Approximately two million persons living in Nairobi’s informal settlements face forced evictions without notice or adequate housing alternatives. Evicted persons lose access to basic rights that not only include housing, but also water, food, and sanitation.
In the City Carton settlement in Nairobi, private companies who claimed ownership over certain lands demolished the homes of 400 families with the alleged cooperation of over 170 police officers. Amnesty International expressed concerns that the Kenyan government has neither provided enough protection for these families nor thoroughly investigated the situation.
Forced eviction is not a recent phenomenon in Nairobi. In July 2010, the Nairobi City Council demolished the homes of residents living in Kabete NITD (Native Industrial Training Department). Authorities allegedly demolished houses without official notice and without discussing relocation strategies with the community. The experience was especially difficult for the residents of Kabete because they were forcibly evicted in the winter, during a time when nights are unbearably cold. A sixty-one-year-old evictee recalls her experience: “My relatives and I were sleeping inside my house. I woke up suddenly and heard the tractor as it was demolishing everything . . . I have nowhere to go, nowhere to run to.”
As a State Party of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Kenya is held under obligations and monitoring by the UN relating to the right to housing and rights to human dignity. Under Article 11(1) of the ICESCR and Article 9(1) and 17(1) of the ICCPR, Kenya should guarantee the right to adequate housing and protection against arbitrary interference with privacy, family, and home. Under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Kenya is also obligated to respect basic human rights, including life and dignity, liberty and security, and right to property. In its concluding observations of Kenya’s periodic report, the Human Rights Committee emphasized that forced evictions interfere with privacy rights as guaranteed under Article 17 of the ICCPR.
The UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing provided countries with procedural guidelines on forced evictions. Before evictions, all development project processes must involve all of those who may be affected by the change, and “must demonstrate that the eviction is unavoidable and consistent with international human rights commitments.” Whoever will be affected by the eviction must be notified in a timely matter and given an opportunity to voice their concerns to authorities. Evictions must be carried out in a manner so that it does not violate “the dignity and human rights to life and security of those affected.” Immediately after the eviction, evictees must be provided with restitutions including compensation and alternative housing as necessary.
At the regional level, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) affirmed that forced evictions contravene the right to health, property, and state protection of the family under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In its 2012 resolution, the ACHPR urged States Parties to use eviction only as a last resort for purposes of development projects, to provide adequate eviction notices, and to supply housing in accordance with international and regional standards.
Article 43(1)(b) of Kenya’s Constitution guarantees the right to adequate housing and reasonable standards of living. In a recent High Court case on forced eviction, the Court ordered remedies relying on international standards of fundamental rights reflected in the Constitution that provides victims with an adequate legal framework to promote public participation in securing tenure. To uphold constitutional rights, Kenya has made legislative efforts in the last two years to outline the state’s role in housing, urban development, and civic participation.
Although Kenya adopted a national housing policy in 2005, non-profit organizations such as the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) have criticized the housing policy for its use of outdated institutional and legal frameworks along with its inability to provide persons with safe housing options. The government has yet to provide legal frameworks and guidelines on how to handle activities in informal settlements. Currently, the Kenyan Land Commission and civil society organizations are drafting an Evictions and Resettlement Bill, while the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development is pursuing a Slum Upgrading Policy in the Parliament. In light of such policy efforts, improvement in management of informal settlements may be attainable as long as the Kenyan government acknowledges and attempts to resolve human rights violations resulting from forced evictions and horrific conditions in the slums.