Struggling against Impunity – The Annual Report of Findings from the HIC-HLRN Violation Database, 2012


Struggling against Impunity

The Annual Report of Findings from the
HIC-HLRN Violation Database, 2012

By the time that
the UN Commission on Human Rights convened its 67th meeting in 1993, it already
had considered numerous cases of forced eviction and their economic, social and
cultural consequences. Considering the causes and effects of forced eviction, the
Commission based its deliberations on the already-codified human right to
adequate housing in current human rights treaties, in particular the
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (Article 11).

Two years before, in 1991, the treaty body monitoring that Covenant,
the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), had specified
the normative content of the human right to adequate housing and the
corresponding State obligations arising from it (General Comment No. 4). With
that legal framework and ample reports and testimonies of the consequences of
forced evictions arbitrarily carried out at varying scales and in every region,
the Commission adopted resolution 1993/77 by acclamation, affirming that:

“the practice of forced evictions constitutes a gross violations of
human rights, in particular the right to adequate housing”

In this annual
report on the violations of the right to adequate housing registered in its
Violation Database (VDB), the Habitat International Coalition’s Housing and
Land Rights Network has recorded 289 major violations of housing and land
rights around the globe over 2009
12. That averages one entry every five days.
While many of these cases involve multiple and ongoing violations, including
forced eviction, the number of actual instances is actually much higher.

The Numbers
Since the VDB
captures four types of violations (forced eviction, demolition / destruction, dispossession / confiscation
and violations arising from privatization), many of the entered cases involve a
combination of these.  Of all cases in the
12 review period, at least 198 involved multiple forced evictions. Over
half (156 cases) also involved demolition or other destruction of homes and
lands, while arbitrary dispossession/confiscation characterized 122 cases
during the period. 

Due to the
continuing lack of reliable data resulting from most monitoring and
documentation of such cases, we cannot report with any confidence to number of
human victims or the volume of economic, social and cultural losses as a
result. However, the few reports from monitors that address such consequences
reveal that these major housing and land rights violations have affected at
least 51,486,712 persons. Of
these, at least 18,488,825 persons were subjected to direct forced evictions.

These figures
are not exhaustive. Would that the quality of monitoring and documentation
record the actual human and other material consequences in all cases, the global
numbers may be far larger, and the lost values/costs/damages would be

The lack of
sufficient documentation and precise numbers does not diminish the suffering and
loss of those human persons subject to forced eviction, dispossession,
destruction and violations arising from privatization of habitat goods and
services. Indeed, the want of sufficient documentation of such evidence remains
a major challenge in determining the level of remedy and reparations to which
victims of gross violations of human rights and grave breaches of international
humanitarian law (IHL) are entitles.[1]

No shortcoming
in the precision as to the level and types of entitled remedies deflects from
the liability of perpetrators—and primarily States—to effect reparations for
persons and communities who have endured harm from these abuses. However, the
paucity of such data to establish corresponding liabilities constitutes a call
for monitors to redouble efforts and develop their methods to determine accountability
and substantiate the logic of sweeping claims that forced eviction and dispossession
deepen poverty.

Cases Unresolved
It is remarkable
also that, despite the legal finding that such violations constitute “gross
violations,” no single case recorded in the
VDB has resulted in
accountability of the perpetrators for their violations. This is dramatically
evident whether these are supposedly development-based evictions such as the Bois des Singes
district evictions in Yaoundé, Cameroon (June 2010) and forced eviction in a road-widening
in The Philippines (March 2010).

Demolitions caused the most social conflict and public discontent
in Chinese society in 2010.[2]
Of 180,000 recently studied incidents of mass protest in China, some 65% are
attributed to grievances over the policy and practice of eviction, both urban
and rural, for “development.”[3]
Notable examples include the December 2011 protests in the village of
Wukan, Guangdong
Province, which resulted in the temporary expulsion of Communist Party
authorities. That resistance trend has led to the promulgation of a new law to
mitigate these violations, which comes into force this year.[4]

Impunity has
prevailed, too, in the many cases of land
grabs that have
deprived small producers of their livelihoods. These cases range from massive land grabbing by
corrupt officials in Afghanistan to the
combined evictions, village demolitions and land dispossession by Israeli
forces in the West Bank and the Naqab (southern Israel).

Situations of conflict, occupation and war involved large-scale
eviction of civilians as seen
during and after Operation Moshtarak to
“pacify” rebel infiltrated Helmand Province in Afghanistan, the Jewish settler-colonists
bulldozing Palestinian lands
in Sa`ir village, north of al-Khalil (Hebron)
in the occupied West Bank (July 2011),
and the gratuitous
violence of
Jumma villages burnt by army
and settlers
in the Chittagong
Hill Tracts of Bangladesh (February 2010).

Urban and suburban evictions have dominated in the number of
victims during the review period. These have involved localized contexts such
as the “
beautification” of the City of Baku in advance of this
year’s EuroVision contest.

Meanwhile, the effects of the mortgage meltdown and subprime
mortgage lending crisis
have defied attempts to provide precise
numbers of victims. However, the total of evicted persons through foreclosure
has reached into the millions, with some 8.3 million children currently
affected by homelessness in the ongoing crisis in the United States. While some
foreclosure assistance measures are in place and law suits are pending, until
this writing no responsible party has been held accountable for the policies,
practices and resulting national debt burden that have accompanied this massive
form of nation-wide eviction.

The Spanish property
bubble burst during this period, too. The massive growth of real estate price speculation
from 1985 to 2008 almost tripled prices. When the speculative bubble popped,
Spain and its citizens were among the worst affected, leaving a massive
real-estate debt, bank bail-outs and austerity that harms the most vulnerable.
No banking official, financial institution or policy maker has been held
accountable for the consequences of their causative actions.

review period opened also with the dramatic case of mass displacement, partial
or fully destruction of 11,135 homes, 209 industrial premises, 724 commercial
establishments and 6,271 dunams (627.1 hectares) of agricultural land by
Israel’s war on the
Gaza Strip
(27 December 2008–19 January 2009). Despite ample
documentation, most notably in the United Nation Fact Finding Mission on the
Gaza Conflict
(A/HRC/12/48, 24 September 2009), and dismissing the
international calls for accountability, the international community, the Fourth
Geneva Convention depositary government and the International Criminal Court,
within his authority, have failed to pursue legally the war crimes and crimes
against humanity committed in Gaza.

Such crimes remain without statute of limitations, as do the forced
eviction and population transfer carried out against the people of Palestine in
1948. Impunity prevails for those crimes despite their prohibition in the Allied
Declaration on German War Crimes (1942), their adjudication in the Nuremberg
Tribunal (1945–46) and their codification in the Rome Statute on the
International Criminal Court.

Pursuing Justice
Certain other cases
found in the VDB exemplify the monitoring and documentation required to make
the case, and illustrate the issues involved and values at stake in reparations
for victims.

On 2324 March
2011, in India, Delhi Development Authority (DDA) authored a large-scale
demolition of some 1,000 homes in Baljeet Nagar. The
illegal operation involved five bulldozers and hundreds of armed Delhi police
officers dispossessing over 4,000 residents. A group of housing rights
organizations, including HLRN, entreated the Delhi High Court to halt further
illegal evictions and demolitions. However, the perpetrators have not been
brought to justice, nor has reparation been made for the victims, despite the
meticulous record and quantification of the consequences.

A case in Kenya
involved the involuntary eviction of the century-old Muthurwa Estates by
using bulldozers to flatten the housing blocks of residents, destroying also
their sanitary and cooking facilities. The authors of the violent October 2010 eviction
were officials of the Kenya Railways Staff Retirement Benefits Scheme and Rift
Valley Railways Ltd., who sought to use the land for investment in a
development project.

Petitioners in the
public interest have sued successfully in civil court to end the eviction and
demolition and seek alternative housing for the residents, while Mazingira
Institute has quantified the losses, costs and damages that the affected
persons have incurred. Even though this case has been well documented and the
eviction has been found illegal, the perpetrators have not yet held criminally
liable for their actions.

families, their defenders and a public prosecutor sought justice and
accountability in the destruction of the informal neighborhood of Duwayqa in east Cairo,
Egypt. There a predictable rockslide had destroyed some 97 homes and an untold
number of lives in September 2008, when drainage from the planned settlement
above finally eroded the cliff to create the disaster. A Cairo court sentenced
the vice-governor of Cairo to five years in prison, and seven other Cairo
Governorate officials to three years’ imprisonment for negligent homicide of
the Duwayqa residents. Freed on bail, two were acquitted and the rest received reduced
sentences on appeal. Meanwhile, the discrimination that lies at the root of
Cairo’s “unsafe areas” remains insufficiently

Throughout the
review period of 2009
12, the 289 violations recorded in the Violation Database reveal
gross violations that constitute crime, the elements of which include great
material and moral loss and deep suffering. In their most-dramatic examples,
these violations also constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes, when
carried out in the context of occupation and conflict. Quantifying the
dimensions of these gross violations and crimes, the documentary effort forms just
one measure to establish accountability. However, despite the norms developed
in international human rights and humanitarian law, the practice of forced
eviction, dispossession and destruction are characterized by the impunity of
those who continue to order them and carry them out. On this World Habitat Day
(World Housing and Land Rights Day), we renew the call to justice for the
violations, including reparations for their victims. In doing so, we also renew
the struggle against impunity.

[1] UN General Assembly, Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right
to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International
Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law, 16
December 2005, A/RES/60/147.

[2] “Demolitions cause most social unrest,” China
(27 June 2011), at:

[3] Elizabeth C. Economy, “A Land Grab Epidemic: China’s Wonderful
World of Wukans,” Council on Foreign Relations, 7 February 2012, at:

[4] Chris Hogg, “China law to limit home
demolitions and evictions,” BBC News (1 July 2011), at:

© 2012 Housing and Land Rights Network –
Habitat International Coalition
12 Tiba Street, 2nd
Floor, Muhandisin, Giza, Egypt
Tel/Fax: +20 (0)2 37486379 Email:

Photo: A woman
holding her daughter in Manaus, Brazil, trying to resist the forced eviction of
her people.
Source: Luiz Vasconcelos

To download the report in pdf, please click here.