Amnesty criticizes Haiti over evictions from camps

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World-Haiti_camps.jpgPhilogene Pierre, 55, and her daughter sit next to a pot of coffee in what remains of a refugee camp set up for people displaced by the 2010 earthquake near the national stadium in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Monday, April 22, 2013. The number of people still living in camps has become a barometer of the success or failure of how to house Haitians, though it’s unclear what happens to most people after they leave the formal camps. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haiti has violated international human rights obligations by failing to protect people who have been forced to leave the impromptu settlements that sprang up in the Caribbean nation after the 2010 earthquake, a global advocacy group said Tuesday.

A report by Amnesty International said it found that thousands of displaced people have been evicted from public spaces and private properties. People kicked out of settlements find themselves “further marginalized and driven deeper into poverty,” it said.

The government of President Michel Martelly has condoned the evictions led by mayors, police officers and others, the report charged.

“They are tolerated by the state and carried out in total impunity by state agents and private individuals or groups (non-state actors) alike,” it said.

Amnesty said it wrote to Martelly, the prime minister and mayors of two cities that have seen evictions in an effort to arrange meetings with them, but the requests were declined or went unanswered.

Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told The Associated Press Monday night that there were “some” landowners who were responsible for forced evictions but it was not something the government endorsed.

“We don’t believe in forced evictions,” Lamothe said by telephone. “There are some private owners that do it, but the government itself does not condone that.”

Lamothe cited a government-led effort that pays rental subsidies to camp residents. He said it has “relocated over 1.2 million people and has respected their lives and in a peaceful matter. Our policy is respecting their lives and relocating them in a peaceful manner.”

The post-quake encampments became symbolic of the widespread devastation caused by the January 2010 earthquake, which toppled thousands of buildings and killed more than 300,000 people. The number of people still living in camps has become a barometer of the success or failure of how to house Haitians, though it’s unclear what happens to most people after they leave the formal camps.

Amnesty said its study documents a pattern of forced evictions of families left homeless by the quake.

This has involved mass removals without notice, it said. Amnesty said forced evictions violate the rights of displaced people at all stages: threats prior to an eviction, violence during eviction and homelessness afterward.

More than 20,000 families, about a fifth of those still living in makeshift camps, face forced eviction by private landowners or the authorities, the study said.

“Homelessness is the most immediate consequence of forced eviction,” it said. “For those living in Haiti’s makeshift camps and already coping with displacement, it signals the start of yet another phase of uncertainty, disruption and distress.”

Like Lamothe, Martelly has said he opposes evictions but they’ve continued anyway. Residents of settlements and housing advocates have accused city officials and police officers of violently dismantling the tarp-like structures and evicting people.

Amnesty last week called for an investigation into the alleged police beating of a Haitian man who was protesting an arson attack in a camp under the threat of eviction.

The International Organization of Migration reported last week that 6 percent of the estimated 27,230 Haitians who have left camps this year came as the result of evictions. It didn’t give a reason for the evictions, but some landlords and city officials have kicked people off public and private property to reclaim the land.

That group’s report said 320,050 people remain in the settlements. This marks a 79 percent drop since the number of people living in the tent camps peaked at 1.5 million.

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