April 9, 2010
Study finds injustices most impact low-income residents and communities of color; urges revisions to federal Stafford Act to help persons displaced by natural disasters
NEW ORLEANS, LA – Today, Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) released a ground-breaking report on the failure of local, state, and federal governments to protect the rights of poor and minority Gulf Coast residents in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. The report, Un-Natural Disaster: Human Rights in the Gulf Coast, finds that “recovery” efforts in the region have often excluded people whose families have generations-deep roots in their local communities, particularly low-income communities and communities of color. It demonstrates that the basic human rights of these people—rights to adequate housing, health services, and equal access to the justice system—have been neglected by the officials who were meant to protect their interest. “The hurricanes represented a tragic moment in American history,” explained AIUSA Executive Director Larry Cox. “The comprehensive recovery program could have helped people rebuild their lives with dignity. Instead the botched recovery effort has exacerbated the discrimination and inequality present in many Gulf Coast communities.”
The report documents how several factors, including bureaucracy, opportunism, and lack of leadership and accountability contributed to the human rights crisis that persists in the region. It also faults federal law, especially the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which guides federal disaster response, for failing to guide a robust recovery and rebuilding effort. “In the absence of federal leadership, ad-hoc local efforts have further marginalized those who are least able to bear the costs of reconstruction and relocation,” Cox said. “The Stafford Act must be revised to bring it in line with international law and standards, particularly the U.N. Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.”
The report makes specific proposals to improve federal response when a significant percent of a population is displaced, and to protect the rights of displaced people to access education, healthcare, housing, food, vocational training, and other public services.
The release of the report coincides with AIUSA’s annual general meeting, All Rights for All People, which this year is being held in New Orleans from April 9 – 11. The conference highlights AIUSA’s new global campaign against human rights abuses that keep people in poverty, Demand Dignity.
For more information on human rights in the Gulf Coast and to read the report, please visit http://www.amnestyusa.org/katrina