World Habitat Day: Stopping Forced Evictions Worldwide

Tarpaulin covering the remains of a house demolished in a forced eviction, September 2011 © Nora Lindstrom

By Meghna Abraham, Head of the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Team at Amnesty International

You come home in the evening, after a long day’s work. Your children are sitting at a table, finishing their homework. Suddenly, some government officials arrive with a bulldozer to demolish your home.

You may have had a week’s notice, or a day or none at all. You did not have enough time to legally challenge the eviction or even to make a list of the belongings which you may lose.


A Big Mac or a House?

Residents of an informal settlement in Harare's suburb of Gunhill survey the burnt shells of their homes after police forcibly evicted them and set fire to their shacks in August 2010.

Apparently McDonald’s is eyeing Zimbabwe as a potential new market for its franchise restaurants. While this can be viewed as a positive step in international regard for the stability of Zimbabwe both politically and economically, I don’t think the 250 people rendered homeless last week are as optimistic.

In the early morning hours of August 25th, Zimbabwe police officers entered an informal settlement in the suburbs of Harare and gave residents 10 minutes to gather their possesssions before torching their homes. As if being woken in the middle of the night and told to get out isn’t scary enough, the police came armed with weapons and dogs. Fifty-five people, including 5 children, were detained without access to lawwyers until later that day. This is not the first time police raided this community, exhibiting a clear pattern of harassment by authorities. The families have since returned, but are living in the open, exposed to the elements with no access to shelter.

In 2005, the Zimbabwe government evicted approximately 700,000 people from homes and informal businesses. Very few received any compensation. The government built a few houses in rural areas to resettle those displaced, but the vast majority, including many of those displaced last week, continue to find shelter where they can. On the eve of World Habitat Day next month, this continuing disregard by the Zimbabwe government to respect the right to housing is deplorable. The people of Zimbabwe would like human rights to go with their fries.

Slumming it in Angola

This posting is part of our Forced Evictions in Africa Series

A woman sits in the ruins of houses destroyed in the Cambamba neighbourhoods of Luanda, Angola to make room for a luxury housing complex.

Luanda, Angola hosted World Habitat Day last year. UN Habitat’s Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka called upon President dos Santos to allocate 10% of Angola’s oil income to upgrading vital social services such as housing, plumbing, clean water and electricity and praised Angola’s stated commitment toward a slum revitalization program. Approximately 85% of Angolans live in slum conditions surrounding major cities.

In response, President dos Santos stated his government was waging “a sustained war against chaotic urbanization.” I would agree with that analysis. It certainly looks like a battleground when armed forces enter a neighborhood, raze houses, evict families and destroy their homes and belongings. Since 2001, Amnesty International has documented the forcible eviction of more than 10,000 persons from slum dwellings in Angola, often accompanied by violence including police indiscriminately firing their weapons and beating women and children. And the reason why these evictions have occurred? To facilitate urban development projects and the construction of luxury housing.

In April 2009, Angola announced the creation of a special fund to build one million houses over the next four years. That’s great. But three months later in July, three thousand families were forcibly evicted from the Luanda neighborhoods of Iraque and Bagdad, utterly demolishing homes and possessions.

“Armed police, soldiers and presidential guards arrived in both neighbourhoods at 3am on 20 July and ordered people out of their homes before bulldozers began to demolish the houses. The residents stood and watched as their homes were being demolished. Some of those who tried to stop the demolitions were beaten.”

Well, that’s a little awkward Mr. dos Santos. You say you are following up on your campaign commitment to provide housing because you are concerned about social unrest and then you have your government thugs throw families into the street in the middle of the night in winter, beating them up when they try to salvage a portion of their possessions and dignity. Seems like you might want to consider building those houses at a faster pace than the ones you are tearing down.

Help Human Rights Live in Angola. Stand Up Against Forced Evictions in Africa. Take action now.

Nigeria: Destroying Homes to Build Cinemas

This posting is part of our Forced Evictions in Africa Series

Since 2000, the Nigerian government has forcibly evicted approximately two million people from their homes throughout the country. An estimated 800,000 people have been removed from their homes in Abuja alone since 2003.

A woman resident carrying her child picks up wood from the rubble of demolished houses in the Chika area of Abuja, Nigeria, 6 December 2005.(c) George Osodi

A woman resident carrying her child picks up wood from the rubble of demolished houses in the Chika area of Abuja, Nigeria, 6 December 2005.(c) George Osodi

Do these statistics shock you? Sadly, the story doesn’t end here.

In April 2005, approximately 3,000 people lost their homes after the government sent in bulldozers to demolish houses, churches and medical clinics in the Makoko neighborhood of Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos. Between May and July 2008 forced evictions took place on an almost weekly basis in Lagos, with some communities facing their third forced eviction.

