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After The Tsunami: Human Rights of Vulnerable Populations

  • Author(s): Fletcher, Laurel;
  • Stover, Eric;
  • Weinstein, Harvey
  • et al.

The tsunami of December 26, 2004 devastated thousands of communities along the coastline of the Indian Ocean. More than 240,000 people were killed, with tens of thousands missing and presumed dead, and more than a million people displaced. Immediately following the tsunami, international aid agencies feared that human traffickers might seize the opportunity to compel those most vulnerable (women, children, and migrant workers) into situations of forced labor. Fortunately, few incidents of trafficking were reported, although other human rights problems, including arbitrary arrests, recruitment of children into fighting forces, discrimination in aid distribution, enforced relocation, sexual and gender-based violence, loss of documentation, as well as issues of restitution, and land and property tenure soon emerged in certain tsunami-affected areas.

This report presents the findings of a survey conducted by the Human Rights Center and East-West Center at the University of California, Berkeley. Focusing on five countries hardest hit by the disaster—India, Indonesia, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Thailand—teams of researchers interviewed hundreds of survivors and key informants in March and April 2005 using a semi-structured questionnaire. The objectives of the survey were to assess the nature and extent of pre-existing human rights problems and their impact on vulnerable groups prior to the tsunami; investigate violations of human rights in the post-tsunami period; examine the response of governments and aid agencies to reports of human rights abuses; and identify human rights violations that likely may develop or persist during the reconstruction phase.

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