UN rights chief urges improvement in treatment of Haitians

[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] said Wednesday that strengthening human rights is an integral part of the rebuilding process [statement, PDF] in Haiti. In her remarks, Pillay mentioned the role that the inhumane living conditions may have had in the high casualty numbers resulting from the January 12 earthquake [NYT backgrounder; JURIST news archive], placing blame on the Duvalier regime for those conditions. According to Pillay, the high number of casualties could have been predicted by the damage sustained in that country following a series of tropical storms in 2008 [CNN report]. Pillay concluded her remarks with a call to action, saying:


As the Secretary-General noted we must help Haiti build back better. This also entails re-constructing and strengthening the national human rights protection systems through an effective and independent judiciary and a law enforcement apparatus respectful of human rights. A reliable National Human Rights Institution and a vigilant civil society must be empowered to be active partners in this endeavour.

Pillay also urged the rule of law to be reestablished, citing fears that escaped prisoners [JURIST report] would engage in violent criminal activities.

Last week, US President Barack Obama signed a bill that will allow US citizens to claim donations to Haitian relief efforts as a deduction on their 2009 tax returns [JURIST report]. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said that Haitian nationals present in the US before the earthquake will be given temporary protected status and will not be deported for the next 18 months, but Haitian refugees who arrive in the US illegally will be sent back to their home country [JURIST reports]. The 7.0 magnitude earthquake caused massive damage to property and infrastructure in Haiti, and the death toll has been estimated at 150,000.

 

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