Three Years After Earthquake, Hundreds of Thousands of Haitians Still Homeless, Facing Eviction

IDP camp Grace Village, Carrefour municipality, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, May 2012 (Photo Credit: Amnesty International).

IDP camp Grace Village, Carrefour municipality, Port-au-Prince, Haiti, May 2012 (Photo Credit: Amnesty International).

By Chiara Liguori and James Burke of Amnesty International’s Caribbean Team

“Be prepared, we will burn down your shelters, shoot you and throw you all out.”

“We’ll burn all the camp down and kill your children.”

“I will get you out of here by any means necessary.”

These are only a few of the recent eviction threats heard by residents of camps in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince which still house hundreds of thousands of those displaced by the January 2010 earthquake.

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Is Haiti’s Justice System Up to the Test?

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier (Photo Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier (Photo Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

By Javier Zúñiga, special advisor at Amnesty International. 

Bringing to justice current or former heads of state is always complicated – in both legal and political terms. But it is possible. Time and again, former dictators and human rights abusers have been tried and convicted in countries across the world.

But in Haiti, where the judiciary still suffers from structural deficiencies inherited from the dictatorship years, bringing former President Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier to justice over his alleged responsibility for crimes such as torture, killings and disappearances during his time in office is proving particularly challenging.

The former leader showed contempt for the justice system and victims by failing to appear at two previous hearings for his alleged involvement in those crimes. On February 21, he is due to appear in court again. Yet the backdrop to the case sees Haitian authorities showing little real interest in pressing for Duvalier to be held accountable for his actions. Indeed, in several public statements, President Michel Martelly has hinted at pardoning Duvalier. Meanwhile, the former Haitian leader has continued to take part in public events, despite having being placed under house arrest while charges against him are investigated.

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Haiti: Three Years After Earthquake, Housing Situation Catastrophic

Camp Grace Village, Carrefour municipality, Port-au-Prince.

Camp Grace Village, Carrefour municipality, Port-au-Prince. © Amnesty International

Three years after the Haiti earthquake the housing situation in the country is nothing short of catastrophic. Hundreds of thousands of people are still living in fragile shelters.

Amnesty International is urging the authorities and the international community to make housing a priority for Haiti reconstruction efforts.

The January 12, 2010 earthquake left more than 200,000 people dead and some 2.3 million homeless. More than 350,000 people currently live in 496 camps across the country. Living conditions in the makeshift camps are worsening – with severe lack of access to water, sanitation and waste disposal – all of which have contributed to the spread of infectious diseases such as cholera.

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Haiti: A Safe Haven for "Baby Doc" Duvalier…Really?

Former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier

Jean-Claude Duvalier lunches in Port-au-Prince (Photo Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images)

When I was in Haiti with Amnesty in December, training local activists in using new technology for human rights, I had the opportunity to meet many local defenders and activists.

We spoke openly about the prevalence of sexual and gender-based violence in Haiti and the impunity the perpetrators of those crimes enjoy.  We also spoke about the right to housing and the illegal forced evictions the Haitian government was conducting in displacement camps.

The one topic we didn’t discuss out rightly (for good reasons) was that Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier had recently returned to Haiti, that he still has a network of supporters, and that he has not been held accountable for his alleged crimes — including torture, disappearances, and killings — committed during his 15 year reign.  Crimes for which it not appears he will not be held to account for.

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Haiti's Women Face New Struggles to Survive

Long before a massive earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, high rates of sexual assault and other forms of violence against Haitian women and girls were a major issue. But the earthquake destroyed much of the social fabric, infrastructure, and relative stability that had previously provided some measure of protection.

© Amnesty International

Thrust into internally displaced persons (IDP) camps, having in some cases lost everything and everyone they had, many Haitian women and girls are now even more vulnerable to sexual violence.

One year after the earthquake, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) surveyed vulnerable women in an effort to identify links between lack of access to sufficient food (what we wonks call “food insecurity”) and transactional sex. The critical question: are displaced Haitian women trading sex for food in order to survive—and help their children survive, too?

