The role of soft law in Haiti’s displacement crisis

Experiences in Haiti reveal a very different set of dynamics around the role of IDP soft law, but similarly point to both the relevance and limitations of soft law standards. On 12 January 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, killed hundreds of thousands, destroyed 300,000 homes, and displaced over 1.5 million people.73 Soft law played a limited but complex role in national and international responses to the displacement crisis. While soft law tools on internal displacement, particularly the IASC Framework, reflect a predominant focus on conflict-generated displacement, and are arguably best attuned to challenges faced in rural environments, the urban, post-disaster context in Haiti raised questions about the salience of the IDP and durable solutions concepts. Key standards including the IASC Framework were not necessarily well known amongst national and international actors, and some of those familiar with the relevant soft law tools were openly sceptical about their relevance in Haiti. In contrast to Sri Lanka and the countries reviewed in section 4.2 on national laws and policies, the Haitian government did not develop an explicit national law or policy on IDPs, nor did it integrate the question of internal displacement into key documents such as the draft national housing policy. It is nonetheless important to consider the role of IDP soft law in this case, as some national and international actors did appeal to and ‘cherry-pick’ from soft law principles in an attempt to legitimize their policies and interventions. At the same time, these standards served as the foundation for external critiques of the failure to support durable solutions for uprooted Haitians. Experiences in Haiti bring into focus the limits of soft law as a tool to promote durable solutions for IDPs, and the considerable work that remains to be done to build understanding and acceptance of soft law standards, particularly as they relate to durable solutions.

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