The killing of four adults, and – according to some reports – disappearance of four children in a violent forced eviction on July 23rd has gone all but unnoticed by the major English language media, but some details have emerged through Haitian and some independent English language press. Haïti Liberté has a detailed report in English of the incident at Parc La Visite in Seguin, Marigot, on the southern coast. Haïti Liberté and other outlets’ reports are based in large part on the work of Haitian journalist Claudy Belizaire of the Reference Institute for Journalism and Communication (RIJC), who also took graphic photos of the killing’s aftermath.
Haïti Liberté reported that the four were killed when 36 “Haitian police [officers] …destroyed seven homes in an attempt to clear peasants from a remote mountain-top park where they have lived and farmed for the past 70 years,” noting that “The bloody confrontation …occurred exactly 25 years to the day after an infamous 1987 peasant massacre near the northwestern town of Jean-Rabel…”
The RIJC reported the four confirmed dead to be “Desire Enoz - 32 years; Nicolas David - 28 years, Robinson Volcin - 22 years and Desire Aleis - 18 years.”
Belizaire, as translated by Haïti Liberté, wrote that three days later, “since this serious incident, no state official has come to Seguin, where barricades have been erected by the people, in protest. The only item known about this negotiation was an envelope of 50,000 gourdes [about $ 1,250] promised to each family (50% before departure, 50% after).”
The $600 before, $600 after moving payments are reminiscent of Martelly's much-criticized cash incentive plan to get people to relocate. Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) attorney Mario Joseph describes the government’s strategy in a new letter [PDF] of complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR):
The only apparent strategy of the Haitian government with respect to victims of the earthquake of January 12, , is to provide internally displaced persons (IDP) camps located in the rich neighborhoods of Petion Ville, a suburb of Port-au-Prince, with small sums of money to force them to leave. The Haitian government implemented this program, providing "financial assistance" amounting to 20,000 gourdes (U.S. $ 500) for residents of camps Places Saint-Pierre, Place Boyer, Canapé Vert, Mais Gate, Primature, Parc Pélé, and Champ Mars.
Residents affected by this program have been so harassed by officials to leave the camp that they feel they have no choice but to leave, turning the government’s initiatives into forced evictions in many cases. According to residents, they will either be removed with force against their will without a penny or moved voluntarily with at least some money.
RIJC describes a possible motive for the eviction operation:
For groundwaters, this nature reserve is also a water reservoir for the departments of the West and South-east through the capital Port-au-Prince and Jacmel. According to experts, the water level drops significantly over time and the effects are visible in the watershed and in the two cities above-mentioned. Recommendations were made to the government to take measures to protect the reserve through the eviction of 140 families of this population.
And Haïti Liberté adds:
The Parc La Visite is one of Haiti’s three national parks and has one of Haiti’s last remaining pine forests, in a country that is 98% deforested. It has suffered from unauthorized logging and clearing over the last decades, which has affected the watersheds for the cities of Port-au-Prince and Jacmel.
The La Selle region, which includes La Visite, was recently added to UNESCO’s network of biosphere reserves. Additionally, a USAID financed program (WINNER) implemented by Chemonics is funding reforestation and other conservation measures in the park.
While there has been relatively little media coverage of the killings, the UN says it is looking into the incident, as translated by Haïti Liberté:
The United Nations Mission for Stabilization in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is concerned by reports of the deaths of at least four Haitians and several injured, in circumstances not yet clear, during an operation of forced evictions conducted by police officers,” the note says. “A multidisciplinary team of the United Nations was deployed in the field to collect information to help establish the facts. MINUSTAH recalls that forced eviction without providing alternative adequate housing is contrary to international human rights, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The Associated Press also ran a brief article noting MINUSTAH’s investigation. (UPI and Xinhua did as well, but in Spanish.)
Of course, the Parc La Visite incident is just one of many recent incidents of forced eviction, and is perhaps notable – aside from the killings – in that the residents being evicted are not IDP’s. Forced evictions are among the human rights abuses that attorney Mario Joseph has condemned in his letter [PDF] to the IACHR:
President Martelly’s failure to hold elections, and his outrageous actions with the State University and the press, the forced evictions of victims displaced by the earthquake and the arrest of a Member of Parliament show that he does not stand for democracy, human rights or the rule of law.