(New York) - The United Nations Security Council should make improving the quality and security of camps for displaced victims of Haiti's devastating earthquake a top priority, Human Rights Watch said today in an open letter to the Council's member states. The Security Council is being briefed today on the humanitarian situation in Haiti by the UN emergency relief coordinator, John Holmes, and the head of the Peacekeeping Department, Alain Le Roy.
Human Rights Watch completed a field investigation in Haiti on February 12, 2010, and drew the attention of Security Council members to areas it believes deserve urgent action. The team visited 15 of the largest camps for displaced persons in Port-au-Prince and Jacmel (housing 5,000 to 35,000 people each), and interviewed over 150 camp residents, local officials, and staff of international relief agencies and UN bodies, as well as local activists and representatives of non-governmental organizations.
"Despite all the relief efforts, hundreds of thousands of Haitians remain in desperate need," said Anna Neistat, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch, who led the investigative team in Haiti. "The Haitian government urgently needs to do all it can lawfully to make sites available for camps for displaced and homeless persons."
Despite the large-scale international effort to help the victims, the majority of the 1.2 million people left homeless by the earthquake continue to be in desperate need of vital assistance and protection. Human Rights Watch said it is concerned about the slow pace of efforts to acquire land needed to allow relief agencies to establish camp sites that meet international standards.
Without rapid action to provide the land on which new camps can be established, the squalid and unsafe conditions experienced by hundreds of thousands of quake survivors could become deadly as rainy season begins. The current camps also lack security, leaving their residents - in particular women and girls - at risk of violence.
Human Rights Watch has called for the following actions:
- Prompt and meaningful steps by the Haitian government to lawfully acquire suitable plots of land for the establishment of new camps that meet international standards, including ensuring that the titles for the allocated land are legally valid;
- Provision of a security presence and patrolling at camp sites;
- Implementation of measures to reduce women's vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence, in particular at large camp sites. Such measures could include constructing shelters that would provide women a certain degree of privacy, ensuring a security presence at camp sites, access for women to safe and hygienic sanitation facilities, and ensuring that women have access to accurate information about various forms of assistance;
- Further monitoring and evaluation of food distribution strategies to ensure that the food assistance reaches the most vulnerable groups, including women, children, and people living with disabilities at camp sites;
- Suspension by all UN member states of involuntary returns of Haitian migrants to Haiti until such time as conditions conducive to sustainable returns in safety and dignity are established.