Civil Society Speaks Out on Camp Expulsions

Civil Society Speaks Out on Camp Expulsions
July 27, 2011 Christian Wisskirchen

Civil Society Speaks Out on Camp Expulsions

We, the undersigned organisations, wish to make a statement on three main points dominating the current reality in Haiti

1. Government sanctioned camp expulsion

2. Loans for housing

3. Extension of the IHRC mandate

1. Regarding the expulsions. In these past days, we have observed an official operation which started with Mayor Wilson Jeudy in the Delmas area, very similar to that being carried out by the mayor of Port-au-Prince, Jean Yves Jason, to drive out our earthquake victims living in various public spaces since January 12, 2010. They are carrying out these operations while the state authorities have taken no serious measures to resolve the housing problem for several thousand helpless families living in camps.

We vigorously denounce the way in which people working for the mayor of Port-au-Prince, with the connivance of President Michel Martelly, expelled those living in the Sylvio Cator camp, with no regard for their dignity.  The government published a document in May 2011, detailing a series of measures to gradually move people from the camps and assist them in finding an alternative place to stay. In this document the government identified 6 camps as a priority, among which was the Sylvio Cator camp.

We want people to know that the operation carried out at Sylvio Cator did not respect any of the measures set out in the document. On the contrary it violated all principles of human rights with regard to housing. The way in which the mayor of Port-au-Prince conducted the operation has made the situation more precarious and the people more vulnerable than they were before. For example, the Port-au-Prince authorities gave around 400 families 10,000 HTG (Gourdes) each supposedly to help them get a place. The magistrate is well aware that it is no longer possible to find any housing in Port-au-Prince worth 10,000 HTG and there are no houses available to rent since they have been destroyed. The majority of these people have gone to swell other camps, or to live in damaged houses or put up a tent in the slums, which is what is happening now in Canaan to the north of Port-au-Prince. Apart from that the Port-au-Prince authorities have deposited another 103 families on an empty plot, which is prone to flooding and is next to a stinking canal full of garbage. When they arrived at this site there was not a single toilet. It was after five days that they managed to put up 10 toilets across the road from the camp. In order to get to these toilets the camp residents need to cross a busy highway. On top of that the [displaced] people had to source their own materials to put up makeshift tents in complete chaos.

We want to recall that a major role of a district administration is to protect the weakest and to organise the town so that all can live in it in dignity and security. It is the duty of the local authority to protect citizens from living in situations of filth and dirty water, so we cannot understand how instead they are increasing people’s insecurity, and swelling the slums.  The way in which the Port-au-Prince authorities have dealt with the families from the Sylvio Cator camp shows the total disregard of the state for those in the poor sectors of Haitian society. We call on them to stop such discrimination.  President Martelly must stop encouraging this kind of action, which is in violation of all basic human rights.

2. The ‘KAY PAM’ (lit. “a place of my own”) project:  this made a promising start but needs to go further than the initiatives put forward by the BNC (Banque National de Crédit) offering mortgages for housing to government workers and some private sector employees at 8% interest payable over a 30 year period.  This is welcome news when we consider the situation with regard to lending in Haiti. But we hope that this does not become another means of enriching the ‘haves’, enabling them to accumulate properties here and there.  We hope that control measures are in place so that the loans available from KAY PAM do not increase the means of a few but rather serves to open doors for all workers including those self-employed in the informal sector.

But the KAYPAM initiative which is that of a commercial bank (even though it belongs to the state) does not absolve the State from its responsibility of guaranteeing a right to housing, that means the right of all to a respectable place to live, as is the case in many countries the world over. The Haitian State should build cheap social housing to help those with little means to find a decent place to live. In this respect we re-iterate the demands made by several organisations that took part in the Right to Housing conference in May 2011, asking the Haitian government to create a housing fund to facilitate the building of houses for families with reduced means. We ask the state to re-enforce the EPPLS (public enterprise for social housing), so that this institution can fulfil its duties, as it should, namely create social housing.

Whatever the decisions taken on housing, in order for it to bring a lasting solution to the problem, the Haitian State must act on the land issue and on the issue of property.  The State must “grab the bull by the horns” with regard to town planning to establish where people can or cannot build, what is designated for cultivation, where the public spaces will be, set out the building norms and standards to be respected, and so on. If each person is going to borrow money to build wherever and however they please as happened in the past, it’s like washing your hands and then wiping it on the floor; then these are liable to be lost investments. The State must repossess plots of land, which were obtained illegally, to re-plan the towns that were destroyed with a new vision, creating new spaces that will give the country another image and that will encourage decentralisation. In brief the State must develop a national housing plan, which involves proper town planning.

3. The issue of the IHRC mandate: we were very taken aback to hear President Martelly announce that the mandate for the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) has been extended for an additional year. Everyone knows under what conditions the IHRC was set up, all the protests against its creation, especially the extent of the responsibility it was given to define and plan the reconstruction policies for the country, whereas such things are normally the responsibility of the government. One year on, when we look at the streets of Port-au-Prince as well at other towns that were destroyed, when we consider the people still under canvas, the state of the ministries, we must ask ourselves what has the IHRC achieved?

We, the undersigned organisations re-iterate that the IHRC should not continue to exist.  We call on the Parliament not to renew the IHRC mandate. We call on President Martelly and the new government that is supposed to be in place, to create a structure within the State itself that will channel all the funds received for the country. These funds should feed into the ministries to develop all sorts of programmes to get the country working, and to follow clear policies set out by the government and which are in favour of the most needy. In order to guarantee that these funds will be properly used, each ministry must work with transparency and hand in hand with the various sectors they represent. The available funds must help the ministries most affected by the earthquake back on their feet to serve the population. We should not continue to support parallel structures that are further weakening State institutions.

Once again, we re-iterate, were all the money in the world to go to Haiti, the country would not be rebuilt if the people themselves do not mobilize for change. A structure such as the IHRC, which has within it a whole lot of vested interests, which have nothing to do with the interests of Haiti, cannot possibly lead the construction of the alternative Haiti we seek. Only a government with its head in the right place and whose interests are at one with those of the country, and the interests of the mass of the population, can deliver this result. THE IHRC MUST BE SHUT DOWN. THE MINISTRIES MUST BE REVIVED!

Port-au-Prince, 24 July 2011


(translated from Haitian by Anne McConnell, Haiti Support Group)