'The first thing I heard were the screams. I took my girl and ran out of the house. It was 4am. I didn't have time to cover myself or my child... We couldn't go back because they had machetes and sticks and we were scared.' Minicah, Nairobi
What is a forced eviction?
It's the removal of people from their homes or the land they occupy against their will, done without allowing them the legal protections and safeguards they're entitled to under international human rights laws.
More often than not, governments and regional or local authorities are behind the crime, and it's the poorest or most marginalised members of society who are left homeless.
Forced evictions are often violent– as their name suggests – with bulldozers, batons and teargas used to move residents from their homes. Evictors often ambush residents in the middle of the night or clear land during the day, when residents aren't there.
Where are they happening?
Forced evictions take place all over the world.
Communities are often in the name of development or regeneration. Building roads, railways or even tourist resorts are common reasons given for forcibly evicting people from their homes.
Who's at risk?
For the most part, people lacking security of tenure.
This means that they don't have the right to own or occupy the land they live on, under the law.
It can apply to whole communities, like the 7,000 residents of Deep Sea in Nairobi, Kenya - as well as individuals without official documentation giving them a right to the land (they could be migrants, asylum seekers, people marginalised from society, uneducated and unaware of their rights).
Housing is a human right
Governments have a duty to respect, protect and fulfil a right to adequate housing for people living in their country, if they have signed up to fulfil international human rights laws. If a private corporation carries out a forced eviction, it's the state's duty to protect its citizens and stop the eviction from going ahead.
- 'Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing' - Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 25.1
- 'the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing' - UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Article 11.1
There are regional human rights standards that safeguard a right to adequate housing, too. Most European countries have signed up to the European Social Charter, which stipulates that states must go through 'procedures to limit forced eviction' as well as providing adequate housing and preventing homelessness.
African countries that have signed up to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights must also 'refrain from and prevent forced evictions, including by private actors'. For example, since Kenya has signed this treaty, the Deep Sea community in Nairobi should be protected by it. But they're not. And the Kenyan government is at fault for not stepping in to make sure they are.
When is an eviction a human rights abuse?
The first thing to note is that not every eviction is a human rights violation. There are clear guidelines in human rights laws that set out the steps that authorities must take if they intend to move people from a piece of land against the residents' will. If these guidelines are followed and the people affected have been given suitable legal protection, as a last resort the authorities may evict them - and it's legal.
We focus on the cases where evictions aren't legal, where human rights law - at both international and national levels - have not been followed.
Legal requirements for authorities carrying out evictions
If you're a state authority planning to evict some residents against their will, here's what you are obliged to do before you can move them from the land they're living on:
- Genuinely consult with the community at risk of eviction.
- Give them reasonable notice.
- Make your plans for the land transparent and clearly known to all affected.
- Provide alternative housing for evictees.
- Give them adequate legal support, possibly compensation, access to legal aid for those who need it.
- Ensure no one will be vulnerable to human rights abuses as a result of your eviction.
If you've followed these guidelines, you can now evict residents - who will have been made aware of your plans in advance and fed into them during consultation. They will have suitable alternative housing and access to legal support - that you've provided, if necessary - with opportunity to claim compensation for land, possession, livelihood compensation, and will not be at risk of suffering human rights abuses after you've claimed the land. Well done, you are a model landowner! The problem is, there aren't many of you.
What we're doing to stop forced evictions
- We research and monitor communities where there are reports of forced evictions
- We pressure authorities to stop forcibly evicting residents, or hold companies that are doing so to account
- We send 'rapid response' alerts to activists as soon as we hear a forced eviction is due to take place
- We run long-term campaigns with communities at continued risk of forced eviction - like the Deep Sea community, or Port Harcourt in Nigeria
- We help communities know their rights when it comes to human rights and housing rights.
- A brief guide to forced evictions