Joint UN team to assess protection issues in quake-hit Haiti

12:32, January 23, 2010      

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A team of United Nations staff dealing with human rights and displacement is headed to quake-hit Haiti on Friday to assess a range of protection issues in the wake of the disaster that has left one third of the country 's 9 million inhabitants in need of urgent assistance.

The five-member team comprises officials from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and represents the first time that the two Geneva-based bodies have fielded a joint protection team of this type during a crisis, UN officials said here.

UN agencies and their partners on the ground have been working tirelessly to provide immediate assistance, from medical care, food and water supplies to security and logistics, to the victims of the 7.0-magnitude quake that struck Haiti on Jan. 12.

Protection issues, especially related to children and women, are also an important concern.

"There have been, and continue to be, sizable population movements into the countryside, and we are concerned that a range of protection issues could emerge among the displaced people living outside the main area where relief operations are taking place," OHCHR spokesperson Rupert Colville told a news conference.

He added that, in addition to women and children, other groups such as single mothers, the elderly, and disabled people and the wounded may also need special attention.

"Sexual and gender-based violence was already a serious concern in Haiti prior to the earthquake, and will need careful monitoring. Enslavement of children and trafficking were also existing problems, and could easily emerge as serious issues over the coming weeks and months," he stated.

Another major problem, he said, is the loss of crucial identity and other documents allowing access to a range of State services as well those proving ownership of land and property, which could lead to major disputes and injustices when rebuilding gets under way.

Also, with tens of thousands of people killed, and an urgent need to bury their corpses, many will not be issued with death certificates in the normal fashion. "Unless systems are established to deal with this, there could be tremendous problems for people trying to claim their inheritance, and this too could lead to land and property disputes further down the line," Colville noted.

Source: Xinhua
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