversary of the earthquake, Amnesty International published a report documenting how women and girls living in the camps were at higher risk of rape and sexual violence, often by armed men who roam the camps at night.
Little has been done to improve this situation, with Haitian women and girls still facing outrageous violence.