Forced Evictions, Mass-Displacement, and the Uncertain Promise of Land and Property Restitution in Haiti
44 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2014
Date Written: May 9, 2012
Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake produced human suffering on an almost unimaginable scale. The disaster’s aftermath — marked by widespread displacement, secondary occupation of land, and consequent forced evictions — raises critical questions of land ownership and housing rights. It has also provided, albeit unintentionally, a testing ground for the body of restitutionary legal norms developed in the decades following the Cold War to address those questions. This article uses the lens of the Haitian earthquake to critically examine the development of the restitution model, from its inception in the Balkans conflicts of the 1990s through its current expression in the United Nation’s Pinheiro Principles. The Pinheiro Principles are in many regards positive, but the Haitian displacement crisis also lays bare their shortcomings — in four ways, the assumptions underlying the restitutionary model have failed to match up with the actual human needs of displaced persons in urban Port-au-Prince. This Article identifies those conceptual mismatches — centered around causes of displacement, informality of land title and tenure, the role of secondary occupation, and an unsupported distinction between the deserving and undeserving displaced — and concludes with a tentative, rights-based template for improvement tailored to the specific needs of Haiti’s poor.
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