Haiti’s Right to Housing

Property in Haiti’s Legal History

Haitians have a legal right to adequate housing that is currently being violated.

Code Civil d’Haiti

The Haitian Civil Code of 1825 recognizes the rights of both public and private property ownership. Its provisions are based on the French Civil Code of 1806 and 1825, making it similar to Louisiana’s civil code; however, unlike Louisiana’s, Haiti’s has not undergone any serious revision. It divides property into three classifications: common, public, and private. Ownership is defined as the right of “use, enjoyment, and disposition” of property. As much as 2/3rds of current Haitian territory could currently be “public” – or owned by the state – but a lack of proper documentation makes certainty in this realm impossible. This lack of documentation has been a huge barrier to the Haitian’s government ability to expropriate land for emergency purposes. 

Code Rural

The “Code Rural” of 1826 was abolished in 1843 and replaced by a new version in 1864, but it is infrequently applied. This infrequency is strange in light of the fact that as of the mid-1900s, 85% of the Haitian population lived in rural areas, and that today the majority of citizens continue to be rural; however, the extralegal Lakou system may explain this discrepancy.

Traditionally, Haitian law has been very slow and reticent to respond to the shifting pressures of a modernizing, globalizing economy, placing modifications within existing frameworks rather than making radical changes. In the past, the Haitian Legal System has generally turned to French law and French writers of the 19th century to inspire its own relationship to the law, but recently the system has begun looking more to Common Law systems, such as that of the United States, as role models for Haiti’s judicial reform.

Moskowitz, Zoe. 2004. "Read My Lips!" From: Kramer, Sasha. 2005. "Shredding Haiti's Constitution: UN Betrayal in Port au Prince." HaitiAction.net. Accessed April 2012.

La Constitution de la République de Haiti, 29 mars 1987

“Article 22: L’État reconnaît le droit de tout citoyen à un logement décent, à l’éducation, à l’alimentation et à la sécurité sociale” (Constitution de la République de Haiti 1987)

The Republic of Haiti’s 1987 Constitution recognizes “the right of all citizens to a decent lodging.” It also states that “Ownership entails obligations. Uses of property cannot be contrary to the general interest,” a clause that could be used against the current practice of forced evictions occurring in IDP camps (Article 36-3). Unfortunately, these laws are not being enforced by the Haitian government.

Further property rights guaranteed by the 1987 Constitution include the following:

  • ARTICLE 36:Private property is recognized and guaranteed. The law specifies the manner of acquiring and enjoying it, and the limits placed upon it.
  • ARTICLE 36-1:Expropriation for a public purpose may be effected only by payment or deposit ordered by a court in favor of the person entitled thereto, of fair compensation established in advance by an expert evaluation.
  • ARTICLE 36-2:Nationalization and confiscation of goods, property and buildings for political reasons are forbidden. No one may be deprived of his legitimate right of ownership other than by a final judgment by a court of ordinary law, except under an agrarian reform.
  • ARTICLE 37:The law shall set conditions for land division and aggregation in terms of a territorial management plan and the well-being of the communities concerned, within the framework of agrarian reform.
  • ARTICLE 39:The inhabitants of the Communal Sections have the right of preemption for the exploitation of the State’s land in the private domain located in their locality.

Although the law clearly states that confiscating property for “political reasons” is forbidden, this is arguably exactly was is currently happening in Haiti’s IDP camps. As 2013 nears and squatters’ rights come into effect in IDP camps, internally displaced persons will gain greater legal ability to invoke these articles when defending their housing rights (See sections under “Haiti Today” for more detailed analyses).

Multiple International agreements also recognize the human right to housing, including Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “[e]veryone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care. . .” Haiti is party to international agreements such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and the Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons (CRDP), all of which guarantee the human right to housing. If the Haitian government does not comply with the stipulations of these agreements, international courts could step in.

Haitians Invoke their Right to Housing

On the second anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, a protestor's sign reads, "If there is land for factories, there should be land for housing." Photo by Ben Depp. www.bendep.com. Retrieved from Erkert, Alexis. Other Worlds. Accessed April 2012.

