When Push Comes to Shove. Forced Eviction and Human Rights
Date: 1 January, 1995
Whether labelled as evictions, displacements, resettlements or removals, this practice continues to exist, in one form or another, within all countries. Some states are clearly more affected than others. In regional terms, the practice of forced removals appears to be most prevalent within the Asian contextaffecting at least seven million Asian citizens during the 1980s alone. While perhaps more severe in Asia, the global nature of evictions can neither be ignored nor denied. Indeed, the political and economic systems governing a country are central determinants in the extent to which evictions are sanctioned, tolerated or prohibited. Though certainly not always the case, the greater degree of democratically-oriented, popularly-based participation in all aspects of the development and housing process and the decree to which communities are politically organized (or are allowed by the state to organize), the lesser the likelihood that evictions will be carried out on a large-scale. Similarly, governments which accept and decidedly act upon their legal responsibilities under human rights law to house their citizens tend on the whole to less frequently function as proponents of mass forced evictions. Wherever they are carried out, forced evictions continue to be an unpopular measure, and a subsequent threat to elected governments when, and if, elections are to be held. Generally, forced evictions are rarely carried out immediately preceding elections, due precisely to their unpopularity.
Although a global phenomenon, the modalities of eviction differ widely between regions, states, cities, communities and households. The form that evictions take and the justifications supporting these vary widely from one setting to another. In some countries mass forced evictions are not uncommon, whereas in others, individual households are those chiefly affected. Despite these and other distinctions, several common themes are also evident. The most pressing is the fact that the poorest sectors of society are far and above the most frequent victim of this human rights violation; that is, the social group already disproportionately denied other correlative rights related to an adequate standard of living.
International law is relevant to and has addressed forced evictions in a broad number of contexts. There exists a clear and inherent relationship between housing rights and forced evictions. Likewise, a wide variety of additional civil and political rights such as the right to freedom of movement, freedom to choose ones residence, the right to privacy and others are linked to the issues surrounding this practice. Although international perceptions of the right to property also vary widely, the fact remains that this right all too often acts as a tool in encouraging eviction, rather than as a means for protecting the rights of evictees to property. Those unable to exercise their right to property due to low incomes, often suffer from forced eviction as wealthier sectors exercise their rights to property. As was shown, the law can as easily be used to sanction an eviction as it can be used as a tool preventing this practice.
This report has revealed that although substantial legal protection does exist within human rights law at all levels, it remains insufficient for dealing adequately with the problems at hand. A series of recommendations were thus provided, giving an indication of the types of changes which may be required for protection against forced eviction to gain the legal power necessary for halting this global scourge. None of the recommendations offered should be viewed as utopian or wholly unrealistic. An attempt has been made to provide suggestions which are both attainable and necessary. It will be the absence of political will as opposed to a lack of legal clarity that will be responsible should these options for action not be implemented with adequate resolve and seriousness.
Finally, we have seen that the majority of information available about both evictions and housing rights is unknown outside of the country in which it occurs. Enhanced international attention and more widely available research on the legal implications of forced eviction should be pursued. As such, this study has exhibited several of the many possible areas where future research could be carried out in the quest of enhancing awareness about and comprehension of the universal reality of evictions, housing rights and the law. An increasing amount of research is being devoted to this theme, however a great deal remains to be done, both at the micro and macro-levels.
Like so many events in the post-Cold War, conflict-laden world, the carrying out of forced evictions is an issue invariably linked to the misuse of power; the strength of the powerful and the victimization of the weak. Granted, there are instances in which an eviction might be justified or reasonable, even in a human rights framework. Without doubt however, the overwhelming majority of evictions not only lead to greater social injustice but amount to gross and systematic violations of fundamental internationally recognized human rights. The day to make evictions a real part of past history has surely arrived.
The text includes eight recommendations for international measures of eviction prevention aim to create a framework for future legal initiatives concerning forced evictions at the global level, by governments, NGO’s and international organizations. These options should not, of course, create the illusion that these measures alone will halt the immensely powerful process of eviction. We can surmise, however, that without these and other means of restricting the practice, the insidious nature of forced eviction will continue to haunt the tens of millions of persons throughout the world who are currently threatened by this act. International law has developed rapidly in the past several years in addressing evictions, but the time for complacency has certainly.
1. Introduction: definition and examples
2. Modalities of the eviction process
3. Human rights law and forced evictions
4. Perspectives on the illegality of forced evictions: United Nations and European Commission and Court on Human Rights
5. Deterrents to forced evictions
6. International measures for eviction avoidance
- Sources of housing rights in international law
- Examples of recent mass forced evictions
- UN Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1993/77
- Selected literature on forced evictions
Available from COHRE: www.cohre.org