Human rights must rank high on agenda of international relief efforts: European Parliament

Thursday, May 31, 2012
Brussels/Strasbourg: More than two years after an earthquake rocked Haiti, nearly half a million people continue to live in appalling conditions in camps. Examples like this make it clear that more needs to be done to protect human rights in the wake of natural disasters, according to a study discussed on 29 May by the EP's human rights subcommittee and development committee.


The meeting on 29 May had a special focus on the situation in Haiti. Pierre Esperance, director of the National Human Rights Defense Network, told MEPs: “We cannot talk about Haiti without taking into account the 420,000 people who are living in 595 camps and relocation sites. These people are living in inhumane conditions. They are using dirty tents and they are near infected swampy areas with piles of rubbish." He said their civil rights and political, social and economic rights were being flouted. "The question of human rights is not taken into account in the reconstruction of the country.”

Other natural disasters

French Christian-Democrat Michèle Striffler, vice-chair of the development committee, stressed that whenever natural disasters struck, problems with human rights reared their head. “Past experience shows that in humanitarian crises the human rights of people on the ground were threatened and I have the impression that it is not necessarily getting better. In camps set up after earthquakes there is often a lack of security and safety. We have to make sure that the lessons are learned, that the errors of the past are not repeated, especially when it comes to women and children.”


The study on human rights in the wake of natural disasters that was discussed by the two committees was written by professor Horst Fischer, president of the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation.

Fischer made a number of concrete recommendations: 

The EP should undertake a comprehensive international study on the protection of human rights following natural disasters
There must be more focus on the obligations of states and organisations that can provide assistance (rather than those affected)
The EU should monitor the application of human rights in relief operations after natural disasters

A representative from the European Commission's  European Community Humanitarian Office added:  “We are developing specific guidelines on the proper protection of specific vulnerable populations, including those suffering from deceases like HIV, but also on the aging population, children and on issues of gender based sexual violence.” 
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