Projects such as the Housing Rights Advocacy Project (HRAP) attempt to invoke this right to housing to pressure the government to both stop forced evictions and develop housing for the over 500,000 people who remain internally displaced within Haiti. The following video was presented at a hearing for forced evictions organized by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in October 2010. The presentation won, and this commission ordered that the Haitian government stop all forced evictions immediately. Nevertheless, forced evictions and suspicious IDP camp arsons continue today in 2012.

Unlawful Forced Evictions from Haiti’s Displacement Camps 

The Right-to-Housing Collective, made up of over 30 Haitian organizations, grassroots groups and displacement camp associations, has made the following demands:

“We, organizations of survivors living in internally displaced persons’ [IDP] camps, as well as social and grassroots organizations, state:

  • The government must define a land use policy for the country;
  • The Parliament must draft and vote on a law to guarantee the right to housing;
  • The government must look for and acquire land though expropriation [eminent domain] so that there is sufficient space to respond to the housing needs of the population;
  • Women, children and the disabled, and the population in general must participate in decision-making regarding housing;
  • All neighborhoods should be places where people can live in dignity and security.

We resolve to remain mobilized in the struggle to change our society and our government. We resolve to regain the sovereignty of our country to construct a society in which we can enjoy guaranteed access to housing and all our fundamental rights. ”

These demands, which echo a desire for housing rights that Haitians technically already have, reveals that despite the fact that Haiti’s constitution guarantees these rights, they are not being recognized on the ground. The Haitian legislature must pass concrete laws that make efforts to actualize this right, specifically in relation to the IDP camp situation, to ensure that Article 22 becomes a reality.

Works Consulted

Borno, Louis. 1892. Code civil d’Haiti: annoté, avec une conférence des articles entre eux et leur correspondence avec les articles du Code civil français, précédé de la constitution du 9 Octobre 1889, et suivi d’un appendice contenant les principales lois ayant trait au code civil d’Haiti. Digital Library of the Caribbean. Accessed April 2012. http://www.dloc.com/IR00000115/00001?search=civil+=code

Dubois, Laurent. Haiti: The Aftershocks of History. New York: Metropolitan, 2012.Google Books. Accessed April 2012. http://books.google.com/books?id=drU3HlesN5kC&printsec=frontcover&dq=haiti+the+aftershocks+of+history&hl=en&sa=X&ei=ZU6fT4nvHpOm8gSi4sSPAQ&ved=0CDAQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=haiti%20the%20aftershocks%20of%20history&f=false

Erkert, Alexis. 19 Jan 2012. “Two years after the earthquake in Haiti, ‘Housing is our battle.'” Other Worlds. Accessed April 2012. http://www.otherworldsarepossible.org/another-haiti-possible/two-years-after-earthquake-haiti-housing-our-battle

Florén-Romero, Marisol. 2012. “Haiti.” Legal Guide prepared by Marisol Florén-Romero, Ph.D., Foreign and International Law Librarian, FIU College of Law. Email. Accessed April 2012.

“Haiti: The Right to Housing.” 08 June 2011. Pambazuka News. Accessed April 2012. http://pambazuka.org/en/category/features/73904

Republic of Haiti. 1987 Constitution of the Republic of Haiti. Political Database of the Americas. Last Updated 9 July 2011. Accessed April 2012. http://pdba.georgetown.edu/constitutions/haiti/haiti1987.html

Riddick, Winston. 2010. “Haitian Immovable Property Law Obstacle for Development.” Originally Presented at the Judge Allen M. Babineaux International Civil Law Symposium, the 20th Anniversary International Civil Law Symposium, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, July 25, 2010—July 29, 2010. Haitian Resource Development Foundation. Accessed April 2012. http://www.hrdf.org/Professor-Winston-Riddick-Law-Corner/haitian-immovable-property-lawobsticle-for-development.html

Universal Periodic Review: Human Rights Council. Oct 2011. “Republic of Haiti: Right to Housing.” Submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review. Accessed April 2012. http://ijdh.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Haiti-UPR-Housing-Report-Final-English.pdf

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