Tsunami Victims' Rights Abused?
United Nations (UPI) Feb 01, 2006
A new report examining post-tsunami reconstruction chides the international community for not doing enough and accuses several Southeast Asian governments of contributing to human rights abuses and letting discrimination stand in the way of helping survivors.
The report, released at U.N. World Headquarters in New York Wednesday, said many survivors, the majority of who were minorities already living on the margins of society before the tsunami, have not been allowed basic human rights like clean water, aid and shelter.
"Failure to immediately comply with human rights standards will deepen the human-induced tragedy already inflicted on the survivors of the tsunami," said Miloon Kothari, special rapporteur on adequate housing for the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in the foreword of the study.
The report, which studied 50,000 survivors in 95 villages in five countries, alleges governments have discriminated against women and have taken land away from survivors.
The day after the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami, a Thai man went back to his village to look for his children and when he arrived, guards had put a fence around the area.
"They said it was their land and they would be building a hotel," said Daeng, who lived in Laem Pom Village, Thailand. "They held their guns and said that if I didn't go, I would join those who died in the tsunami. We have lost our families, now we are having our homes stolen, too."
In each of the countries examined, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Maldives, the governments have established "buffer zones" which prevent people from rebuilding their homes along the coast, said the report titled, "Tsunami Response: A Human Rights Assessment."
While the governments insist this is for the safety of its citizens in case of a future tsunami, in many places the land is being reclaimed for tourist development, the study said. In Manginpudi Beach village in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, residents have been forcibly relocated to make way for new tourist resorts.
For those who have found temporary housing, the living conditions are barely habitable, said the report. Many people are living in tents while others have settled in makeshift homes constructed of tin roofs. Access to clean water and affordable healthcare is scarce, said the study prepared by three international aid groups: ActionAid International, Habitat International Coalition and People's Movement for Human Rights Learning.
U.N. experts blame rudimentary housing and inequalities in aid distribution on regional political dynamics, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and caste affiliation.
While the report acknowledges the unprecedented support sent to the region hours after the mammoth waves obliterated coastal communities and swept away homes, people, and futures, it points out that 90 percent of the 2.5 million people displaced by the tragedy are still living in temporary or substandard housing - more than a year after the tsunami, Kothari said.
"Individual states, international agencies including the United Nations and its programs, civil society and the private sector, must redouble efforts towards the realization of human rights worldwide, including rights to disaster-preparedness and disaster response," said Kothari in the report.
Caused by an undersea earthquake in the Indian Ocean, which measured 9.0 on the Richter scale, the tsunami that ravaged 12 countries in Southeast Asia left 250,000 people dead or missing. Thousands were left without homes, possessions and family.
The United Nations and relief agencies acted quickly to send food, water, clothing and tents to the hardest hit areas. Sometimes the aid was inappropriate, like a shipment of winter clothing that arrived in the tropical region, and expired medications inadvertently sent to those in need.
Often the aid has not reached the neediest victims because of governmental bureaucracy and discrimination, said the report.
The U.N. Commission on Human Rights called for governments to uphold international human rights standards on Jan. 11, 2005. The report said this recommendation has not been met and survivors' human rights continue to be violated.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1948, contains 30 articles listing basic rights and freedoms for all, including the rights to housing, water and equality.
Among its 10 recommendations, the report calls for the United Nations to play a larger role in monitoring human rights compliance and for the international community, including global institutions providing financing to the devastated areas, to integrate human rights into their humanitarian donor policies.
The report called for more transparency in the disbursal of funds and greater efforts to ensure political interests do not interfere with rebuilding the region.
"Don't take it as a criticism. Take it as a contribution to make the lives of people affected by the tsunami better," said Minar Pimple, executive director of People's Movement for Human Rights Learning, told reporters.
The 64-page report was expected to be sent to the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Envoy for Tsunami-affected Countries, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Wednesday.
Source: United Press International
Disaster Convention Warned On Urbanisation Risk
Bangkok (AFP) Feb 02, 2006
Natural disasters will continue affecting the world's poorest people until decision makers address factors including rapid urbanisation and environmental destruction, a conference heard Thursday.
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