This week saw Amnesty International celebrate its 50th birthday. Events across the world marked the contribution that the organisation, supported by its three million members, has made to the human rights agenda across the world.
The Amnesty Ghana birthday celebrations saw the launch of the report ‘When we sleep, we don’t sleep’, covering the thousands of people living in informal slums in Ghana who are at risk of forced evictions.
A forced eviction occurs when people are removed from their homes without the following safeguards being in place:
· genuine consultation with those at risk of eviction
· adequate and reasonable notice of eviction
· provision of adequate alternative housing and compensation for losses
· access to legal remedies.
Forced evictions are, regrettably, a common occurrence both in Ghana and throughout our African Commonwealth neighbours. In 2009, hundreds of people were displaced by the demolition of structures along the Graphic Road in Abuja. The same year saw the progression of the Kenyan government’s campaign to forcibly evict an estimated 20,000 people from the Mau Forest Complex. In Nigeria more than two million people have been forcibly evicted from their homes since 2000.
All three countries have made international commitments to respect, protect and fulfil the right to adequate housing, and to prevent and refrain from carrying out forced evictions. However their governments are yet to implement national laws to ensure the realisation of the right to adequate housing. A pledge by the Kenyan government in 2006 to develop guidance on forced evictions is yet to materialise, and forced evictions in Nairobi continue to this day.
In Ghana, the absence of constitutional or legal provisions that would give effect to its international legal obligations in relation to the right to adequate housing and the prohibition of forced evictions provide an avenue for officials to deny that they have any responsibility towards residents in slums, claiming that they are there illegally. This lack of legal protection was confirmed in the 2002 case brought to the High Court by the residents of Old Fadama, the biggest informal settlement in Accra. The judgment stated that the Accra Metropolitan Authority, who were carrying out the evictions, were ‘under no obligation to resettle or relocate or compensate the plaintiffs in any way before evicting them from their illegal occupations.. the mere eviction of plaintiffs who are trespassers, from the land they have trespassed onto, does not in any way amount to an infringement of their rights as human beings.’
Today, 80,000 people living in Old Fadama continue to face the threat of forced eviction.
Forced evictions frequently occur as a result of a governments desire to use the land in question for development projects. Examples include the recent building of the Northern Bypass in Nairobi, which saw 3000 people forcibly evicted from the village of Githogoro, and the current redevelopment of the little-used railway line in Accra. Such projects are designed to increase prosperity by attracting investment, creating jobs, and improving infrastructure. These are welcome initiatives, but through the forced evictions that occur as part of the process, the very governments that claim to strive for improving living standards for the people instead force them deeper into poverty. The failure to provide an adequate alternative simply escalates levels of poverty as people either remain in the ruins of their homes or move to another slum. Forced evictions create problems, they do not solve them.
The governments of Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria must be held to account for their failures to comply with the ICESCR, which provides people with the right to a minimum degree of security of tenancy, whether they own their homes, rent property, or live in informal settlements. An enforceable ban on forced evictions must be legislated for, and guidelines developed to ensure those who will potentially be at risk of forced eviction as a result of government initiatives are afforded a genuine opportunity to participate in the process.
Alison Picton, Human Rights Advocacy, CHRI Africa