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Rights groups condemn failure to protect Katrina victims

[JURIST] US and international human rights groups Tuesday condemned the failure of authorities to protect victims of Hurricane Katrina [JURIST news archive] who were left for days without relief in increasingly desperate conditions in New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf Coast area. The US Human Rights Network [advocacy website] urged in a statement that the rights of the hundreds of thousands of Hurricane evacuees - in legal terms, not refugees [Wikipedia backgrounder] forced out of their own country by persecution, but rather "internally displaced persons" (IDPs) forced from their homes inside a country - be fully respected according to the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement [text]. Under the principles, rather more focused on the particular needs and conditions of IDPs than the general legal rights the Hurricane victims continue to hold as US citizens,

Humanitarian assistance must be given without discrimination of any kind and internally displaced people must be assured of their right to security and life, family reunification, medical services, essential food and potable water, basic shelter and housing, education, appropriate clothing, and essential medical services and sanitation. Additionally, authorities must, where possible, ensure that internally displaced persons are able to voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, return to their homes or places of habitual residence, or to resettle voluntarily in another part of the country. Finally,...authorities [must] respect the fundamental right to participation of victims in the decision-making processes and design of relief and resettlement efforts.
Read the full US Human Rights Network press release. Meanwhile Amnesty International [advocacy website] Tuesday similarly pointed to "the authorities’ failure to ensure that basic human rights such as adequate shelter, water, food and medical attention were provided to the degree and speed required in the immediate aftermath of the disaster", and expressed particular concern "that thousands left trapped in a convention center and other locations were preyed on by armed gangs, and risked being shot, knifed or raped." At the same time Amnesty cautioned against any "disproportionate and unlawful use of lethal force" that might be used against "unarmed individuals described as 'looters', some of whom may be trying to seek supplies to survive in the absence of aid." Read the AI press release.

Should the Katrina evacuees be recognized as having a special legal status, or do you agree with President Bush that it's enough that they're US citizens? E-mail us at JURIST@law.pitt.edu.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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