Forced evictions

Imagine this: You and your family are asleep in the safety of your home, when the door is smashed in without warning. Armed thugs hustle you from your house without allowing you to take any belongings. The streets are swarming with armed police, and you watch as your home is bulldozed to the ground. The same thing is happening to your neighbours, and within a short space of time, your community is a wasteland. You receive no compensation for your loss, nor any offer of relocation to another site, and you cannot take your case to court, as the entire exercise has been sanctioned by government.

Scenes like these occur every day somewhere in the world. This is the brutal reality of forced eviction – an act that destroys the hopes and homes of millions of people every year.

The single most egregious violation of housing rights is the unacceptable and often violent practice of forced evictions. Every year millions of people are forcibly evicted from their dwellings, leaving them homeless and, in the process, entrenching patterns of poverty, discrimination and social exclusion.

The major causes of forced evictions include the absence of formal tenure rights, development and infrastructure projects, foreign direct investment, urban redevelopment and “beautification” initiatives, property market forces and gentrification, large international events like the Olympic Games, absence of State support for the poor, and political conflicts and natural hazards.

International law clearly prohibits illegal and arbitrary forced eviction, and has repeatedly declared this practice to be a gross and systematic violation of human rights. Nevertheless, forced evictions continue to take place in virtually all countries of the world. In the overwhelming majority of these cases, the evicted people receive no relocation assistance or compensation, and end up even poorer than before.

The leading legal interpretation of the right to be protected against forced eviction is the General Comment 7 adopted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1997. This general comment represents the most far-reaching decision yet under international law on forced evictions and human rights, detailing what governments, landlords and institutions must do to prevent forced evictions.

For forced evictions to ever be considered as lawful, they may only occur in very “exceptional circumstances” and only if there are no feasible alternatives.  Even then, certain requirements must still be adhered to.  These include the obligation to consult with the affected persons and the requirement that forced evictions should not result in rendering individuals homeless or vulnerable to the violation of other human rights.