Miriam Usman, 30, gave birth in Makoko in late April 2005, only days after the bulldozers razed the community. This is what she told Amnesty:

My baby boy is four days old. I delivered him here after my house had been demolished. Only my mother was here to help me, and the boy has not seen a doctor or nurse yet. My husband [has] run away after the bulldozers came in on Thursday. Now I spend the nights in the class rooms in the school with many other families. I have no money.

As recently as August 2009, the local government in Rivers State, in the troubled region of the Niger Delta, forcibly evicted thousands of people, to make space for a cinema complex! These people have received no adequate alternative housing, and thousands more remain at risk of similar forced eviction and destitution.

In 2006, Nigeria was named one of the three worst violators of housing rights in the world by the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions. Thousands of people remain at risk of future forced evictions. The Nigeria government needs to know that we are watching and won’t stay quiet as these atrocities keep occurring.

By Juliette Rousselot, AIUSA Africa Program

Where Do Human Rights Live in Zimbabwe?

This posting is part of our Forced Evictions in Africa Series.

A seven-year-old boy cries after the destruction of his family home at Porta Farm, Harare, Zimbabwe, June 2005. © Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

Seven hundred thousand people. That is the number of people forcibly evicted from their homes and business over a three month period in 2005. This is the equivalent of bulldozing the entire city of Charlotte, North Carolina. Seem incomprehensible? Seem reprehensible? Think something should be done about it?  We think so to.

Between May and July 2005, the government of Zimbabwe orchestrated Operation Murambatsvina; a slum clearance program touted by officials as necessary to decrease rising urban populations by requiring people to return to rural areas. In reality, the purpose was to disperse members of political opposition parties and disrupt their ability to organize. Houses and informal businesses were bulldozed, leaving people with nowhere to live and no way to earn a living.

Currently, thousands of informal traders continue to face forcible eviction as the government targets vendor stalls in Harare for demolition. Unemployment in Zimbabwe remains near 90%. These market stalls provide goods at a price affordable by the populace and generate necessary income for those unable to work in the formal sector. The mayor of Harare defended these actions by claiming the stalls were a health hazard and violated city regulations.

As we continue a week commemorating World Habitat Day, Amnesty International calls upon the government of Zimbabwe to cease the harassment of informal traders, discontinue the egregious practice of forcible evictions which violate Zimbabwe’s obligations under the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and provide restitution to those it has previously displaced. Join Amnesty International in its effort to assure that Human Rights Live Here.

Africa's Human Rights Scandal

This posting is part of our Forced Evictions in Africa Series

This is how a man in Chad’s capital N’Djamena described to us the destruction of his home in February 2008:

I bought this place more than 38 years ago. On 29 February, some policemen and the people from the mayor’s office came and covered the walls in paint. They told us that we had six days to leave. When we asked them why, they said we did not have the right to ask questions because it was a state of emergency. We could not get together and talk about it among ourselves, it was forbidden. The residents took their personal belongings and left. Some of them who have money will not have any difficulty in renting another house, those without money will go to their village or to Cameroon.

Together with him, 52 other people who lived in his compound lost their home. In the whole city, tens of thousands have been made homeless by their own government.

Chadian authorities are not alone in this blatant abuse of human rights and international law. Across Africa – in what can only be described as a human rights scandal – hundreds of thousands of people each year are forcibly evicted. In many cases, this means being left homeless, losing one’s possessions without compensation and being denied access to sources of clean water, food, sanitation, livelihood or education.

Today is World Habitat Day, and many organizations like UN Habitat or Habitat for Humanity are raising awareness on issues of adequate housing and shelter. This year, Amnesty International is joining them by launching today its one year campaign to end forced evictions in Africa. We are specifically calling on the governments of Angola, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe to end the practice of forced evictions and to ensure compensation for victims. While I don’t think that hard numbers can capture the amount of human suffering that is created by forced evictions, here is a brief overview of the facts:

  • Angola: More than 10,000 families in Angola’s capital, Luanda, have been made homeless after being forcibly evicted from their homes since July 2001.
  • Chad: During the past two years, tens of thousands in Chad’s capital N’Djamena have been left homeless after being evicted by force and having had their homes demolished by the government.
  • Equatorial Guinea: About 1,000 families have been forcibly evicted from their homes to make room for roads, up-market housing and hotels and shopping centers since 2003.
  • Kenya: More than half of the capital city Nairobi’s population – two million people – live in informal settlements or slums where they have no security of tenure, putting them at risk of eviction and homelessness. 
  • Nigeria: More than two million people have been forcibly evicted from their homes in different parts of Nigeria since 2000.
  • Zimbabwe: From May to July 2005, government security forces launched Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order), a program of housing and informal business demolition that displaced approximately 700,000 people.

The phenomenon of forced evictions in Africa is a massive scandal that should be stopped immediately. As long as governments can force people from their homes without being held accountable, thousands of people remain at risk of forced evictions and of being stripped of their dignity.

PS: To see shocking satellite images of housing demolitions in Chad and Zimbabwe, check out our new Science for Human Rights website.