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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Tsunami response: Human rights assessment

ReliefWeb � Document Preview � Tsunami response: Human rights assessment: Source: ActionAid, Date: 01 Feb 2006

The December 2004 tsunami unleashed loss and destruction of horrific magnitude in 12 countries(1) in Asia and Africa. One year after the tragedy, despite the tremendous efforts of local, national and international agencies, the rehabilitation and reconstruction process is fraught with difficulties.
Even though all the affected countries have ratified international human rights instruments, they are failing to meet these standards in posttsunami relief and rehabilitation work. Allegations of human rights violations in tsunamiaffected areas are rampant. These include discrimination in aid distribution, forced relocation, arbitrary arrests and sexual and gender-based violence. One year on, tsunami reconstruction efforts are plagued with serious delays and have not been given the priority they warrant.
While international attention is fading, post-tsunami challenges continue to have an enormous impact on the family structures and social relations of affected communities. This impact has been particularly severe on women and other vulnerable groups, including children.
Women continue to be marginalised in the rehabilitation and reconstruction process.
A lack of access to education, a lack of security of tenure for land and housing, domestic violence and other forms of gender discrimination conspire to hamper recovery. The presence of military forces in camps where tsunami survivors are living and the lack of privacy in temporary shelters have caused serious concern for women's physical safety. This is compounded by an absence of adequate health services.
Greater efforts must also be made to uphold the rights of children. Special guarantees are yet to be put in place to enable orphaned children to receive entitlements to land and compensation. Instead these assets are being absorbed into the existing family units of temporary guardians.
Under international human rights law, individual states bear the primary responsibility for protecting the rights of their populations, including the rights to food, water, health, education and adequate housing. This responsibility extends to natural disasters. As recently as September 2005, during the 60th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, heads of state specifically expressed their commitment to "support the efforts of countries... to strengthen their capacities at all levels in order to prepare for and respond rapidly to natural disasters and mitigate their impact".(2)
Inadequate response and a lack of consideration for the human rights of victims creates a humaninduced tragedy that exacerbates the plight of those already suffering the effects of a disaster brought on by natural causes. Therefore, individual states, international agencies including the UN and its programmes, civil society and the private sector, must redouble efforts towards the realisation of human rights worldwide, including rights to disaster-preparedness and disaster-response. Indeed this is essential if we are to reduce the loss of life, human suffering and homelessness resulting from disasters in the future. It is only through national and international cooperation based on human rights standards(3) that people uprooted and at risk as a result of devastating natural disasters can be effectively protected.
This report is a significant contribution. It assesses the status of post-tsunami reconstruction and clearly highlights multiple human rights violations in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives. It makes the demand for human rights standards in resettlement and reconstruction all the more urgent.(4) Non-discriminatory access to relief and rehabilitation, mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability, and provision for the active participation of survivors are fundamental, while all efforts must take into account the special needs and concerns of women.
The report findings represent an opportunity to put things right. We know that there has been some excellent work by governments and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) in the wake of the tsunami -- the speed and scale of the response meant that lives were saved and many predicted outbreaks of epidemics were contained -- but it is not enough. We can see that where people have organised, they have pushed governments and NGOs to be responsive, and we should build on these efforts.
All actors involved in relief and rehabilitation work must undertake efforts to make sure that the grave mistakes made in post-disaster experiences of the past are not repeated. Failure to immediately comply with human rights standards will deepen the human-induced tragedy already afflicted on the survivors of the tsunami. The resolve shown by states and the international community in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami must not be allowed to dissipate. In the process of rebuilding the lives, livelihoods and homes of those affected, it is vital that immediate humanitarian needs be complemented with long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction programmes based on international human rights standards, which uphold survivors' rights to dignity, equality, livelihood and adequate conditions of living.
Miloon Kothari Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing United Nations Commission on Human Rights New Delhi, January 2006
1. This report
This report is about human rights in countries hit by the December 2004 tsunami. It focuses on the accountability of governments and their role in responding to the tsunami. It also examines how new legislation, policies and practices are undermining people's rights to food, clean water, a secure home and a life free from fear. The findings show that governments in the tsunamiaffected countries are ignoring the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and violating binding international human rights law with clear disregard for human dignity.
2. Methodology
More than 50,000 people living in 95 villages and urban areas in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and India were visited in November 2005. This extensive field research is complemented by desk reviews of government plans and policies post-tsunami.
