Among the newest, most pressing human rights issues in Haiti is the illegal eviction of tent camp dwellers. Mario Joseph, who heads our partner group – the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) – is lead author of yesterday’s briefing about evictions for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The text describes the “terrorization and brutality that accompany threats of forced evictions” from the camps:

Forced evic­tions in Hait­ian dis­place­ment camps are increas­ing… For exam­ple, dur­ing the week of May 23, 2011, the Hait­ian police and agents of a local mayor raided and destroyed at least three dis­place­ment camps in the city of Del­mas… Secu­rity forces beat sev­eral peo­ple… Res­i­dents were unlaw­fully evicted with lit­tle to no advance warn­ing… Three weeks later, the mayor’s inhu­mane and ille­gal actions appear to have gone unpun­ished.

While President Michel Martelly officially “distanced himself” from the evictions, Mayor Wilson Jeudy – who organized these evictions – claims Martelly sent him. The discrepancy has ignited controversy and pointed speculations about Martelly’s real stance.

My question is this: does it matter? Two prominent features of President Martelly’s “100-day plan” are:

1) establish internal security, in part by resurrecting the Haitian army, and

2) manage the relocation effort, starting by closing 6 tent camps in 100 days and the rest within 6 months.

If these evictions happened without his blessing, that means the Mayor of Delmas – Port-au-Prince’s largest municipality – is carrying out massive, illegal eviction raids using both private security forces and Haitian National Police less than 3 miles from the National Palace… with complete and utter impunity.

Had Martelly acted swiftly and decisively to punish Mayor Wilson Jeudy or the Chief of Police (himself a presidential appointee), this would be a different story. But not only did he fail to respond to these human rights abuses, his failure comes in the arenas he identified as top priorities: internal security and camp relocation.

President Martelly is either responsible for encouraging human rights abuses, or else he’s failing to take action on issues that are (by his own assessment) among the most pressing in Haiti today. Whatever the case, he’s failing in his duty as head of state.

Our civil society partner groups are taking action, however. On June 1, BAI filed a lawsuit against Mayor Jeudy. Hopefully their work will help end the pattern of impunity for human rights abusers in Haiti.

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