Outrage over the Zimbabwean Government's forced eviction and destruction of the homes of thousands of families has rightly caused international condemnation and led to renewed calls for sanctions. But, as MRG points out, forced eviction has long been a policy of choice employed by government to deal with minorities and opposition groups, or those communities simply in the way of its development plans. Forced eviction is all too often carried out with impunity in the name of clearing 'illegal' settlements and activities, progress and development, and even national security.
Forced eviction has devastated the lives of individuals, families and whole communities and can cause massive trauma and psychological and emotional distress. It does not only takes away homes, it often leads to loss of employment or livelihood, and has major implications for economic, social and cultural rights. The examples below demonstrate how forced eviction has been used, ironically even by the UK government, in pursuit of wider policy goals or as punishment against communities or opposition groups. At an extreme level forced eviction can be judged to constitute 'deportation' or 'forcible transfer of population' which are now well established as 'crimes against humanity' under international customary law.
Elaborating on Article 11.1 (Right to adequate housing) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in General Comment No.7, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) usefully expands on the issue of "forced eviction" and its prohibition under all but exceptional circumstances as allowed by law. It states that:
The term "forced evictions" as used throughout this general comment is defined as the permanent or temporary removal against their will of individuals, families and/or communities from the homes and/or land which they occupy, without the provision of, and access to, appropriate forms of legal or other protection. The prohibition on forced evictions does not, however, apply to evictions carried out by force in accordance with the law and in conformity with the provisions of the International Covenants on Human Rights.
Elaborating further on the broader human rights implications of forced eviction, the CESCR states that:
The practice of forced evictions is widespread and affects persons in both developed and developing countries. Owing to the interrelationship and interdependency which exist among all human rights, forced evictions frequently violate other human rights. Thus, while manifestly breaching the rights enshrined in the Covenant, the practice of forced evictions may also result in violations of civil and political rights, such as the right to life, the right to security of the person, the right to non-interference with privacy, family and home and the right to the peaceful enjoyment of possessions.
In early 2005, thousands of Ogoni and members of other minority communities were evicted from their homes in a Port Harcourt shantytown. The Rivers State government and the Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC) are accused by the communities of demolishing their waterfront homes to facilitate planned oil company expansion. The community was evicted and the homes demolished without adequate notice or compensation. Some residents have suffered a second displacement since they were living in the shantytown following earlier destruction of their village homes due to military activities in Ogoni territories. Many had been resident in the shanty-town for over 10 years. Ogoni rights groups state that residents have been left to fend for themselves and have been forced to move to other shantytowns or return to villages where their future is uncertain.
The Ilois people from the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean claim their right to return to the island of Diego Garcia and for compensation for their enforced exile. The Ilois were forcibly relocated to Mauritius and the Seychelles in the 1960s and early 70s when the British government leased the island to the USA for 50 years and it was subsequently turned into a military base. Many of the islanders were left destitute and discriminated against by their removal from their homes, and had to wait for seven years before the British government granted them any financial assistance to resettle. However, the islanders took hope from a November 2000 High Court decision that declared their removal from the island illegal and granted them the right to full British citizenship, opening the way to their current international legal actions. Some have subsequently travelled to Britain only to find themselves caught in a cycle of temporary accommodation, lack of money and inability to find employment.
The Endorois Community have lived for centuries around the Lake Bogoria region of Kenya. In the 1970s, the Government of Kenya, without effectively consulting the Community, gazetted the Community's traditional lands for the purposes of creating a game reserve. The Community were told by the Government to vacate the land and were forced to move. Not only were the Community's property rights violated by the eviction, but spiritual, cultural and economic ties to the land were severed. The Endorois people's health, livelihood, religion and culture are all intimately connected with their traditional land, as grazing lands, sacred religious sites and plants used for traditional medicine are all situated around the shores of Lake Bogoria. In the creation of the game reserve, and the forced eviction of the Endorois, the Government disregarded national law, Constitutional provisions and importantly, numerous African Charter Articles, including the right to property, free disposition of natural resources, the right to religion, the right to cultural life and the right to development.
Roma communities in Europe have often been victims of forced evictions. Approximately eighty families living in different parts of Patras in Greece, for example, were subjected to forced evictions and demolition of their homes or threatened with evictions. The homes of Roma families living in Riganokampos were destroyed on 29 August 2001. Thirty-five families of Roma, who were Albanian migrants, were evicted from their homes in the same area in August 2004. Both evictions were described as 'cleaning operations'. While in the second case, two families of Roma of Greek origin, living next to the Albanian Roma, were given compensation in order to transfer their sheds to a neighbouring plot of land; no such arrangements were made with the Roma who had migrated from Albania, even though they were legal residents in Greece. Matters related to the very serious state of race relations in Patras have repeatedly been brought to the attention of the Greek authorities by domestic and international organisations.
A landmark Indian legal case regarding forced evictions was brought in Maharashtra by poor pavement and slum dwellers who were forcibly evicted from their shelters without compensation by Bombay Municipal Corporation. Under India's domestic legislation (and contrary to international human rights law), rights such as food and shelter are not considered as 'Fundamental Rights' but rather 'Directive Principles', which are not considered enforceable in the courts. However, the Indian High Court established that the eviction threatened the pavement dwellers' ability to earn even a subsistence living and therefore to feed and clothe themselves and their families and thus that adequate shelter was a necessary precondition for the fundamental right to life. It was therefore judged illegal to deprive individuals of even basic shelter without adequate compensation or restitution.
Sources of further information:
Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions