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Human Rights Groups File Legal Petition on Sexual Violence Against Women and Girls in Camps for Displaced in Haiti

Diana Duarte, MADRE, (212) 627-0444
Vivian Todini, CUNY School of Law, (917) 747-7980
Jen Nessel, Center for Constitutional Rights, (212) 614-6449
Nicole Phillips, Esq., Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, (510) 715-2855
Erica Richards, Morrison & Foerster LLP, (917) 370-0132
Contact in Haiti: Annie Gell, Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, (509) 3610-2882

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. 

To view a redacted copy of the petition, click here. To view the petition in French, click here.

Available for interviews:

Lisa Davis, Esq. (MADRE and the International Women's Human Rights Clinic at CUNY School of Law) was the primary author of the petition for precautionary measures and currently serves as the Coordinator for the Lawyers' Earthquake Response Network (LERN) Gender Working Group. She is a member of the New York City Bar Association's International Human Rights Committee and the National Lawyers' Guild Working Group on Haiti. Lisa is an Adjunct Professor of Law for the International Women's Human Rights Clinic at CUNY Law School. (Contact: Diana Duarte 212-627-0444 or Vivian Todini 917 747-7980)

Bill Quigley (Center for Constitutional Rights) is the Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and has a long history of working with grassroots groups in Haiti. Bill joined CCR on sabbatical from his position as law professor and Director of the Law Clinic and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University New Orleans. He has been an active public interest lawyer since 1977. He has served as counsel with a wide range of public interest organizations on issues including Katrina social justice issues, public housing, voting rights, death penalty, living wage, civil liberties, educational reform, constitutional rights and civil disobedience. He has also been an active volunteer lawyer with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. (Contact Jen Nessel 212-614-6449)

Laura Raymond (Center for Constitutional Rights) is an International Human Rights Education and Outreach Associate who traveled to Haiti in anticipation of this petition's filing. Prior to working at CCR Laura was the National Student Organizer for the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and is currently a member of the NLG's National Executive Committee. She is the author of numerous articles on human rights issues and was the co-editor of The Global Activists Manual: Local Ways to Change the World, published by Nation Books in 2002. She holds a Masters Degree in Service, Leadership, and Management, with a focus on Policy Advocacy, from SIT Graduate Institute. (Contact Jen Nessel 212-614-6449)

Nicole Phillips, Esq. (Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti) is a Staff Attorney and heads the Housing Rights Advocacy Project. She is also Assistant Director of Haiti Programs at the University of San Francisco School of Law and Board Member of Human Rights Advocates, a non-governmental organization with consultative status to the UN. Nicole's practice included ten years with Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she served as general counsel to unions and employee benefit trust funds across the country, arbitrated collective bargaining disputes, and managed a caseload in federal and state courts involving labor, employment, health insurance, and environmental regulations. (Contact: (510) 715-2855)

Annie Gell, Esq. (Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti) is a Lawyers Earthquake Response Network (LERN) Legal Fellow, based at the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in Port au Prince, Haiti. Annie supports grassroots women's groups and helps coordinate the Rape Accountability and Prevention Program. She holds a law degree and undergraduate degree from Columbia University and is admitted to practice in New York. During law school, Annie served as a board member of the Human Rights Law Review, and interned at Human Rights Watch – U.S. Division, the Legal Aid Society of New York's Immigration Law Unit, and the Documentation Center of Cambodia. (Contact in Port au Prince: (509) 3610-2882)

Erica Richards (Morrison & Foerster LLP) is an associate in the Bankruptcy and Restructuring group in the New York office of Morrison & Foerster LLP. In Morrison & Foerster's Bankruptcy group, Ms. Richards has assisted in a broad range of matters, including representation of debtors, creditors and creditors committees, and court-appointed examiners. She received her law degree from Washington & Lee University and is admitted to practice in New York. (Contact (917) 370-0132)