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No More Rapes: End Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in Haiti

After she moved into a makeshift shelter in Dessalines Square, Champ-de-Mars, Haiti, “Suzie” and her friend were gang raped in front of their shelter.

 “After they left I didn’t do anything….I don’t know where there is a clinic offering medical treatment for victims of violence.” 

Because she was blindfolded, Suzie didn’t go to the police because she didn’t know who the men were that raped her.  She told Amnesty International that the police patrol the streets, but she’s never seen them inside the camp.

In the Haitian camps there are many women and girls like Suzie. It is therefore vitally important that both the international community and the Haitian government take immediate action to treat the issue of violence against women as a priority for the humanitarian and reconstruction effort in Haiti. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Video Testimony of Haitian Rights Abuses Survivors

On February 7, 1986, Former Haitian president Jean-Claude Duvalier departed from Haiti. To mark the 25th anniversary of his departure, Amnesty International has released video testimony from victims of human rights abuses committed during Duvalier’s rule. The video features testimonies gathered by Amnesty International in 1985, when Duvalier was still in power.

Testimonies include that of Yves Médard, who was arbitrarily arrested in 1983, Evans Paul, detained and tortured in 1980, Mark Roumain, unfairly detained for three years and Sylvio Claude, arbitrarily arrested and ill treated in several occasions.

During Duvalier’s fifteen-year rule (1971-1986), Amnesty documented dozens of cases of arbitrary detentions, torture and disappearances.  The former president is now in Port-au-Prince and is being investigated by local authorities on charges of corruption and human rights abuses. The fact that Haiti is investigating abuses committed during Duvalier’s rule is a great step forward, but it is important that the process remains swift and fair.

'Baby Doc' Duvalier Update

As we reported earlier this week, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, who has been accused of presiding over numerous human rights violations during his rule from 1971 to 1986, was detained after being questioned by police on Tuesday, January 18th. It is not yet clear what charges he will face. Amnesty’s Haiti researcher Gerardo Ducos gives a brief interview and analysis on the latest developments:

"Baby Doc" Duvalier Must Face Justice for Haiti Rights Violations

Update:  In response to the arrest of Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier in Haiti, Amnesty International’s Senior Advisor and Haiti expert, Javier Zuñiga, said:

“The arrest of Jean-Claude Duvalier is a positive step but it is not enough to charge him only with corruption. If true justice is to be done in Haiti, the Haitian authorities need to open a criminal investigation into Duvalier’s responsibility for the multitude of human rights abuses that were committed under his rule including torture, arbitrary detentions, rape, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.”

Former Haitian president, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, returned suddenly to Haiti this past weekend after living in exile for nearly 25 years in France.  We are calling on Haiti to use this opportunity to bring Duvalier to justice for human rights abuses committed during his regime in the 1970s and 80s.

Jean-Claude Duvalier was president of Haiti for 15 years, between 1971 and 1986 © AP GraphicsBank

The widespread and systematic human rights violations committed in Haiti during Duvalier’s rule amount to crimes against humanity. Haiti is under the obligation to prosecute him and anyone else responsible for such crimes.

Duvalier returned to Haiti expectantly on January 16th. He fled Haiti in 1986 after a popular uprising which was violently repressed by the former Haitian Armed Forces and a local militia known as the “tonton macoutes”.

Throughout his 15 years in power (1971-1986) systematic torture and other ill-treatment were widespread across Haiti.

Hundreds of people “disappeared” or were executed. Members of Haiti’s armed forces and the militia National Security Volunteers – also known as the “tonton macoutes” — played a primary role in repressing pro-democracy and human rights activists. The “tonton macoutes” were disbanded in 1986 after Jean-Claude Duvalier went into exile.

Media reports today have indicated that Duvalier will be questioned by Haitian police.  We’ll be monitoring the situation as it unfolds.

The Haitian authorities must break the cycle of impunity that prevailed for decades in Haiti. Failing to bring to justice those responsible will only lead to further human rights abuses.