3. Findings
3.1 Land The disaster has provided an opportunity for governments to introduce new Statutes and/or reinforce old ones that threaten to take away people's right to their land. -- 'Buffer zones' have been used to remove people from coastal areas under the guise of safety. This has jeopardised the livelihoods of those who rely on the sea for a living. -- Governments have largely failed in their responsibility to provide land for permanent housing. They have stood by or been complicit as land has been grabbed and coastal communities pushed aside in favour of commercial interests. -- The granting or withholding of compensation has meant that many people have been left with no option but to relocate. Families relocated to far away places face an uncertain future and hostile environment.
3.2 Housing Structures and materials, space, the provision of water and sanitation, access to services and proximity to place of work are used to assess governments' success in meeting the human right of adequate housing. Generally, living conditions in temporary shelters and relief camps were found to be far below minimum standards set by the UN.(5) More specifically: -- Overcrowding and inadequate lighting has left women and children exposed to abuse. -- Lack of toilets and running water has contributed to bad health. -- Shoddy construction and second-grade materials mean people have suffered extremes of heat and cold. -- Many families are unable to find work or are at risk from flooding due to relocation. If mistakes are to be undone and the human right to adequate housing met, the views and preferences of vulnerable groups such as women and children must be taken into account.
3.3 Livelihoods Millions of dollars worth of aid have been poured into restoring livelihoods, but the goal of rebuilding livelihoods based on human dignity and equality is still a long way off: -- Compensation has been inadequate, uneven and ignores the needs of non-fishing communities such as farmers and labourers. -- Displaced people have been left with no means to earn a living. -- Lack of livelihood support for vulnerable groups such as women and migrant workers has exposed them to further exploitation, trafficking and bonded labour. Within the fishing community, those engaged in small-scale fishing have benefited less from livelihood support programmes. In programmes to generate local employment, the affected people complained of use of outside labour by contractors.
3.4 Women Relief and rehabilitation efforts are dominated by male interests and fail to recognise the crucial role of women in leading the recovery process: -- Single women, including widows, have not been recognised as a household unit and have frequently been denied compensation. -- Housing design and layout in particular has been gender insensitive, affecting women's privacy and security. -- Increased burdens, such as providing clean water, fall disproportionately on women. Women are being routinely excluded from decision-making. Government policies have failed to offer new opportunities for women.
3.5 Discrimination and vulnerability The tsunami has had a more severe impact on marginalised groups. Deep-rooted inequalities based on caste, class, gender, nationality and ethnicity have been magnified by discriminatory policies and practices. The following groups have received little or no support and are excluded from decision-making: -- 'Sea gypsies' and migrant labourers in Thailand. -- Agricultural workers and landless people in all countries. -- Dalits (formerly 'untouchable' castes) in India. -- Ethnic minorities and people displaced by war in eastern and northern Sri Lanka. Government policies and practices have reinforced rather than challenged social divisions. The overall situation for vulnerable groups is bleak.
4. Recommendations
In all five of the areas researched, our findings show that human rights have been undermined in the aftermath of the tsunami. A major effort is required to prevent further abuse of human rights and to correct the wrongs that characterise the first year of the tsunami response. Our general recommendations therefore include the following measures:
1.Post-tsunami recovery plans must be informed by a human rights framework.
2. Disaster-response policies must be based on a human rights approach including the human rights education and learning with all stakeholders.
3. The basic human rights to housing and land for all must be protected and fulfilled.
4. Livelihood restoration must be undertaken in a spirit of equality and non-discrimination.
5. Relief and rehabilitation must be gender-sensitive and recognise women's human rights.
6. Special protection must be given to those who face discrimination and exclusion.
7. Participation of the tsunamiaffected must be the guiding principle of post-tsunami rehabilitation.
8. Non-government organisations should set a precedence in respecting human rights standards.
9. The international community, including international financial institutions, must integrate human rights in their humanitarian donor policy.
10. The UN system must play a larger role in monitoring human rights compliance.
(1) Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Maldives, Somalia and on lesser scale in six other countries of Asia and Africa
(2) See 2005 World Summit Outcome Document at http://www.un.org/summit2005/documents.html
(3) Human rights standards including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement
(4) A compilation entitled International Human Rights Standards on Post-Disaster Resettlement and Rehabilitation prepared by Habitat International Coalition -- Housing and Land Rights Network and People's Movement for Human Rights Learning, in collaboration with the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, documents some of these existing standards: www.pdhre.org/HICPDHRE. pdf
(5) General Comment 4 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights sets out minimum core obligations of the State in the context of the right to adequate housing as: a) legal security of tenure; b) availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure; c) affordability; d) habitability; e) accessibility; f) location; and g) cultural adequacy. For details, visit: http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/(symbol)/CESCR+General+comment+4.En? OpenDocument
Full report (pdf* format - 592KB)

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