Friday, March 02, 2007

Human Rights for Displaced Iraqis But Not Displaced Americans?

By Guest Blogger: Jeffrey Buchanan,
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights

Disaster struck displacing more than a million people from their communities in the Gulf. Thanks to years of international experience in helping Internally Displaced Persons and applying international standards in these kinds of disasters, the United States federal government was able to create programs to help mitigate the horrors of such tragedy for displaced victims and eventually help people to realize their human rights to return and participate in rebuilding their neighborhoods. Helping to overcome the economic and social aspect of the disaster, the United States created tens of thousands of jobs for the survivors of this misfortune to gain skills and an income while helping to rebuild their community through sustainable and inclusive public works programs that not only hoped to rebuild but to heal communities by acknowledging and tried to overcome historic discrimination.

Sound like a fairy tale? Well this storyline is actually taking place in the Persian Gulf where US international aid projects are helping vulnerable internally displaced Iraqi populations in the aftermath of the United States' invasion.

Apparently the Bush administration believes the more than a million people displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are not privileged to the same comprehensive rights-based approaches the United States applies to disasters relief and human rights abroad.

Today over 250,000 from New Orleans alone are still displaced across the country one and a half years after the levees broke.

Community leaders throughout the Gulf Coast have embraced the belief that all the storm's survivors have a right to return to their neighborhoods and to participate in the rebuilding process. Though the idea is supported by international human right norms, the lack of comprehensive government assistance and additional hurdles placed by public officials throughout the rebuilding process has impeded displaced people from realizing their rights and restore their communities.

Read this latest assessment<> by New Orleans human rights lawyer, and Gulf Coast Civic Works Project endorser, William Quigley on what has stopped people from returning to the Gulf Coast.

The right to return and need to involve the storm's displaced survivors in the rebuilding process is defined by the United Nation's Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement<> . It is the internationally approved framework for providing humanitarian aid and protecting human rights before, during and after populations are displaced by natural or man made disaster. Internally Displaced Persons include, "persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and who have not crossed an internationally recognized State border." This definition includes those displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Under the Principles, the final responsibility for the human rights of displaced people in the United States or any country for that matter falls to the federal government. In addition to immediate humanitarian needs, the Guiding Principles delve into issues of human rights with longer term repercussions like discrimination, voting rights and participation in decisions about rebuilding. Most importantly to government policy in the Gulf Coast today, during the post-displacement period the Principles state that countries must prevent people from being displaced longer than necessary by creating economic and social conditions that allow the displaced to be able to voluntarily return.

The United States has given non-binding backing to the Principles in a number of UN votes and the U.S. Agency for International Development endorses <> the Principles and considers as part of its mission encouraging other nations to follow its framework to help their own displaced populations.

Oddly, Bush administration officials in the summer of 2006 argued before the U.N. Human Rights Committee that they did not believe Americans displaced by Katrina, whom they evasively re-brand as "evacuees,"deserve the rights<> extended under the Guiding Principles. Understanding this kind of mindset, it should be no surprise that our federal recovery programs to date have failed to actually address displaced people's right to return and rebuild their lives. Legal scholars with the Institute of Southern Studies have found the federal government in violation of 16 of 30Principles<> .

Strangely the United States does a much better job of helping people displaced by disasters in other countries.

Through the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, USAID uses dollars to fund programs implementing the Guiding Principles to help Iraq live up to its human rights obligation. In addition to providing immediate humanitarian relief to these vulnerable people, USAID develops programs to help Iraqis return when possible and rebuild their lives and communities. In order to help families rebound and to empower damaged communities so more displaced people can return, USAID has created numerous public works programs<> giving jobs to displaced people to allow those affected by the displacement to both rebuild their own lives and communities.

In just one of these projects forty thousand displaced Iraqis have found work and training rebuilding devastating infrastructure, schools, housing and other needs in Ta'mim, Ninawa, Dahuk, and Karbala' governorates. USAID funds similar projects in Colombia and post-tsunami Sri Lanka among other places creating jobs and helping victims play a central role in recovering.

If we believe in following these kinds of ideas in programs to rebuild in Iraq and help Iraqi's return why can't we create a Gulf Coast Civic Works project to rebuild and empower our own displaced populations? While those displaced in Iraq surely face numerous hardships and require assistance, it is sheer tragedy and gross hypocrisy to ignore the human rights of Katrina's survivors. Human rights leadership must begin at home. There is still hope that the new Congress will work with President Bush to adopt a Gulf Coast Civic Works plan to empower the displaced to return and participate in rebuilding their lives, their communities and the entire Gulf Coast.

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At 2:39 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so glad someone sees our problems we ended up in Oregon a state so far away from the hurricane zone there where no programs here to help us we want to go home and join our family once again. What can we do to fight the unjust treatment we are going though? How would must of you feel to loose everything you worked for and still two years later be awy from your family.Thank you Toni Goar


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