Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Human Settlements Issues in Zimbabwe is visiting the country this week to assess the scope and extent of the recent mass evictions, known as Operation Murambatsvina (Operation Restore Order), which according to unofficial estimates, has affected over 200,000 people. Mrs. Tibaijuka, who is expected to meet President Robert Mugabe during her visit, arrived in Harare on Sunday and was met by representatives of the Zimbabwean government and Mr. Agostinho Zacarias, the UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator.
Mrs. Tibaijuka, who is Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, has also been asked to assess the adequacy of the Government’s arrangements for the displaced and its capacity, and those of the humanitarian community, to address the basic needs of the affected population.
According to newspaper reports, President Mugabe has welcomed the arrival of the Special Envoy saying that it will enable the world body to understand and appreciate the spirit behind the operation. Newspaper reports also announced that Operation Murambatsvina would wind down and be replaced by a new one known as Operation Garikai under which the government aims to provide residential and business accommodation to deserving people under a comprehensive reconstruction programme.
Speaking to journalists on arrival at Harare airport, Mrs. Tibaijuka said that she was in Zimbabwe as a result of a mutual agreement between the Secretary-General and the President of Zimbabwe. She stated that she expected to meet representatives of all sides, including those evicted, before presenting her report.
Mrs. Tibaijuka is accompanied by a team of eight. It includes Alioune Badiane, the Director of UN-HABITAT’s regional office for Africa and the Arab States, Nicholas You, Special Adviser to the Executive Director on Strategic Planning, Sandra Baffoe-Bonnie, who is a human settlement’s legal affairs officer; Sharad Shankardass, spokesperson, and her personal assistant, Nelly Kangethe. The UN-HABITAT team has been joined by Mari Yamashita, political affairs officer in the UN’s Department of Political Affairs in New York and Alf Blikberg, Humanitarian Affairs officer from the UN Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
UN-HABITAT is the agency within the UN that has been charged with the responsibility for managing human settlements development. In a rapidly world with 50 percent of the population already living in cities, one of the challenges facing the international community is the well being of almost 1 billion poor people who are currently living in slums and squatter settlements without adequate shelter or basic services. UN- HABITAT has therefore been involved with advising governments on how best to manage slum upgrading and sustainable urban development.
In managing the urgent shelter needs of the urban poor, UN-HABITAT helps governments implement the Habitat Agenda, which promotes every citizen’s right to the city. The Habitat Agenda which was signed by over 140 governments aims to promote inclusive cities that also incorporate the needs of the poor into plans for urban development. The agenda builds on the right to adequate housing enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights.
UN-HABITAT argues that forced evictions pose one of the main barriers to the achievement of Millennium Development Goals targeted at the significant improvement of millions of slum dwellers by the year 2020. UN-HABITAT believes there is a great advantage in adopting a policy that promotes dialogue to give room to all protagonists to find solutions that are in the best interest of all, rich and poor alike. In addition, UN-HABITAT has always reminded governments of their obligations and requested them to fully comply with those international agreements they have entered into.
Unfortunately the practice of forced evictions continues in a number of countries where the rights of citizens are too often ignored – more particularly the rights of those who do not have the capacity or voice to speak for themselves. These practices of forced evictions are worsening the lives of millions of urban poor each year and are considered unnecessary especially as there is considerable international evidence that it is possible to arrive at innovative negotiated solutions that meet the needs of all the parties concerned.
To access The Global Campaign for Secure Tenure and the International Advisory Group on Forced Evictions, please click on the following link: http://www.unhabitat.org/campaigns/tenure/taskforce.asp
Through its Global Campaign for Secure Tenure, UN-HABITAT has been advocating an end to forced evictions and requesting governments to dialogue with stakeholders in finding alternative solutions.
In furtherance of these efforts an International Advisory Group on Forced Evictions was established to assist member states to monitor, and identify, and if so requested, promote alternatives to forced evictions. This group presented its first report in April 2005. This report highlighted the fact that around the world there are about 6 million people who are being evicted or threatened with evictions.
In its 2004 report, the Advisory Group documents cases of 15 countries from Thailand, Pakistan, Kenya, United States of America, UK, Uganda, Ghana, the Philippines, Indonesia, Argentina, Peru, Senegal, Greece, and Brazil, where evictions are ongoing or threatened. While detailed figures are indicated in the report, it is worth noting that in some cases, the numbers reach staggering proportions: Pakistan: approx 250,000, Kenya: approx 186,175, Ghana: 30,000, Quilombo Community, Brazil: approx 1,350, Senegal: approx 22,750.
Recent reports of large-scale of evictions taking place in Zimbabwe, where homes are being demolished and burnt, indicate that 200,000 people have been rendered homeless and many more have lost their livelihoods as a result of a decision by the Government to engage the “Murambatsvina” ( or “drive out trash”) operation. Though the Government has pointed out that these evictions are part of a larger process of relocation that is providing the displaced people with alternative solutions, there is concern that the evictions have impacted gravely on the social and economic lives of the poor. This has led to a call to halt them by Miloon Kothari, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Housing Rights.
A similar spate of evictions in Mumbai, which according to announcements by the authorities is being “modernised”, has left 350,000 people homeless. This was described by Human Rights Observers as the “worst cases of forced evictions anywhere in the world”.
UN-HABITAT also notes with concern that in Pakistan, the building of the Lyari Expressway, is threatening 250,000 families; in the State of Para in Brazil, there is the imminent risk of evictions of thousands of families and in Accra, Ghana, there are pending evictions of traders and residents of informal housing along the railway lines. In some of the Indian Ocean tsunami-stricken areas after the suffering endured by the residents from this unprecedented natural disaster, the authorities were preventing displaced persons from re-entering previous settlements under the guise of future risk of another Tsunami.
The report also documented many innovative solutions, which have been tried and succeeded in addressing the issue of forced evictions by proposing alternatives agreeable to all parties.
The Advisory Group fielded a mission to Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) in March 2005, at the request of the Municipalities of Boca Chica and Caleta where more than 200,000 people are under the threat of evictions. The consultations yielded positive results including the willingness of the Government of the Province of Santo Domingo to engage in international exchanges of proper practices on forced evictions, setting up a multi-party Parliamentary Commission to formulate a legal framework to eliminate the practice of forced evictions, and agreement by mayors to petition the National Government and Congress to stop forced evictions until the law to safeguard land occupation if developed.
In Italy, the private sector lease accounts for the majority of evictions. The Advisory Group was invited in February 2005 by the Municipal Administration and the Tenants Union to visit Rome and discuss the high volume of urban evictions. After several meeting and discussion the mission obtained some commitments from the authorities including an unofficial but clear commitment by the Prefecture to observe a 12-month moratorium on evictions and evacuations, the signing of a declaration to achieve zero evictions plan at local and national levels, and the commitment to organise a training course on Article 11 of the Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for magistrates, workers and associations in the housing sector with possible help from UN-HABITAT.
In Kenya, in 2003, a plan to evict informal settlers along railways and roads in Kibera had the potential of affecting 300,000 people. In Kenya, UN-HABITAT using patient dialogue with all partners including representatives of NGOs and faith based organisations, managed to solve the crisis and the government agreed to a moratorium that enabled all parties to work towards long-term solutions.
Despite these positive outcomes, evictions unfortunately continue to take place at an alarming scale. From the beginning of the year, UN-HABITAT has registered several cases of violent forced evictions targeting the most vulnerable populations. As in other cases, UN-HABITAT is asking all parties concerned to consider alternative policies and is offering the services of the International Advisory Group on Forced Evictions to help find long-term solutions.