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  Defending and Advancing the Human Right to a Healthy Environment
Protecting the Human Right to Return with Dignity & Justice After Hurricane Katrina

Protecting the Human Right to Return with Dignity & Justice After Hurricane Katrina
•Human Rights Abuses Against Gulf Coast Residents
•US Disaster Response Law vs. Human Rights Standards
•Human Rights Reform of Governmental Response to Disasters
•A Look at US Government Support for the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement
•UN Committee Calls on US Government to Protect Human Rights in Gulf Coast Recovery


Human Rights Reform of Governmental Response to Disasters
Through rallies, civil protests, and litigation, displaced people from the Gulf Coast are demanding their right to return to their homes and communities. This right is recognized by the United Nations, which established the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement for the purpose of urging national governments to protect the human rights of people who remain in their country, but are forced to flee their communities due to a natural or man-made disaster. The Guiding Principles are the most comprehensive standard for protecting the human rights of all U.S. residents displaced by a disaster.  (Click here to view the Guiding Principles.)
The Guiding Principles identify rights and guarantees to:

  • protect and assist people during displacement
  • provide the necessary means for people to return or resettle 
  • avoid or at least mitigate the conditions that can cause people to become displaced by a natural or man-made disaster
 The UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement must become the standard for governmental responses to disasters. 


Find out what Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Barack Obama, and John Edwards think about a federal law that is based on the United Nations' Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Advocates for Environmental Human Rights (ďAEHRĒ) provided the legal analysis, which compares the Robert T. Stafford Act to the UN Guiding Principles, as well as suggested the question posed to the Democratic presidential candidates.

Debate Question: Would you support a federal law guaranteeing the right to return to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that is based on the United Nationsí Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement?

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: I have proposed a 10-point Gulf Coast Recovery Agenda, because itís sort of as a chicken and an egg issue. First, weíve got to get the hospitals back up. Weíve got to get the law enforcement and the fire departments -- you know, right now this administration has basically neglected with almost criminal indifference the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast, in particular New Orleans and the parishes. So even if we were to give people a right, there is nothing to return to. We have got to rebuild New Orleans, and itís not only the protection from the levees, it is all the infrastructure. And until very recently, the administration would not give the people of New Orleans the same right we had after 9/11, which was to get FEMA money without a 10 percent match. And we finally got that changed, but it was outrageous that it took so long.

MR. JOHN EDWARDS: As many of you know, I announced my presidential campaign from the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. I think we took 700 college kids down to help rebuild who gave up their spring break to work with me and others to help rebuild New Orleans. Iím proud of those kids. We have a huge responsibility. As president, I would make one person -- a very high-level, competent person in the White House -- responsible for reporting to me every day on what he did in New Orleans yesterday -- and then Iíll say the next day: What did you do yesterday? And what we should do is allow the people of New Orleans to rebuild their own city. We ought to pay them a decent wage, give them health care coverage, instead of having big multinational corporations get billion-dollar contracts with the government.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, let me finish Johnís thought because itís an important one. Halliburton or Bechtel or these other operations getting the contracts to rebuild instead of giving the people in New Orleans the opportunity to rebuild and get jobs and training is a further compounding of the outrage. I think that whatís most important, though, that we have a president who is in touch with the needs of New Orleans before the hurricane hits, because part of the reason that we had such a tragedy was the assumption that everybody could jump in their SUVs, load up with some sparkling water and check into the nearest hotel. And weíve got to have one person in charge. Weíve got to have a FEMA director thatís reporting to the president, but we have to have a president who understands the reality that people in New Orleans were being neglected prior to the hurricane. And there are potential Katrinas all across this country that have been left unattended.

Excerpted from the official transcript of the July 28, 2007 PBS televised Democratic Presidential Debate, moderated by Tavis Smiley.

Advocates for Environmental Human Rights

832 Topaz Street
New Orleans, Louisiana 70124-3628
Tel. 504.799.3060
Fax 504.799.3061

Campaign & Policy Office:
1730 M Street, NW, Suite 412
Washington, DC 20036
Tel. 202-775-0055
Fax 202-293-7110

Monique Harden
Co-Director & Attorney

Nathalie Walker
Co-Director & Attorney

Michele Roberts
Campaign & Policy Coordinator