Hold the U.S. Accountable: IDP Human Rights Campaign

This initiative is no longer active.

In response to the devastation and displacement caused by Hurricane Katrina and further exacerbated by Hurricane Rita, USHRN initiated a broad-based campaign that called on the United States government to recognize Katrina, and then Rita, survivors as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and to devise policies and practices grounded in the spirit of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

The Hold the U.S. Accountable: Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Human Rights Campaign worked to educate the public and decision makers on the obligations of government to provide essential human rights protections to those displaced by the hurricanes including Gulf Coast residents and the diaspora communities, those community members displaced to other states.  The Campaign also supported Gulf Coast residents’ advocacy efforts demanding decision makers meet government obligations and provide protections and relief from the many abuses suffered. The campaign sought to leverage U.S. government acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the category of internal displacement within its borders, as it has in its United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Internally Displaced Persons Policy, and compliance with the spirit of the U.N. Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

In the wake of the disaster many news media and others referred erroneously to the Katrina survivors as refugees.  Influencing and changing the discourse to one that correctly identified the survivors as IDPs was a significant and lasting advancement for the U.S. human rights movement.

The 2008 UN review of U.S. government compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racism (CERD) provided an opportunity to spotlight ongoing human rights issues related to Katrina and Rita. The Network’s collective Katrina-related submissions and testimony at the UN hearings formed the basis of the Committee’s findings. During the six-hour CERD Committee hearing in Geneva, the Committee members were very concerned about prevailing human rights violations and their seemingly explicit racial underpinnings in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In its Concluding Observations, the CERD Committee stated unequivocally that concerns remain about the disparate impact that the hurricanes continued to have on low-income African American residents, many of whom were (and are still) displaced.

The Committee also recommended that the U.S. increase its efforts to facilitate the return of displaced residents or to guarantee access to affordable housing. “In particular,” the Concluding Observations stated, “the Committee calls on the [U.S. government] to ensure that every effort is made to ensure genuine consultation and participation of persons displaced by Hurricane Katrina in the design and implementation of all decisions affecting them.”

This was a remarkable achievement, considering that the Committee was inundated with more than 50 shadow reports yet recognized the crisis in the Gulf as one of preeminent concern.



hurricane katrina, housing, displacement, IDP, poverty, disaster

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