October 20, 2010 – Washington, DC – Today, a group of advocates and attorneys for displaced women in Haiti submitted a petition calling for urgent action to confront an epidemic of sexual violence in the camps for displaced people. Evidence gathered through multiple on-the-ground investigations has revealed a shocking pattern of rape, beatings and threats against the lives of women and girls living in the camps. This petition for precautionary measures before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) calls for the IACHR to require that the government of Haiti and the international community take such immediate action as ensuring security and installing lighting in the camps.
Since the catastrophic January 12 earthquake took some 200,000 lives and rendered 1.5 million people homeless, women and girls living in the camps have faced bleak conditions and a constant threat of rape. Lawyers and researchers, partnering with Haitian grassroots women’s groups, have documented testimonies where women have been brutally attacked in their tents or while walking down poorly-lit paths within the camps. Meanwhile, basic preventative measures such as providing lighting, privacy, security and housing have been critically lacking.
Lisa Davis, MADRE Human Rights Advocacy Director and professor of law at CUNY School of Law, said today, “Women in the camps in Haiti have mobilized to create immediate strategies to combat violence, such as establishing night watch patrols and distributing whistles to deter rapists. But these initiatives are no substitute for governments meeting their obligations to protect women’s human rights. With the capacity of the Haitian government badly undermined even before the earthquake, the international community must join together in seeking a solution to the crisis of women’s human rights in Haiti.”
Bill Quigley, Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said today, “The ultimate solution here is permanent, safe housing for Haitians. Unfortunately, the international community has reneged on its commitment to provide essential funds for rebuilding and the U.S., in particular, has not delivered even one cent of the reconstruction funding it pledged. Women are being forced to live in extremely unsafe conditions for the foreseeable future and it is a deplorable failure on the part of those who made such a show about standing with the Haitian people in their greatest hour of need.”
Nicole Phillips, Staff Attorney with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti and Assistant Director of Haiti Programs at the University of San Francisco School of Law said today, “This epidemic of rapes will continue until the international community and Haitian government address the underlying housing crisis. The crowded tent and tarp encampments that house 1.5 million Haitians in Port au Prince provide no security against sexual assault. The Haitian government’s response to the housing crisis has been to assist landowners in evicting families from displacement camps without providing any alternative place to live, further exacerbating security issues. These forced evictions must stop immediately and a comprehensive resettlement plan protecting Haiti’s displaced population must be adopted.”
Lisa Davis served as the primary author of the petition; under supervision from Davis, students from CUNY Law’s International Women’s Human Rights Clinic joined the on-the-ground investigation. Documentation from their interviews with Haitian women has become part of the petition’s record.
See below for a PDF of the petition.